Monday, December 05, 2005
Iowa won two games this weekend to win another Hawkeye Challenge, but the Hawks lost some of the buzz that they created in the previous week against three ranked teams. After good showings against Kentucky, Texas, and North Carolina State, the games with Fairfield and Valparaiso were a little more competitive than many expected.
Iowa opened the weekend with a 75-59 victory over a tiny Fairfield team. Though they started no one taller than 6-4, the Stags hung around with a mixture of scrappiness and strategy. Their presses and zones frustrated the Hawks into 20 turnovers, and some hot three point shooting kept them within five points until the 3:30 mark of the second half. The Hawks poured it on the rest of the way, but they failed to meet the raised expectations of a top 15 team.
There were bright spots, of course. With the considerable height advantage, Iowa was able to dominate the paint at both ends of the floor. Greg Brunner made all eight of his field goals and shot eight free throws, and the team finished 20 for 30 (67%) inside the arc. That made up for several missed outside jumpers and fueled a season-high .573 eFG%.
At the other end, Brunner, Doug Thomas, and especially Erek Hansen dominated inside. Iowa finished with 11 blocks, though Fairfield only attempted 38 two point shots. With Hansen increasing the difficulty of almost every shot he didn't get his hands on, the Stags made 16%(!) of those two's. With essentially five guards in most of their lineups, they kept both their players and the ball moving, which resulted in quite a few good looks (and 12 makes) from long range. While the overall defensive effort was good, the perimeter letdown might raise concerns for future opponents like Northwestern and Ohio State.
Given the huge disparity in this game's shooting performances (.573 eFG% to .358), it's surprising the score was even close. The aforementioned turnovers were the culprit here, as Iowa's ballhandlers struggled when faced with a little pressure. They have a few days to get everyone back on the same page, so let's hope they get it figured out before Friday, when they head to Ames to face a far more athletic group in a much more hostile environment.
Saturday's game put Iowa up against Valparaiso, who beat Tulane in the first round. Their offense was centered around one versatile player, Dan Oppland, and their defense featured a strong 6-11 center in Mohamed Kone. Though Valpo presented a different challenge, the end result was a similarly un-lopsided 72-59 victory.
Kone and company were tough on Iowa's post players. Brunner, Hansen and Thomas combined to shoot 7 for 22 (32%) with 8 turnovers. This continues something of a trend for the Hawks, who have struggled inside against teams with tall, strong centers. The following are Iowa's two-point percentages in a few recent games.
NC State, 33.3
It's arguable whether Kentucky meets the criteria, since their 7-footers only combined for 17 minutes, but they're another data point in the pattern - Iowa has a hard time scoring against bigger post defenders.
Another disturbing trend is the recent explosion of Hawkeye turnovers. Through five games Iowa was turning the ball over slightly less than 20% of the time, which is reasonable for early season games. In the last three games, though, the team's turnover rates have been 27, 28, and 24%. Yikes. A lot of that seems to be dumb stuff like dropped passes and miscommunication, which I would think will drop as everyone plays more together, but it's definitely something to keep on eye on. We are eight games into the season, after all.
In most of Iowa's games this season, poor shooting inside would doom the offense, but not Saturday. The guards finally put together the game that fans had been waiting for, hitting 7 of 16 threes (44%). It was the first time Iowa broke even 30% in their last six games (ugh). Tony Freeman knocked one down after hitting two on Friday, which is encouraging for a team in need of perimeter scorers.
All in all, it's two more wins, even if they were less than outstanding. The defense continues to impress, and is actually ranked #1 in the country in points allowed per possession. Texas is still the only team to score above a meager 85 PPP, so the guys deserve a lot of credit for bringing the intensity every night. If / when the offense turns the corner, Iowa will look much more like a team worthy of the top 10-15 ranking it will draw on Monday.
- Jeff Horner was named MVP of the Challenge, despite shooting only 30% for the weekend. His two game averages were 15.5 pts, 5.5 reb, 8.0 ast, 2 TO, and 2 stl. Brunner finished with 16.0 pts, 12.0 reb, and 4.0 TO with a .58 FG%.
- The weekend crowds were a far cry from the masses that attended the NC State game, though it did snow quite a bit both nights.
- I was pretty excited to see Freeman take shots whenever he had an opening. The offense can really use some extra firepower, especially from the outside, so I hope Tony will continue to shoot like he did this weekend.