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Saturday, January 08, 2005
Ohio State 81, Iowa 69
Alright, I'm finally back in Iowa City and ready to get back to some blogging. It's been a busy last few days, full of travelling, unpacking, restocking the fridge, getting ready for next semester, etc. I got far enough behind with the blog that I decided not to write a recap of the Michigan game, especially since I didn't get to see it anyway (I was still out West).

Today's game at Ohio State scared me a little going in. Ken Pomeroy's ratings had Ohio State favored by 5 points before tip-off. Iowa's defense has been questionable all year, and the Buckeyes have several options to exploit it. Terence Dials is having a solid year and looked capable of continuing Iowa's opponents' dominance inside, and OSU's guards led the team to 20th in the country in three-point percentage. So after losing to Michigan, Iowa would have a heck of a time starting even 2-2 in the conference if they lost to Ohio State, with their next two games against Minnesota and Illinois.

I still haven't scrounged up the money for my own TV yet, so I had to settle for the radio/Gametracker combo today. Here's some of what transpired while I listened to the game.

First Half

Turnovers were killing Iowa early on. They dug themselves into a hole with four turnovers on their first handful of possessions, and they ended the half with 10 TO. Ohio State took advantage by scoring 19 points off those turnovers. Doug Thomas filled in nicely for the meager Erek Hansen with three early field goals. Iowa fought back to tie the game at 24, but Ohio State went on a 23-8 run to close the half up 47-32.

Second Half

15:30 - A steal by Thomas followed by a basket from Brunner, and Iowa has whittled the 17 point deficit down to 11. I hate playing the whole game from behind like this - way too nerve-wracking.

14:12 - Thomas knocks down a couple free throws. He's up to 8 points and the lead is down to nine!

13:45 - Steal and a layup by Pierce! He's having a great game and is up to 23 points.

13:30 - Je'Kel Foster hits another three. That's four already. Can someone guard him? Please?

12:25 - Horner goes to the line for two. Can he find that free throw stroke again? Yes, Jeff hits them both. Hawks down ten.

10:20 - Pierce scores again, goes to the line and, you guessed it, missed the FT badly.

8:30 - Horner and Brunner fight for a defensive rebound and lose the ball out of bounds. That's at least the second time that's happened. Unbelievable. Way too many unforced errors in this game.

8:00 - Two Brunner FT's get it back to 12. We need a big run.

6:30 - Gag. Ohio State runs a ton of time off the clock, and comes down with the offensive rebound after their miss. Ends up being a 1:10 possession.

5:15 - Stockman hits a three. That should just about wrap it up, with Iowa down 70-57.

3:40 - Pierce throws a pass that Thomas wasn't looking for, ball goes out of bounds. Turnover number 16. Ugly.

3:15 - Henderson fouls a guy on a long three with the shot clock running out. I should really turn the radio off already.

2:00 - Brunner fouls out after a good game. He finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

0:00 - Ohio State 81-69

Iowa is now 0-2 in conference play for the first time in 11 years (according to hawkeyesports.com, although the radio guys said the last time was 1997). This is all starting to feel way too familiar - an Alford Iowa squad starts the year with high expectations, works it's way into the national rankings, then tanks in the conference season. It's still way too early to give up on the season, of course, but Iowa needed to win at least one, if not both, of these first two games to be competitive in the Big Ten this year.

Where is Erek Hansesn? I haven't seen the games lately to know what's going on, but he's only scored 4 points in the last 3 games. Maybe it's not too late to take back what I wrote about Thomas not deserving Hansen's minutes. Thomas contributed 8 points today and played 20 minutes to Hansen's 13 (who was in foul trouble).

Ohio State center Terence Dials had a big game, as expected. He ended up with 22 points and 8 rebounds. I bet James Augustine and Roger Powell, Jr. can't wait to take on Iowa's defense on January 20. I know I'm a lot less excited about that date than a was just a week ago.

You think Alford is ready to work on some perimeter defense? Iowa has allowed 19 threes in their two conference games. Tony Stockman torched the defense for 5 threes, and Je'Kel Foster added 4. I'm guessing Dee Brown and Luther Head like to see that too.

Things could have been a lot worse today if the shots weren't falling from Pierce. He shot 12-20 with a couple of threes to end up with 31 points. I'd say that's good enough for Hawkeye Hoops Player of the Game. (Yahoo somehow disagreed and chose Brunner).

Can someone who's seen the recent games tell me what happened to Jeff Horner? I miss the games where he was scoring 15-20 every night. Iowa's offense was a lot more efficient when Horner was taking as many shots as Pierce, as opposed to the current style, where Horner only shoots about half as often as Pierce. ***Edit - I checked the box scores, and there has only been one game where Horner took more shots than Pierce, and he hasn't been close to Pierce's shot total very often. Horner had 13 to Pierce's 12 against Drake, and both took 12 shots against Northern Iowa.***

Haluska got benched early after 3 turnovers, and only played 13 minutes in the game.

Well, I'm thoroughly disgusted. Iowa gets a week off before Minnesota comes to town. That will be the first game I've seen in person in about a month. Hopefully by then I can come up with something positive to say about this team.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Thank you Midwest winter. My flight home, originally scheduled for today, early enough to get me back for Iowa's Big Ten opener against Michigan, got cancelled due to the weather. Now I get to wait until Thursday for another attempt at flying home. This will be my third missed home game over break - that's almost 20% of the home schedule! I knew I was going to miss two of the games when I planned this trip, but I felt that since one of the games was against St. Louis and since I'd get to see an Oregon game in MacArthur Court, my absence in Iowa would be justified. But missing the Big Ten opener? This vacation has been great, but I'm ready to trade in the scenic views and (slightly) warmer weather for a few days at home and some Big Ten basketball.

Today's reading assignment - The Big Ten Wonk provides a "State of the Team" address for all 11 Big Ten schools.

For today's Fun With Numbers contribution, I want to take a numerical look at the toughness of each team's conference schedule. I took a rudimentary first stab at this during my first week of blogging. This time, rather than weight each team by their position in the conference (a method fraught with obvious flaws), I'm going to weight each team according to their Pomeroy rating. Higher is better on the Pomeroy scale, so the team who has the lowest cumulative opponents' Pomeroy rating will have the easiest Big Ten schedule. Click here to view the current ratings of each Big Ten team.

And the results...(drumroll please).

TEAM...........OPP. POMEROY TOTAL...........AVG OPP.
Michigan State..........916.25................................57.27
Ohio State.................960.37...............................60.02
Penn State.................985.38...............................61.59

Note - Like last time, I didn't make an adjustment for the added difficulty of road games. Cut me some slack, I'm on vacation.

The strength of Illinois really determined where teams ended up in this list. Illinois plays themself 0 times (obviously), and the teams with the next four easiest schedules are the teams that play Illinois only once. The difference between Illinois and Michigan State (79.54 to 65.14 Pomeroy rating) is about the same as the difference between Minnesota (middle of Big Ten) and Penn State (worst team). Clearly they're tough, and unfortunately, Iowa has to play them twice. At least they have the easiest schedule of any team who does go home and away with the Illini, as they only play Michigan State and Wisconsin once each.

Sunday, January 02, 2005
Iowa 67, St. Louis 58
Iowa extended its winning streak to nine games by beating St. Louis on New Year's Eve. A bigger victory against a team this far down in the rankings would have been nice, but Hawk fans will just have to settle for another victory as the team gears up for Big Ten play.

This was another game I completely missed during my Oregon vacation, so I suggest reading the Big Ten Wonk's thoughts on the game. He calls attention to Iowa's deficiencies, specifically rebounding, post defense, and shot selection.

Rebounding and post defense are primarily the responsibilities of Greg Brunner, Erek Hansen, Doug Thomas, and Alex Thompson. Brunner and Hansen take most of the minutes, with Thomas backing up and Thompson getting occasional minutes.

Brunner - 28.9 mpg
Hansen - 24.5
Thomas - 14.9
Thompson - 8.9

Brunner and Thomas have certainly gotten the job done on the glass. Brunner is 4th in the Big Ten with 7.6 rebounds per game, and has picked it up of late, with 52 boards in his last 5 games. Thomas has gone to the glass aggressively and leads the team with 12.2 reb/40 min. These two have a lot of slack to pick up, as Thompson and especially Hansen have been weak rebounders. The rest of the team -

Thomas - 12.2 reb / 40 min
Brunner - 10.5
Thompson - 7.5
Hansen - 5.6

5.6 rebounds per full game (40 minutes) for a starting Big Ten center is anemic, by the way. So the verdict on Iowa's rebounding is mixed. Brunner does the job well, as does Thomas, although Doug doesn't play all that much, especially in key situations. Hansen starts and does basically nothing to help the team rebound, and Thompson's playing time makes his contribution close to irrelevant.

John (the Wonk) singles out Brunner for his poor defense. I don't know about Greg individually, but Iowa's interior defense as a whole has been subpar, as mentioned from time to time on this blog. Take a look back at the games some post players have had against Iowa.

Ian Vouyoukas, St. Louis - 11 reb, 7 off (in just 16 min)
David Berghoefer, W. Carolina - 18 pts, 11 reb
Jared Homan, Iowa State - 25 pts, 11 reb
Eric Coleman, N. Iowa - 16 pts, 11 reb
Ronnie Burrell - UNC-G'boro - 9 pts, 13 reb
Chad Maclies - Centenary - 21 pts, 6 reb
Aliou Keita, Drake - 23 pts, 7 reb
Sean May, UNC - 16 pts, 6 reb (26 min)
Brad Buckman, Texas - 18 pts, 11 reb
Ellis Myles, Louisville - 12 pts, 8 reb (22 min)

If Iowa has shown any obvious weakness defensively, it has been an inability to stop opposing big men.

Finally, John points to Pierre Pierce's poor shot selection, a phenomenon he and I have written much about all season. I haven't seen the last two games, but just checked the box scores, and I might have to cut back on my Pierce criticism for now. Pierce shot 42.7% from the field in Iowa's first 9 games, frequently irritating me along the way, but he is shooting 60.7% over the last 4 games and has led the team in scoring in 3 of those.

As for the knocks on Iowa firing up threes immediately down the floor - I never like to see it from Pierce, but I welcome it from Adam Haluska and Jeff Horner. Haluska has settled into a groove and is shooting 53% from downtown over the last 7 games, and Horner is, well, Horner. He's hit 50.7% of his threes this year and has 5 games with at least 4 threes made. If Haluska or Horner has an open look from three before all the rebounders are in place, I'm still comfortable with them taking the shot.

That's it for today. I should be back in Iowa mid-week and will have a recap of the Michigan game to restart my regularly-scheduled posting.

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