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Thursday, November 03, 2005
Scanning the Box Scores
Illinois 82, Illinois Wesleyan 60
Illinois led the #1 D-III team (according to Street & Smith) by only six points at half time before pulling away. Freshman guard Jamar Smith, praised for his shooting ability, hit 3-5 threes and scored 16 points in 26 minutes. Only Dee Brown spent more time on the floor. He missed all six of his threes but did have seven assists. Shaun Pruitt made a nice bid for a starting frontcourt spot with 8 points and 7 rebounds in 17 minutes.

Starters - Brown, Rich McBride, Brian Randle, Warren Carter, James Augustine

Penn State 89, Lock Haven 43
Penn State played a young D-II team coming off a four win season and took them behind the wood shed. Lock Haven could only muster an eFG% of .319, and had an ugly 27 turnovers. They also got destroyed on the boards, 53-29. Serbian freshman center Milos Bogetic had 8 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 steals off the bench. Sophomore Geary Claxton and juco transfer guard David Jackson led the way with 15 points each.

Starters - Ben Luber, Jackson, Claxton, Jamelle Cornley, Brandon Hassell
Iowa 97, Brock 36
Wow, that was easy. I guess when Jeff Horner has a left-handed dunk and Erek Hansen has a defensive rebound within the first two minutes of the game, the outcome should not be in doubt.

It was fun for the fans, too. Especially if you like those fight scenes in movies where the victor is on his knees straddling a guy on his back and continues to punch him in the face after he's clearly passed out. (Not that I'm pointing any fingers - I still count Fight Club among my favorite movies.) Coach Alford put the starters back on the floor to start the second half, and I remember thinking later that it was sadistic of him to leave them in for so long because they were so thoroughly demolishing Brock. Then I looked at the clock, and it wasn't even time for the first TV timeout. Ug-ly.

The final margin should have almost been expected, though, considering Brock was playing its fifth game in seven days, including one at home (near Toronto) just yesterday. Since they could only go six deep, they never had a chance, and their guys were clearly gassed by the second half. Things got really brutal after intermission, when Brock could manage just four (4) field goals and ten total points.

Brock's main offensive gameplan was to isolate the point guard and center on the same wing/block, then pass the ball into the big guy (also known as Kevin Stienstra). If he couldn't get a shot off himself, he'd kick out to someone for a deep three. Erek Hansen started out on Stienstra, and pretty much dominated him defensively. Hansen did allow a lay-up where he got beat off a dribble-drive, but from what I recall, he didn't allow any easy shots after that, and even blocked a couple of Stienstra's shots. Greg Brunner guarded him when Hansen went out, and the Gorn Dog (aka Seth Gorney) helped out after that. The trio forced Stienstra into a 7-19 shooting night and eight turnovers, making his 17 points and 11 rebounds look very empty. Well done, bigs.

As for the rest of the defense, one descriptor kept popping to mind: active. Yes, calling them active is probably equivalent to standing me next to Michael Moore and calling me sexy, but just know that the guards didn't let Brock have anything easy. Horner and Mike Henderson didn't let any lazy passes float by, and Henderson especially made sure his man had a hell of a time dribbling in the halfcourt offense. Iowa's 30 forced turnovers were the reason they could score 97 points while shooting only 44%. Ballhawks, well done.

Offensively, things weren't quite as dominant. For starters, Iowa hit only 4-19 on their threes. I hope we can chalk this up to rustiness, because Iowa will need at least a couple deep threats this year if they're going to possess the offense of a quality tournament team. (Addendum - the 4-19 was weighed down by a lot of garbage time misses. Horner and Haluska combined to shoot 3-10, so I'm nitpicking over nothing, as usual.) Inside the arc, Iowa was OK, but not great. Haluska couldn't get the midrange shot to fall, though it didn't look far off. Henderson got himself a couple nice looks in the middle of the lane that didn't hit. Alex Thompson got off plenty of his own shots, and finished a not-too-terrible 3-8.

The short list of guys who hit most of their shots includes the ones who got out in transition. Horner got some easy baskets off of steals, and Doug Thomas added two or three monster facials to his reputation. He added some easy putbacks and a jumper to finish 7-8 from the field. Thuner Doug, well done.

Iowa also dominated the glass, as expected. They actually had more offensive rebounds than Brock did defensive, meaning Iowa grabbed over half of its own misses (yes, that's ridiculous). Brock could only track down 10 of its 43 missed shots.

All in all, a fun night, though I wouldn't be me if I didn't throw in at least one complaint. Why make students pick up their (season) tickets at the North entrance, but only allow them to enter through the South entrance? Since tickets weren't available until sometime this week, there weren't a lot of people who could make it in to pick them up before tonight. I think you could alert the two ticket checkers at the (isolated) North entrance and tell them to prepare for a handful more than the 15 people they actually had to let in. Whatever.
Checking the Stats - Brock
It may only be an exhibition game, but you know I can't turn down a chance to look over a few stats. Since Brock has already played nine games this year, there's a decent amount of data to tell us what to expect from them.

Like Northwestern and the Canadian team Iowa played last year, Brock is what the Big Ten Wonk would call a perimeter-oriented team (POT). They've taken 39% of their shots from outside the arc this year. Consisten with most POTs, Brock does not excel at offensive rebounding or getting to the free throw line. They rebound about 32% of the shots that they miss, and they attempt about .292 free throws for each field goal, which would be below average in the NCAA. The strategy has backfired so far, as Brock is only making 31% of those outside shots. If it weren't for center Kevin Stienstra's 60% shooting, the offense would be pretty pathetic.

Public Service Announcement - If any of your friends have been
hiding under a rock or have already slipped off to a cave to begin winter
hibernation, you need to alert them that the Big Ten Wonk has returned from his
off season hiatus and resumed daily posting. If you're not yet familiar with his site,
it's the internet nirvana for all Big Ten hoops fans. Check it out. Do it. Do it.

As for the defense, Brock has been OK. Stienstra has been playing 38 mpg, which is probably a big reason why Brock's opponents have only shot 47% on their two-point shots, despite taking most of their shots there. Teams playing Brock have only taken 22% of their shots from deep. It'll be interesting to see if Hansen can muster any offensive game against them on the inside. Outside of Stienstra, Brock lacks any size, and it has shown in their defensive rebounding, where they have grabbed only 62% of their opponents' missed shots. Look for either Brunner or Thomas to have a big game fueled by offensive rebounding.

So if Hansen holds his ground against Stienstra, and Brock doesn't suddenly get hot from downtown, it should be your typical exhibition game blowout, instead of last year's uncomfortably close outcome against Laval.

Bonus Halloween Weekend Tales
Since Halloween fell on a Monday this year, most of us non-Trick-or-Treater types decided to celebrate it over the weekend. I happened to have two East Coast friends visiting for the weekend, so there was extra cause for giddiness. We engaged in some standard PG-rated reunion activities, including watching movies during mandated periods of convalescence. The titles included classics like Dodgeball and Starsky and Hutch, which led to us dressing as the Average Joes for costume parties later that night (kudos to my sister by the way - awesome party). It also led to "Do it, do it" and "Bacardi and Coke, do it" being among the most common phrases of the weekend.

Anyway, one of the funner parts of the night turned out to be walking around downtown and checking out everyone else's costumes. There were ghostbusters (complete with decked-out white hearse), Stuart from MadTV, popped-collar frat boys (what fun is that, anyway?), and a variety of appreciably and creatively under-dressed co-eds. Our crew of dodgeball players wasn't always recognized, but was definitely appreciated by those who did. The double-take, walk-by, turnaround, and "Hey Average Joes!" sequence was a common occurrence as the evening wore on. It even led to some spontaneous mid-ped mall rubber ball exchanges. Outstanding.

Anyway, we were walking home later when we met up with a guy dressed as Morty Finkle, easily my favorite costume of the night. He was decked out with the gray wig and green suit, and had all the lines ready to go - "Morty Finkle of Finkle Fixtures, biggest light fixture chain in the Southland" and "Hey, [insert command], do it, do it." If you're reading this, Morty, well done sir.

I realize this probably bored the #*&#! out of 97% of my readers, but if you enjoyed Starsky and Hutch, you can appreciate how hilarious this actually was. Finkle was a character Starsky used as a disguise on one of his undercover missions at the end of the movie, so it was a pretty obscure costume idea. Throw in the fact that my friends and I had been celebrating his lines forever, and the random crossing of paths it took to meet this guy at the very end of the weekend, it was definitely a memorable moment. Fun weekend.
Opening Day (Sort Of)
This post is a little late, as it's already game day, but I figured I should break my posting fast with baby steps, rather than try to take on too much immediately. You have, after all, heard the fable of the snake that tried to swallow the alligator?

After several months of waiting for basketball to resume and ignoring the existence of the football team (maybe that's just me), it's finally time to see Iowa take on a squad of players in something resembling an official game. Not a moment too soon, I might add, as I've actually been taking an interest in the NBA in recent weeks.

Iowa opens its exhibition season tonight at 7:05 in Carver-Hawkeye against Brock University from Ontario. Much is expected of Iowa this year, as you no doubt know by now - most pundits have them tabbed as a top 25 team who should challenge for the upper tier of the Big Ten and a decent seed in the NCAA Tournament. The exhibition games, along with the other cupcakes typically in the early going, are a good chance to feel out the team. You can see who has improved, which lineups are most effective, what roles certain guys can handle, how the team responds to certain offensive/defensive sets, etc. Since Iowa returns four starters and a veteran team, they have fewer questions than most, but tonight will still provide an opportunity to observe several topics worth examining.

Can Iowa stop a good post player? Iowa's starting frontcourt was vulnerable to all kinds of big men last year. Brunner lacked the height to challenge tall guys, and at 260 lbs, he didn't have the quickness to keep up with more nimble players. Erek Hansen could block a shot from anyone, but couldn't keep anyone with bulk off of the boards. The big guys should get their first decent test tonight in Brock's leading scorer, Kevin Stienstra. He's only 6-8, but has used his 250 pound frame to his advantage in shooting 60% and grabbing 10 rebounds per game in Brock's first nine contests (though his reb% of 13.6 is less than gaudy). With names like Paul Davis, Marco Killingsworth, D.J. White, Terence Dials, Courtney Sims, James Augustine, etc, etc, etc, waiting further down the line, it's important for Iowa to establish some method for slowing down the big guys early in the year.

How much can Tony Freeman contribute? Iowa has three very talented players on offense in Jeff Horner, Adam Haluska, and Brunner, but no other options emerged last year, which won't be good enough for Iowa to play deep into March this year. Mike Henderson is expected to start the year in the backcourt with Horner, but he was little better than a black hole on offense last year. For you baseball geeks, Henderson was the Christian Guzman of possession users (as in no bang for your buck). He was like a Pierre Pierce-lite - good defense, lots of turnovers, decent rebounding, but without the actual made shots. Granted, there were signs of improvement by the end of the year, and last year was Henderson's first shot at big minutes, so I should cut him some slack, but it will be nice if Freeman can challenge him for some of those backcourt minutes. Iowa could really use a penetrator in this spot, but since Henderson's passing generally renders his driving useless, it would be nice for Freeman to step up before Big Ten play starts. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Will Greg Brunner look for points further from the basket? As Iowa's only post threat on offense, Brunner generally stayed close to the basket last year. He displayed the ability to consistently hit the three-pointer during summer play, and his size dictates that he needs to improve his perimeter skills to have any shot at a professional basketball job next year, so it's likely we'll see more outside jump shots from Greg this year.

What role will Alex Thompson fill? Multiple roles? The sophomore is expected by many to see more minutes at both forward spots this year. He's tall enough to help out inside, and has touch to handle the perimeter. Improvement from Thompson will go a long way toward providing the depth that concerns so many preseason analysts. How fun (and slow) would an all-Iowa 1-4 lineup of Horner, Haluska, Thompson, and Brunner be?

Other Big Ten Openers
There are two other games happening in the Big Ten tonight.

Illinois vs Illinois Wesleyan
Penn State vs Lock Haven

Both of those teams have several roster questions as well. Penn State is mixing in a few relatively unknown foreign recruits, and Illinois will experiment with ways to make up for 3/5 of the lineup that got it to the national championship last year.
Monday, October 31, 2005
Sick Days
A quick update for those of you wondering what happened to posting at this blog over the past week - I came down with my annual fall-is-transitioning-into-winter sickness a few days ago. I should be back at 100% before Iowa's exhibition opener, but I'm taking some extra bedtime until I do.

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