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Saturday, November 26, 2005
Next Up - Texas-San Antonio
Texas-San Antonio vs Iowa
12:05 pm

With today's game sandwiched between games agains ranked opponents (Kentucky, Texas, and North Carolina State), and with the student body home for Thanksgiving, it would be easy for Iowa to mail it in and play poorly. We'll find out shortly if Coach Alford can motivate his team to play with intensity anyway.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Hawks Fizzle Down The Stretch
Texas 68, Iowa 59
ESPN recap

Iowa led one of the best teams in the country with as little as 5:00 remaining, but only scored four points after that point. Adam Haluska rebounded from his poor game against Kentucky and dropped 23 points, but Jeff Horner and Greg Brunner struggled mightily, combining to shoot 4-22. It might be a good sign that Iowa hung on as long as they did with such a poor shooting night, but they'll clearly need better and more balanced offensive play to be a contender in the Big Ten.

I'm heading home sometime tomorrow, but I'll try to get a few thoughts down before I hit the door. Feel free to leave any of your thoughts on Iowa's performance in the comments section.
Next Up - #2 Texas
#18 Iowa vs #2 Texas
Time: 9:00 pm, CST

Iowa gets another chance to run with the big boys tonight when they meet Texas in the championship game of the Guardian's Classic. While Kentucky's strength was mainly its guards, Texas possesses one of the best frontcourts in the country, and will present a different challenge for the Hawkeyes to overcome.

Texas and Iowa were essentially even last year in terms of offensive and defensive effectiveness. Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency ratings ranked Iowa as the #38 offense and #29 defense in the country, while Texas was #33 and #36. With their offense and defense so similarly productive, the two teams had nearly identical expected winning percentages.

That's the good news - Iowa and Texas were at the same level at the end of last season, and Iowa even beat the Longhorns back in November. Fast forward eight months - Iowa is without a very good defender, who contributed to their numbers for over half the year, but returns everyone else; Texas regains two of its best players who missed a significant portion of the schedule. As Luke Winn wrote two months ago, Texas was much better when they had both LaMarcus Aldridge and P.J. Tucker, and their return should make Texas a contender for the NCAA title this year.

Texas's starting five will look like this tonight -

G - Daniel Gibson, 6-2
G - Kenton Paulino - 6-0
F - P.J. Tucker, 6-5
F - Brad Buckman, 6-8
C - LaMarcus Aldridge, 6-10

That's a very balanced and talented offensive unit. The frontline provides scoring and good offensive rebounding, while Gibson (40%) and Paulino (48%) were reliable three point shooters last year.

Texas also excelled at getting to the free throw line last year, shooting .408 free throws for each field goal attempt, which worked out to about 23 FTA per game. Take a look at how each of the starters performed -

Gibson - .436
Paulino - .371
Tucker - .671
Buckman - .632
Aldridge - .779

Comparables from Iowa include Greg Brunner (.500), Doug Thomas (.598), and Mike Henderson (.424).

Texas could change the course of the game early on by feeding the big guys and getting Erek Hansen, Thomas, or (gasp!) Brunner into foul trouble.

Things I Like
Each member of Texas's starting five played at least 34 minutes last night, and only one bench player broke 10 minutes. I'd rather be playing a six-deep team tonight than reliving last year's Maui game against North Carolina, where the Heels used their depth and ran us until we dropped.

Texas did not force many turnovers last year, finishing near the bottom of the national heap in defensive TO%. Instead, their focus was on preventing easy shots, as they finished 16th in opponents' eFG%. Turnovers can be Iowa's nemesis offensively, keeping an otherwise efficient squad from reaching its potential. If Jeff Horner and Adam Haluska can bounce back to post decent shooting nights, Iowa could hang around for a while.

Things That Scare Me
Texas makes very good use of their shots, especially the starting five. Here are the five's True Shot % (shooting efficiency on FGA and FTA) from last year -

Gibson - 57.8%
Paulino - 61.7
Tucker - 58.0
Buckman - 60.0
Aldridge - 66.9

Yowie. Iowa's Big Three of Brunner (57.2), Haluska (61.4) and Horner (56.3) just aren't as impressive. If Texas is going to shoot as well as normal (and that's no guarantee if Hansen stays out of foul trouble), Iowa will have to limit the shots they get by forcing turnovers and preventing second chance points. West Virginia showed that the former can be done when they forced 24 Texas TOs last night. Hopefully Henderson and Tony Freeman (T-Free, anyone?) can replicate that performance. Texas was one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the country last year, and Tucker, Buckman and Aldridge were all very good offensive rebounders, but Iowa can be quite good on the defensive glass, especially when Thomas is on the court.

Other Stuff
Burnt Orange Nation, a Texas fan site, has a preview of the game here. Andy Katz profiled Texas center LaMarcus Aldridge here. He also thinks Texas can win it all this year.

In my estimation, Iowa will need to get several things to go right to have a chance at the end - Horner and Haluska need to play like Horner and Haluska, Iowa needs to limit its turnovers and dog Gibson into a few of his own, and ideally, Iowa would get one of Texas's big guys in foul trouble and off the court. That's a lot of ifs.

Last night's win over Kentucky was fun, though not entirely unexpected. Tonight would be much more of an upset. If Iowa pulls this one off, I'll run naked through the streets*.

How do you see Iowa's chances tonight? Feel free to leave a comment.

Go Hawks!

*dramatization. Professional blogger on a closed course.
Iowa 67, Kentucky 63
That was fun.

Iowa and Kentucky battled back and forth in a game that was close throughout. The Hawks hit enough free throws in the final minute to eke out a four point win and legitimize their top 25 ranking. Their efforts will be rewarded by a matchup on Tuesday night with #2 Texas, who played a barn-burner of their own in beating West Virginia.

Cold shooting was the story of the night, though Kentucky did score on four straight possessions early in the game. That 10-0 run built a seven point lead, which was biggest margin either team could build. Kentucky hit nine threes in the game, but missed just about everything else en route to a 40.2 eFG%. Iowa wasn't much better, finishing with a 41.7 eFG% and hitting only 4 of 15 threes. Point guard Rajon Rondo entered the game as Kentucky's leading scorer, but he was held to 1-of-9 shooting by Iowa's defensive tag team of Mike Henderson and Tony Freeman.

Henderson's play was a pleasant surprise for most Hawkeye fans, including this one. He repeatedly penetrated the defense, which resulted in shots close to the basket and nine free throw attempts. Mike's 15 points were second-most on the team, and he added seven rebounds and four steals. He was also frequently responsible for bringing the ball up against Kentucky's press. I've given him a lot of heat in the past, but he finally looks like a guy who adds value to the team, especially on defense.

It's a good thing Henderson did step up, however, because the rest of the backcourt was in a funk. Jeff Horner and Adam Haluska combined to shoot 3 for 19, including 2 for 11 on three-pointers. Some of those shots were fairly open, too. Let's hope they make adjustments today, because their shooting will be needed in tonight's game against Texas.

Horner once again showed why he's one of the best passers in the Big Ten. He hit Doug Thomas with a near-perfect alley-oop from half court that the big guy couldn't quite finish. He also found guys for easy layups - the transition pass to Alex Thompson stands out in my mind - and finished with eight assists.

Henderson might have been the breakout player, but Greg Brunner was still the man who carried the team to the winner's circle. His five straight points ended Kentucky's early 10-0 run and quieted the blue-clad section of the crowd, which had been getting pretty loud. He broke a tie with just under four minutes to go with a spinning baseline layup that also drew a foul. He also grabbed 12 rebounds despite often giving a few inches to the players around him. On top of that, my eyes tell me that he might just be the best passing big man in the Big Ten. That pass to Freeman for a layup in the second half was beautiful.

Erek Hansen got into early foul trouble and hit the bench before the 17:00 mark for the second time in three games. He came back in the second half with some monster defensive plays. Any Wildcat who found his way into Hansen's lane was likely to get his shot sent back or at least altered. Erek had five blocks in only 15 minutes of action, and they all came at crucial points. I'm sure Hawkeye fans everywhere cursed him out for the two traveling calls, but he did add a putback and a jump shot and finished with six points. I'm really starting to like our defense when Hansen's on the court.

Thunder Doug's dunkless streak is up to two games, but he contributed in other areas. His line included six points, seven rebounds, and three blocks in 21 minutes. He even added a Thunder Dime ®. He already looks less awkward and more capable of fitting into the offense than he did at any time last year.

Stats of Note
The game had roughly 74 possessions, meaning Iowa's offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) was about 90.6. That won't get it done most nights, but a defensive efficiency of 85.2 will help you out anytime the offense hits a rough patch. I still feel like this has a lot to do with Kentucky's holes on offense, but we'll take the W.

Iowa turned it over 14 times, or on about 20% of their possessions. That's pretty average on most nights, but against Kentucky it should really be considered a success. A lot of those turnovers were stupid travels and not the result of being overmatched, so I'd expect less of them as the season goes on.

The Hawks actually got beat pretty badly on the boards. They rebounded only 27% of their own misses, mainly because Rondo was grabbing everything in sight. He had 17(!) defensive rebounds, and 19 total. Kentucky rebounded 35% of their missed shots.

From what I've read elsewhere, everyone seems to perceive this game as an upset. Was it really, though? Is this really a Kentucky team that will earn another low seed in the tournament? Who's going to score points for them all year, especially if Rondo has another off night? Defense wins games, but it's still only half of the equation. I think this win will look less and less impressive as the season goes on. Tonight is the real test.
Other Recaps
Hawkeye Hoops isn't the only game in town....yet. Check out what others had to say.

Andrew Logue
Susan Harman - good play-by-play of the last few possessions
Pat Harty - cautiously optimistic
Andy Katz - profile of Texas forward LaMarcus Aldridge
Monday, November 21, 2005
Next Up - #9 Kentucky
#20 Iowa vs #9 Kentucky
Time - 8:05 pm

Iowa gets their first big test of the season tonight when they meet Kentucky in the semi-finals of the Guardian's Classic. Kentucky's aggressive defense should be a nice challenge for Iowa's reputed lack of athleticism. If the Hawkeye guards can handle that pressure, Iowa should have a good chance to pull off the "upset."

Initial Thoughts
If you haven't read it already, check out Ken Pomeroy's offseason rundown of Kentucky's team. Like he says, Kentucky was a decent offensive team last year (#25 nationally), but their success was very much propelled by an excellent defense (#6). With the losses of three of their biggest offensive contributors in Kelenna Azubuike, Chuck Hayes, and Randolph Morris, the current Wildcat team is much more tame offensively. They've only managed to score 104 points per 100 possessions in their two games against South Dakota State and Lipscomb, or about the same scoring rate Iowa posted against a fairly tough schedule last year.

Point guard Rajon Rondo has picked up a big share of this year's offensive load, and at 18 ppg is the only Wildcat averaging double digit points (though he's also averaging about 10 mpg more than any teammate). He was very good at getting near the basket last year, as evidenced by his high 2pt% (55%) and FTA/FGA rate of 0.515 (quite high for a guard). Mike Henderson and Tony Freeman will have primary defensive responsibility on Rondo, and their performance will go a long way in determining Iowa's fortune tonight.

Defense is where Kentucky gets it done. They forced turnovers on 25% of their opponents' possessions last year, which was the third-highest rate among major conference teams (they were #1 if you exclude C-USA). Rondo's presence was the driving force there - he stole the ball on 6.0% of the team's defensive possessions, which is a phenomenal rate and no doubt among the top handful of players in the country. By contrast, Rico Tucker led Big Ten regulars at 5.0%, and Pierre Pierce was second at 4.2%. Iowa's offense can get a little stagnant when Jeff Horner is out of the game, so I'll be a little concerned if Rondo can basically "take him out" while Horner is still on the court.

Rebounding is one area where Iowa should be able to make up some ground. Even with the full team they had last year, Kentucky was a very average defensive rebounding team. They ranked 174th nationally and 7th in the 12 team SEC in defensive rebounding (or offensive rebounding % allowed). Their offseason defections cost them their two best rebounders (Hayes and Morris), and the difference has been noticable so far this year. In their first two games, Kentucky's opponents have grabbed 28 offensive boards to 48 Wildcat defensive boards, or 37% of their chances. Greg Brunner and Doug Thomas could find some extra put-back opportunities.

All in all, this should be a very good matchup, and I really don't view Iowa as an underdog. Kentucky is a great defensive team, and will provide an early test for the Hawkeyes, but their offense still has some holes.
Maui Update
Shannon Brown scored five minutes in the last minute of the first half to open a 40-34 halftime lead for Michigan State against Chaminade. Paul Davis already has three fouls. More trouble in paradise for the Spartans?

Update - Nope. MSU dominated the second half. Paul Davis finished with a double-double, and the Spartans won 89-67.
Morning Reading
Here are a few articles to browse through as you get ready for tonight's game between Iowa and Kentucky.

- Today's must read is Ken Pomeroy's overview of Kentucky, which was written about two months ago but still looks spot-on.

- Andrew Logue and Pat Harty take a look at Iowa's recent history of upset wins in November, and the Hawkeyes' chances tonight. I'll try to avoid the same cookie cutter when I write my own preview today.

- The Lexington Herald writes that while Rajon Rondo is the star for Kentucky, Iowa is not overlooking Patrick Sparks.

- Also from the Herald - a rundown of the wealth of great guards playing in the Guardian's Classic, including Iowa's Horner, Kentucky's Rondo, and Texas's Daniel Gibson.

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