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Friday, December 02, 2005
Weekend Reading
With baseball in the rear view mirrow and college football slowing down, Scott Long of The Juice Blog put together a college basketball preview series this week. He interviewed two notable fellow bloggers, John Gasaway (the Big Ten Wonk) and Ken Pomeroy, and even sought the opinion of yours truly. He concluded the series with his own tournament forecast. It should be noted that in last year's preview (written on December 1), Scott listed three of the Final Four teams (Illinois, UNC, and Michigan State) among his top six. Read up.

Also, there's a new poll at the right. Do your part.
Hawkeye Challenge Starts Tonight
Iowa vs Fairfield
8:11 pm CST

Iowa's annual home tournament gets underway at 5:45 tonight with a matchup between Tulane and Valparaiso. The lucky winner will know a day earlier that they'll leave Iowa City with only one loss. C'mon, we've all come to learn that major conference teams don't lose at their own tournaments (*cough, cough*), and this weekend will be no different.

Coach Alford, like any other coach, takes a more modest approach, bringing up Fairfield's recent three point loss to the Big East's Providence and the tournament history of both Tulane and Valparaiso. Nice spin coach, but PC isn't exactly a power team this year, Valpo's vaunted tourny history includes one win (but what a win it was....remember Bryce Drew in 1998?), and Tulane's last NCAA tournament victory came in 1995. Tradition is nice, but it doesn't do a lot for any of these teams this weekend. [But I'll give Tulane a free pass from criticism this weekend - they were one of the New Orleans teams displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Susan Harman has more.]

Back to Fairfield, Iowa' opponent tonight. They're coming off a decent run in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, finishing in the top three for three straight years. Unfortunately, the outlook isn't so rosy this year. They lost Deng Gai, the nation's top shot blocker (per game) last year and the MAAC's defensive POY for each of the past three seasons. He leaves a big hole to fill, as Fairfield's biggest regular this year, Marty O'Sullivan, stands 6-7, 230. Fairfield has responded by jacking up more threes - 30% of their attempts were threes last year; the figure is 38% through three games this year.

If O'Sullivan is the biggest guy on the team, the rest can't exactly be giants either -

G - Terrence Todd, 6-0
G - Jonathan Han, 6-0
G - Michael Bell, 6-4
F - Alvin Carter, 6-4
F - Marty O'Sullivan, 6-7

The bench doesn't look much bigger. Danny Oglesby (6-3) and Michael Van Schaick (6-2) are the only others averaging 10 mpg. As expected, Fairfield is getting beaten pretty badly on the boards - Providence grabbed 48% of their offensive rebound opportunities against the Stags.

Anybody remember Michael Bell? He played at Marshalltown and was first team all-state in 4A back in 2002. I'm sure Larry Morgan and Mac McCausland will bring him to your attention tonight, should you be watching from home. Bell's reputation is the designated shooter, and he has a decent 37% career 3pt%, though he's off to a Horner-esque start at 6 for 21 (29%) so far.

Facing an undersized squad should give Iowa a great opportunity to re-establish their inside game tonight, which has been noticably absent in the games against ranked teams. Kentucky, Texas, and NC State held Iowa to 42, 45, and 33% shooting on their two-point shots, respectively. There were a lot of shots swatted by that trio's assortment of trees, as well as a lot of bunnies missed by Iowa. It's hard to imagine the former will be a factor tonight. I'd expect Greg Brunner to improve on the .310 FG% he posted over his last three games.

The bigger issue on many fans' minds seems to be the dismal three-point shooting of Adam Haluska and Jeff Horner. Maybe they'll get a chance to work on that tonight, but my guess is that Iowa will just pound away inside against Fairfield's dimunitive roster.

One final thought (and feel free to comment on this) - anyone have a guess as to what the crowd will be like this weekend? It was awesome having the Hawks Nest filled from top to bottom on Wednesday, and I'm hoping the crowd's intensity of that game's final few minutes, combined with the win, left a good taste in everyone's mouth and encourages them to come back for some of these less exciting games. I know I'll be there.
Oh Happy Day
Ken Pomeroy broke out his comprehensive possession-based stats page for the 2005-06 season. Stats nerds (myself included) rejoice from coast to coast. Now you can check each team's offensive and defensive efficiency and see how they compare to every other team in the country. The offense and defense summary pages break down the two categories into Dean Oliver's Four Factors (click on Articles, it's at the top of the list)- shooting efficiency, turnover rate, offensive rebounding, and free throw frequency.

A little sampler.....
[the stats and abbreviations are explained in my Stats Primer]

Iowa, through 6 games
Offensive Efficiency - 96.7, 154th nationally
eFG% - 45.5%, 232
TO% - 20.6%, 105
oRb% - 36.7%, 77
FTM/FGA - .232, 186

Defensive Efficiency - 74.3, 5th nationally
eFG% - 39.9%, 14
TO% - 27.2%, 26
dRb% - 73.0%, 57
FTA/FGA - .241, 29

In short, Iowa's offense has been painful to watch at many times (the last ten days certainly come to mind), but they've been making up for it with a top ten defense. It's hard to place much stock in season statistics this early on, as many teams have only played two or three times, and against widely varying levels of competition, but given that Iowa has already played three ranked teams, their defensive numbers look downright gaudy.

Their game-by-game defensive efficiency (or points allowed per 100 possessions) -
UMES - 51.7
Colgate - 79.4
Kentucky - 85.2
Texas - 104.9
Tex-SA - 68.1
NC State - 60.4

According to Ken, the national average for PPP stands at about 96.0. So, against a fairly tough schedule, Iowa's offense has been about average, while the defense has been outstanding. A couple cake games this weekend should help to improve that poor shooting and the overall outlook of the offense.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Iowa 45, NC State 42
Hawks score 45........and WIN! That was easily one of the most fun basketball games at Carver-Hawkeye in the last year and a half, despite the low score. The guys just put forth a hell of a defensive effort to pull it out. Unfortunately, I'm one of those early-to-rise types, and it's well past my bed time. Back tomorrow.
Last Minute Look - NC State
If you haven't heard already, North Carolina State should provide a strong challenge for Iowa's perimeter defense tonight. Their lineup is filled with versatile guys who can knock down jumpers, and they take a lot of them. The team plays a patient style that usually results in good shots for the offense.

NC State returns seven of their top nine guys from a team that excelled at shooting threes last year. 42% of the team's shots were from long range, and they connected on 37% of them (which is the equivalent of 55.5% on two point shots). Through five games, this year's team is shooting even more threes - a full 46% of their field goal attempts.

Four returners made threes with both quantity and quality last year.

Name Height 3FG 3pt%
Ilian Evtimov 6-8 66 42.6
Engin Astur 6-4 67 38.3
Cameron Bennerman 6-4 42 39.3
Tony Bethel 6-1 39 33.6

They give the Wolfpack a balanced attack that could be difficult for Iowa to fully defend.

Cedric Simmons will be the man in the middle for NC State tonight. He's off to a good start - he leads the team in scoring at 13.4 ppg and is shooting 63%. He's also been a frequent visitor to the free throw line, shooting almost eight times from the stripe per game. At 6-9 and 233, he's not that big, so hopefully Iowa's post guys can contain him and allow the team to focus on NC State's stable of shooters.

Other notable Wolfpack characteristics - they don't rebound well, they don't turn the ball over much, and they force quite a few turnovers.

Even against a tame early schedule, NC State rebounded only 30% of their missed shots, while their opponents got 37% of their's. Given the way Iowa handled rebound-savvy Texas on the glass, Iowa should have a big advantage at rebounding tonight.

It looks to me like we'll have a close game on our hands. It might be slower than a lot of fans like, but it's exciting to have a quality opponent play here in a non-conference game. If Iowa doesn't get burned too badly by NC State's threes, they'll be in good shape. Insightful, huh?

Go Hawks!
Note To Students
Big game tonight! Iowa hosts North Carolina State, a nationally-ranked team that advanced to the Sweet 16 last year, in a game that will be nationally-televised (ESPN2). Best of all, there's free pizza before the game for student season ticket holders! It'll be behind Section I at 7:45, courtesy of Coach Alford.

By the way, for you students trekking to Carver-Hawkeye tonight, plan to show up early. Fans attending the 5:30 women's game will be allowed to stay for the 8:30 men's game. A ticket for the women's game will be treated as a general admission ticket to the men's game, or the equivalent of a student ticket, so there will be plenty of people at CHA willing to take your seat.
Morning Links
Just a few Iowa-NC State links to pass along as you get your day started -

Susan Harman
Jason Brummond
Jim Young, News-Record (NC)

Steve Alford
Horner, Brunner
Herb Sendek, Engin Astur

Studying and Basketball
Andrew Logue
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Next Up - #24 North Carolina State
Iowa faces its third ranked opponent in only its sixth game of the season when they play North Carolina State tomorrow night. The game is the final matchup of the annual Big Ten - ACC Challenge that our conference gets dominated in every year.

Since I tend to focus on Big Ten teams, I thought it would help to delve into the mind of an NC State fan and learn a little more about our opponent. Steven, the man behind Section Six, an avid Wolfpack fan, and a very capable stathead, was cool enough to answer a few questions I had about his favorite team. My questions are in bold, his responses are not. Easy enough.

Last year's team was clearly centered around Julius Hodge, a first round NBA draftee. Has a new leader emerged this year, or will the team be much more balanced?

Out of necessity more than anything else, I expect more balance. I don’t think there is anyone on the roster that is talented enough to carry the load like Hodge did last season.

That said, Gavin Grant is doing his best Hodge impression. Like Julius, Gavin has been productive in three major categories (points, rebounds, assists); and like Julius, Gavin has been using a lot of possessions. Grant has a lot of work to do, though. He’s not nearly as efficient as Hodge was.

With the maturation of the Wolfpack’s sophomore class (Brackman, Simmons, Grant), NC State should have more reliable scoring options than it had last year, and that should also lead to more balance.

Which players should we know heading in the game? What do they do well?

In addition to Gavin Grant, who I mentioned above…

Ilian Evtimov is one of the most important pieces to the Wolfpack’s offense. He is an excellent passer and a good outside shooter. As I’m sure you’ll see on Wednesday, he isn’t shy about taking a deep three-pointer. Evtimov also likes to post up near the baseline, about 10-15 feet from the basket and penetrate/distribute the ball from there. He is a non-factor on the glass because he plays more like a guard than a forward. Plus he’s had like fifty knee operations. He will also commit his share of turnovers, but that’s because distributing the ball is a big part of his game.

Cedric Simmons is arguably off to the best start of anyone on the team, leading the Pack with nearly 20 points/40 minutes. Long and lean, he is NC State’s only “true” post player—he won’t be shooting from outside 15 feet too much. Although he’s quite good at blocking shots, his low post defense still needs work.

NC State had one of the country's better offenses last year, and is off to a great start this year, but few people realize that because of the team's slow pace. How are they so efficient?

The slow pace is a big part of the Wolfpack’s success. NC State doesn’t rebound very well (at either end of the court), so the Pack employs a style that helps it maximize its possessions. NC State does that by shooting well and shooting a lot from outside, and by maintaining a low turnover rate. The pace naturally causes some bellyaching among the fans, but I think it’s less frustrating this way. NC State is extremely patient, which makes for a lot more good shots than bad ones.

What other strengths and weaknesses will be apparent Wednesday night?

I like the Wolfpack’s perimeter defense. NC State has big guards that can make open jump shots more difficult to find. But I noticed that Horner and Haluska aren’t lacking height, so we’ll see how that goes.

At the offensive end, NC State is more comfortable operating against a man-to-man defense, as that allows the Pack to be more versatile and to take advantage of 1-on-1 matchups. The offense can bog down and become more tentative when a team goes to zone defense, especially if the three-pointers aren’t falling. Regardless of what the opposition is doing, NC State sometimes relies on the perimeter shot too much.

Rebounding and interior defense are also issues. I’ll get into those things below.

Cedric Simmons and Andrew Brackman were both good shot blockers last year, but aren't very sizeable. Do they make points in the paint hard for all opponents, or can they be neutralized by thicker players, like Iowa's Greg Brunner and Doug Thomas?

Although both put on some muscle during the off-season, I fear that Brunner and Thomas will neutralize them. Simmons and Brackman are sophomores who still need plenty of work against good post players. Against Notre Dame on Saturday, they struggled to defend Torin Francis, who had 13 points on 6-8 shooting and collected 11 rebounds (4 at the offensive end).

Simmons and Brackman both have a couple of inches on Brunner and Thomas, which I’m hoping will help. Even if Brunner and Thomas struggle to score, they will almost certainly win the rebounding battle.

Iowa is a decent rebounding team - does that worry you?

I worry about rebounding every time NC State plays someone not named Stetson. Rebounding has been the Pack’s biggest weakness in the past, and so far this season it doesn’t look like that has changed. Simmons is probably the team’s best rebounder (he should be, anyway), but his rebounding percentage through five games is just 11.5%. That’s well below the numbers that Brunner and Thomas have been putting up in their careers.

Does NC State get overlooked with the other basketball powers in the state?

Definitely. Duke and North Carolina cast big shadows; they’re hard to avoid when you’re just 30 miles away. I think a lot of the older Wolfpack fans have a difficult time because it didn’t used to be this way. I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so it’s been easier for me to come to terms with the situation.

Don’t get me wrong, though: the unceasing brilliance of Duke and UNC makes me want to hurl.

How do you like the Wolfpack's chances against Iowa? In the ACC?

I expect the game to be close, but I don’t expect the Wolfpack to win. Even though NC State did play a major conference team over the weekend, I don’t really have a feel for how good the Wolfpack is. Playing a road game against a ranked opponent should be instructive. I am looking forward to one of the better games of the challenge.

I’m optimistic about how NC State will fare in the ACC. Georgia Tech and North Carolina are going through massive rebuilding years, and Wake Forest hasn’t looked particularly strong in the early going. Relative to some teams in the league (like those just mentioned), NC State didn’t lose very much. I think a top-4 finish is realistic.

Thanks Steven!
While I Was Away
Welcome back - hope you had a great holiday weekend. I certainly enjoyed spending some time back at home. I took an extra day off from blogging yesterday, but I'm back and getting excited for a big Top 25 showdown tomorrow night.

There was a game in town while I was out, though. Iowa put a pounding on Texas - San Antonio with another impressive defensive effort, 79-46. They're a little past due, but here are a few notes anyway -

In Today's News
- Steve Batterson reports on Jeff Horner's injury status. He's been icing his thigh after playing most of the T-SA game with the injury, but he'll be back in the starting lineup Wednesday night.

- Susan Harman talks about Horner's struggles from behind the three point line this season. Iowa's primary deep threat has made only 8 of his 29 (28%) threes this season, after shooting over 40% for each of the previous two years. As many fans would tell you, Horner shooting has been much poorer when he's off-balance, and Alford agrees.

- Nick Richards of the Daily Iowan highlights Iowa's busy upcoming schedule, which has the team playing five games in ten days, including three games against 2005 NCAA tournament teams in North Carolina State, Northern Iowa, and Iowa State.

- Matt Coss previews what should be a great year for Iowa's intrastate rivalry games between the Hawkeyes, UNI, Drake, and Iowa State. The three big schools return most of their starters from tournament teams, while Tom Davis's Drake squad figures to be much improved, and is coming off a three point loss to Boston College.

More to come later today. . . . . . .

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