Big Ten Geeks: Here come the Hawkeyes

On Saturday, Iowa defended its home court with a win over Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes raced out to a 30-10 lead before the Badgers finally got something going on offense, though I think that early start for Wisconsin overshadows what kind of game this really was.

Both offenses scored over a point per possession, which is a good sign for this Iowa offense that had been struggling somewhat in conference play. Most of the problem can be traced to some awful outside shooting as Iowa has struggled to replace the shooting acumen of Matt Gatens. And Saturday was no different, as the Hawkeyes made just 2 of their 10 attempts from three-point range.

But two things kept the Iowa offense rolling—a lack of turnovers and free-throw shooting. Iowa drew 23 fouls against the Badgers, and made 24-of-29 free throw attempts. Free-throw shooting is an area where Fran McCaffrey’s team excels (currently the best free-throw shooting team in the Big Ten), which indicates that it’s only a matter of time before the Hawkeyes improve their outside shooting.

Although Iowa sits at just 2-3 in conference play (with tomorrow’s trip to Ohio State looming), there’s a real opportunity for it to go dancing for the first time since 2006. The Hawkeyes still have 5 games remaining against Penn State, Nebraska, and Northwestern, as well as home games remaining against Purdue and Illinois. If Iowa simply wins those games (and it should be favored in each of those matchups), the team will finish the season at 9-9, which is a virtual lock to make the Dance.

You have to admire the job that McCaffrey’s done in turning this program around. When he was hired, the team was coming off a 4-14 season, and to make matters worse, was losing several players to transfer and other off-court issues. Thus, the first thing the coach had to do when he got the job was simply find enough bodies to field a team in the short term. What’s noteworthy, however, is that the large freshman class that McCaffrey welcomed in his first season as head coach now makes up the core of this revamped Hawkeyes squad. That’s not always how these rebuilding projects go. Last year’s Indiana team did not feature the likes of Malik Story, Nick Williams, and Bobby Capobianco, after all.

Michigan State raced out to a 13-2 lead over Ohio State, but it was a seesaw battle for the rest of the way. In the end, though, the Spartans held on after Shannon Scott threw up a puzzler of a final shot. It sounds as if Scott thought he might be fouled by the Spartans, as they were protecting a three-point lead at the time. Thus, Scott wanted to be sure that any foul would result in three free-throw attempts. That’s all well and good, except the foul never came, and Scott’s attempt did not threaten to hit the rim. Deshaun Thomas didn’t sound too happy that he didn’t get a chance to add to his 28-point total, reminding reporters that “I was knocking down shots all night.”

That, no one can deny. Thomas scored his 28 points on 20 shots, and even more impressive, turned the ball over just once despite consuming so many possessions. But as this team has shown over and over again this season, an offense that lacks efficient complementary parts is not going to be very good, despite how good its best player is. The rest of the team scored 28 points combined, and it took them 27 shots to get there (and they committed 13 turnovers as well). In sum, the Buckeyes managed just 0.93 points per possession.

The line of the night for the Spartans probably goes to Adreian Payne, who scored 14 points on just 6 shots, and also pulled down five boards. Tom Izzo played just 8 players in this game, and Matt Costello received just five minutes, so it was really more of a seven man rotation. It seems like Izzo just might be eschewing depth and depending more on his starters this season.

Penn State seemed allergic to victory on Saturday, allowing Nebraska to pick up a road win. The Nittany Lions missed five free throws in the final 24 seconds to allow the Huskers to hang on to the win. By contrast, Nebraska made every single one of its 16 free-throw attempts. Shavon Shields led the way with 29 points on 11 shots, though he did turn the ball over 6 times as well. After going scoreless in the first half, Jermaine Marshall finished with 18 points on 16 shots.

Northwestern only made things slightly interesting in a home loss to Indiana, when it pulled within six points of the Hoosiers with about seven minutes left. But Indiana made its free throws down the stretch, and the Hoosiers picked up another road win, their third on the Big Ten season. That said, conference play might be exposing some cracks in IU’s defense. In each of the last three games, Indiana’s opponent has scored well over a point per possession, something that only happened twice in the non-conference season. It’s probably no coincidence that those two games were against Georgetown and Butler. In the former game, Indiana had to win in overtime, and of course the Hoosiers dropped the latter. The moral of the story is that when the Hoosiers defend well, they’re probably unbeatable. But they’re susceptible to bad defensive performances.

The good news is that even when the team isn’t defending particularly well, they’ll usually still win. That offense is tough to stop, something the Wildcats are aware of after the Hoosiers torched them for 1.24 points per possession. Cody Zeller spearheaded the attack with 21 points (11 shots) and 13 rebounds. Reggie Hearn led the way for Northwestern with 22 points.

Finally, Purdue beat up on a bad West Virginia team in a late non-conference matchup. This game was never remotely interesting, as the Boilers grabbed control out of the gate and never looked back, pushing the lead to as much as 32 points in the second half. Raphael Davis responded well to being inserted into the starting lineup, scoring 16 points on just 6 shots. D.J. Byrd also had a nice game with 17 points on 8 shots.

We’re just about a third of the way into the conference season, but already we have some teams that are nearing critical junctures of their season. Both Michigan State and Wisconsin need to keep winning to have a chance at the conference title, but only one of them will keep pace on Tuesday when the Spartans visit Madison.

Illinois probably has to win at Nebraska that evening as well, if it intends to get an at-large bid this season. The good news is that Nebraska’s offense is good medicine for a struggling defense, as the Huskers score the fewest points per possession in the Big Ten. There’s probably a variety of reasons for that, but one of them has to be the fact that only eight teams in all of Division I attempt fewer shots at the rim than Nebraska, and similarly only eight teams attempt more two-point jumpshots than the Huskers (via hoop-math). This is a mid-range offense that isn’t very good at making them. The moral is that if Illinois can’t stop Nebraska from scoring, it might not be able to stop anyone. Of course, the same could have been said about Illinois’ offense against Northwestern, and that did not turn out so well for the Illini.


Your Opinion?
Show Comments (11 Comments)
Jay Miesfeld on 1/21/2013 @ 3:54pm EDT Said:

I have to respectfully disagree about Iowa being a virtual lock at 9-9 based on those projected wins above. Iowa has one of the weakest schedules in the Big 10 by chance this year. They could go 9-9 with a win over ONE NCAA worthy team (Wisconsin). Especially if Illinois continues on their current trend. The committee looks at who you’ve beat and Iowa would have only one good nonconference win (Iowa St) plus that win over Wisconsin with no big time road wins. That is a bubble team at best and likely on the wrong side of the bubble. The Big 10 is loaded this year. But Iowa has the schedule to to be a pretty weak 9-9. The committee won’t ignore who those 9 wins were against.

Jonathan Wolfe on 1/21/2013 @ 6:55pm EDT Said:

Weakest big ten schedule? who would you rather have seen them play so so far? Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin in their first 5 games is hardly weak. Maybe you should look at who Wisconsin played prior to Iowa. Only Indiana was worthy and they won that game, but Nebraska, Penn Statand fading Illinois are hardly as difficult a stretch. Wow.

Johnnyhawkeye on 1/21/2013 @ 7:50pm EDT Said:

The big ten tournament will give the Hawkeyes more opportunities for marquee wins.

Jay Miesfeld on 1/23/2013 @ 4:59pm EDT Said:

By weakest, I was looking at overall schedule. Iowa’s single games are against Michigan, MSU, OSU and Illinois. They have 8 games against what most would agree are non tourney teams (PSU, Nebraska, NW, Purdue). It’s 9 if you think Illinois will miss the tourney. That is about as weak a schedule as you can get and costs Iowa a chance at significant resume building wins. They will not have a win over OSU, MSU or Michigan as they already lost their only matchup with those teams. Therefore Iowa could easily get 9 wins yet have almost no quality wins in the conference.

TJ on 1/23/2013 @ 10:14pm EDT Said:

But, Jay, if you want to make the case that Illinois might not make it, then under that scenario you are almost assuming Iowa DOES make it. the Big 10 is the best conference in the country and they WILL get seven teams and if it isn’t Illinois and if Iowa has a 9-9 conference record they will get in before Purdue. Even if you don’t think they deserve seven teams, they always get one more team in the tournament than people think they should. So Iowa would be in.

I for one believe they will be in if they are 9-9, but that could be solidified, obviously with a couple more wins in the Big Ten Tournament.

Jay Miesfeld on 1/23/2013 @ 11:11pm EDT Said:

The committee is on record saying they don’t look at conferences when selecting teams. It is not a given that the Big 10 will get 7 teams, 8 teams etc. It comes down to body of work. For example, I think Illinois at 8-10 in conference has a much better shot at making the tourney than a 9-9 Iowa team with the wins discussed above because Illinois has much better nonconference wins. Again if Iowa wins 9 games with 4 wins over other tourney caliber teams then yes they’ll get in. But if they have 9 wins with 2 wins over NW, PSU, Nebraska, Purdue and one win over Wisconsin they aren’t going to make it without some success in the Big 10 tournament.

TJ on 1/25/2013 @ 12:09am EDT Said:

The committee can say whatever they want to say. Most Big Ten followers I know agree that it seems like the B10 always gets one more team in the tourney than most people think they deserve. Do you honestly believe this conference, as tough as it is this year, will have a 9-9 team NOT make the NCAA Tournament?

If you want to think that Ilinois wil not make it and Iowa is 9-9, then there is no way they don’t make it. Period. I. will admit to being an Iowa fan, but if you ask knowledgable B10 fans about that scenario I believe most would agree with me.

Jay Miesfeld on 1/25/2013 @ 11:40pm EDT Said:

I’m confused why everyone is dealing in generalizations instead of looking at specifics. Most teams with 9 Big 10 wins will have acquired multiple quality wins. However as I stated above Iowa can get 8 wins against 4 teams in the conference that have no shot of an at-large NCAA bid. A 9-9 record with only 1 quality home win over Wisconsin will not get them in the tournament. Beating bad teams doesn’t give you a tourney worthy resume. If Iowa wins those bottom feeder games to get to 9-9 they will definitely be placed behind an 8-10 Illinois on the S-curve because the Illini already have 3 wins (Butler, Gonzaga, OSU) better than Iowa’s best win (Wisconsin).

    TJ on 1/26/2013 @ 7:59pm EDT Said:

    People deal in generalizations because the trends are generalizations. There may always seemingly be a reason the B10 gets more teams in the NCAA Tournament than most think they should and the reasons might vary from year to year. But for whatever reason, a team that is .500 in the B10 rarely gets left out in the cold. If the B10 is everyone’s consensus pick as the toughest conference in the nation it would seem even less likely a .500 team would get left out in the cold when they pick the field, a field that is also now 68 teams. If the trends of the past continue, then Iowa at .500 in B10 play would likely be the beneficiary of the trend and make the field.

    You don’t have to explain it to realize it is a trend. And it is a trend that typically there is at least one B10 team that people wonder why they made it. At 9-9 Iowa would be that team this year, unless everyone just flat out thought Iowa deserved it. Right or wrong re who deserves it or how many B10 teams should make it, my theory is sound, I believe.

Jay Miesfeld on 1/28/2013 @ 12:53am EDT Said:

Iowa could benefit from your “trend” if it beat several tournament level teams in conference. But you continue ignore my previous point, likely because you can’t argue against it, that 9 wins is not an automatic bid to the tourney. Iowa could have gone 9-9 with exactly 1 NCAA caliber conference win over Wisconsin. That won’t get it done. Or to use your type of argument: There have been multiple examples the last few years, especially from the SEC, but other leagues as well, where teams with +.500 conference records get left out because they got most of those wins against inferior opponents. The clear trend here is that teams that pile up wins against cupcakes and the bottom of their conference get left out of the tourney. You get the benefit of the doubt from having some big wins on the resume. Iowa has very few and none away from home. However, our discussion may already be moot. The Hawkeyes’ loss to Purdue today gives them 5 conference losses already. They are now going to have to win get a win at Wisconsin or Illinois (barring a very surprising upset) plus not drop any games to a NW, Nebraska, or PSU to even get 9 wins. Big 10 may only be looking at 6 bids as Illinois is continuing to slide.

    TJ on 1/28/2013 @ 11:49am EDT Said:

    Jay, I just honestly believe that if Iowa is 9-9 in B10 play this year that they will be in the NCAA Tournament. Period. Also, the B10 Tournament kind of muddies these types of analysis because if they go 9-9 and win two in the BTT then that is different than going 9-9 and losing in the first game of the BTT.

    I am not trying to ignore your argument. I just really believe that if a team with the amount (not saying they are big quality wins) on non-conference wins as Iowa goes 9-9 in B10 play they will be in the big dance this year.

    That is my entire argument. I don’t disagree with anythign you are saying in your argument. At the end of the day, though, I just feel that if it unfolds the way you say it might that the result is that Iowa is in and you think otherwise. That is where you and I part ways.

    Of course, if they keep having problems getting the W when they are up with less than two minutes to go like against Purdue, it will be a moot point.