Iowa Basketball Hope for the future?


Here is my take on the Iowa Men’s Basketball team right now, based on my personal observations and a bit of statistical research.  I have watched all of the Bowling Green, Texas and Wichita State games and about half of the Virginia Tech game, so my opinions are based on a fairly limited sample size.


In the games that I have watched, we have shown some promise on offense.  We tend to play good offense for significant periods of games, and by this I mean that we have good passing and good patience, which generally leads to good shots.  I know many people complain about all of our 3 point attempts, but during the games that I have seen, many of our 3 attempts have been open shots.  I think, in time, some of those 3s will fall.  Gatens and Tucker were both excellent outside shooters last season and I don’t think it was just a mirage.  We don’t have anybody who is a particularly good driver, but Gatens, Tucker, Payne and May have shown a few flashes of good driving ability.  They obviously lack the athleticism to be great at finishing in traffic, but eventually I think they can be OK at getting into the lane and finishing.  However, their strength will always be 3 point shooting and passing.  Unfortunately, we tend to have about 5-10 minutes per game where we are just God-awful on offense, leading to a 10 or 15-0 run for the other team.  During this time, we tend to take highly contested shots and turn the ball over. 

I don’t know why we only play 30 minutes of good offense per game.  Is it our lack of experience (which can be remedied) or lack of athleticism (which can’t be remedied) or lack of depth (which can be remedied next season)?  I think it’s a combination of all three of these things.  Due to our lack of athleticism, our guys must work harder than their defenders to get to the ball – otherwise, the defenders will win, due to superior athleticism.  Our 10 minutes of crap offense seems to happen when our guys get a little bit lax, either due to fatigue or just not being used to playing at the high D1 level for 40 minutes.  This lackadaisical play is manifested with guys not getting open and lazy passes on the perimeter, both of which lead to turnovers and transition dunks for the other team.  I don’t think that we are THAT lazy, it’s just that given our lack of athleticism, any lack of intensity on our part makes us look like we are in slow motion.  By next season, our improved experience and/or depth will hopefully allow us to play our best on offense for 40 minutes.  If we do put together our best 40 minutes of offense, we will be a very good offensive team because of our shooting.

Lot's of info/statistics after the jump


To flesh this out a bit more, let’s look at some offense statistics: 

 My source for all of the statistics in this post is, which collects efficiency statistics for all D1 basketball teams.  By “efficiency statistics” I mean the probability of something happening on a given possession, for example the probability of committing a turnover or getting an offensive rebound on a possession.  This is much more relevant than the overall number of points scored or turnovers committed because it normalizes everything by the number of possessions.

According to kenpom, we score 0.996 points on average per possession.  The national average is exactly 0.996 and we rank 183rd nationally.  In other words, we have the 183rd best offense in the country.  What is the cause of these struggles?

 Well for starters we haven’t shot very well:

 Our effective FG percentage is 47.8%.  Effective FG percentage = (Total field goals made + 0.5*3 pointers made)/Field goals attempted.  47.8% isn’t very good, it ranks 195th nationally.  The poor effective FG percentage is due entirely to our struggles from 3 point range (a problem which should go away as the sample size increases).  So far, we are shooting 29.3% from 3 (278th nationally) and 51.6% from 2 (72nd nationally).  If the 3 point shooting comes around, our effective FG percentage should improve.


We turn the ball over on 22.4% of our possessions (229th nationally, nat’l average = 21.2%).  That is not acceptable.  Lick’s Butler teams were among the best in the nation in this category they were usually at 14 – 17%.  The difference between 22.4% and 17% amounts to about 3 turnovers per game at our current pace.  My guess is that our aforementioned lapses are responsible for these extra turnovers.


We get offensive rebounds on 31.3% of our missed shots (224th nationally, nat’l average = 33.2%).  We don’t have the size or athleticism to get a lot of offensive rebounds, this statistic might get even worse over the course of the season).


We also don’t shoot many free throws, which is a byproduct of our offensive system.


Overall, I think that over the course of this season our 3 point FG% will improve which will cause our effective FG% to reach respectable levels.  If we can avoid these 10 minute lapses then I think our TO% will go way down too (that might not happen until next season though, when we will hopefully have some depth).  If that can happen, then I think our offense will be OK.

On to the defense:

 On defense, we just flat out suck.  According to kenpom, we give up 1.07 points per possession, which ranks 260th in D1.  Not very good.  Statistically, this is due to two things:

 1.  Teams shoot really well against us - 52.8% effective FG% (which gives 3 pointers a 50% higher value).  The national average for effective FG% is 48.8%.  Our 52.8% ranks 266th.

 2.  We don’t force any turnovers.  19% of our opponents possessions result in turnovers.  The national average is 21.2% (we rank 257th).


These might not seem like much but they are very significant.  We are actually in the top 40 nationally in terms of not giving up offensive rebounds and not fouling (which are the other two factors that determine the quality of a defense). 


From watching us play, I’m very surprised that we aren’t dead last in every defensive category.  We give up a LOT of easy shots both around the basket and from 3 point range.  Why is this so?  Certainly, this is largely due to our lack of size and athleticism.  We don’t have anyone with above average athleticism (by major D1 standards).  Our guards aren’t that quick, so we give up lots of dribble penetration and don’t close out quickly on shooters.  We lack interior shot blocking, so when we give up dribble penetration or post feeds, we can’t block/alter the resultant short range shots – so the other team makes a bunch of them.  After watching us play, it certainly is easy to lose hope that we will ever be any good defensively at all.  But should there be hope? 


To answer this question, I have looked at Lick’s Butler teams between 2005 and 2007.


Here is how they played defense during those years:


Year:  Points allowed per possession (National rank)

2005:  1.06 (238th)

2006:  1.00 (147th)

2007:  0.93 (48th)


They steadily improved their defense over time as their team gained experience.  Between 2005 and 2006, they got better at forcing turnovers.  Between 2006 and 2007, the effective FG% allowed went from 50.7% to 45.9%.  That is a huge improvement in one year.  45.9% effective FG% allowed is very good, it was 32nd nationally that year.  It wasn’t due to them playing against a bunch of lousy offenses either.  Their opponents in 2007 averaged 49.5%, so they held them to 4% less than their normal effective FG%.  This improvement was due to good defense of 2 point shots.  Their opposition went from 52% on 2 point shots in 2006 to 44% on 2 point shots in 2007.  This appears to be due to improvement of existing players.  The 2007 team was made up of juniors and seniors, most of whom were on the 2006 team.  The tallest guy in the rotation in 2007 was 6’7.  What does this mean?  It means their defense got way better without a dramatic influx of shot-blocking talent or athleticism in general.  It’s not like they brought in Bill Russell or something between 2006 and 2007.  The same guys went from a mediocre defensive team to a good one.  Obviously this is encouraging.  Hopefully, during the next couple of years we can make the same improvements on defense that Butler did between 2005 and 2007.


In summary, my research gave me hope about the future of our team.  This year is certainly gonna be rough, but I have hope for 2010 and 2011.  I think the shooting percentage will be there, we just need to cut down on the turnovers on offense and play better defense.  There is a decent chance that both of those things will happen as our guys gain experience.  Of course, if our best players continue to transfer then we will never improve.  Hopefully, that shit is in the rearview mirror now and we can actually move forward.


Sorry for the rambling.  It’s just that I did a lot of research and I wanted to share everything that I learned.  Hopefully, you are at least a little bit more optimistic about our future, I definitely am.  I think our goal as a program should be about where Wisconsin is currently at.  Consistently in the top 40.  I think we can get there.  


Unless otherwise expressly indicated by BHGP editors, this FanPost is strictly the viewpoint of the author and is not endorsed by BHGP in any way.

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