How you view this game will depend on what your standard for success is for this particular Hawkeye team. If a win is a win is a win, and everything else is nothing, then this was yet another failure. If progress counts for something, then this was a huge step forward. Iowa played the Gophers very tough, and looked like a completely different team from the hapless group that folded in 10 minutes to Northwestern. The Hawks played sound (man-to-man) defense, got timely offense from Eric May and Melsahn Basabe, and actually led the Gophers at the 14 minute mark in the second half thanks to pressure defense and several fast break points. After that, Minnesota's size took over and proved too much for Iowa on both ends. Trevor Mbakwe (a "bench" player due to his recent Facebook-related legal problems, although he played 35 minutes) dominated inside, with 16 points, 12 rebounds (four offensive), two steals and three blocks, and Ralph Sampson III stymied Iowa's offense again and again (7 blocks and almost as many shots changed).
The graph tells the story of the game (warning: nerd-out ahead). Basketball stat guru Dean Oliver (no relation to Iowa's DeanO) has found that four factors most often determine the outcomes of games: effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, rebound percentage, and free throw rate. I listed those four factors plus one more I thought was relevant. So where did Iowa lose this game?
- Was it eFG%? Nope. Iowa came pretty close to Minnesota here; both teams shot poorly, really;
- Was it turnover percentage? Again, no. Iowa and Minnesota were dead level in the number of their possessions ended in turnovers;
- Was it rebounding? Yes. Iowa was pretty handily out-rebounded, both on the offensive and defensive glass. The Hawkeye front line of Jarryd Cole (6'7"), Melsahn Basabe (6'7") was no match for the Minnesota line of Sampson (6'11") and Mbakwe (6'8"). Too often in the second half, the Hawks played good D for 30 seconds, had position for the board, only to have Sampson or Mbakwe jump them and volleyball the ball back out for an offensive rebound.
Was it free throw rate? Hell yes. Free throw rate, by the way, is free throws made divided by field goals attempted. This stat is designed to give you an idea of how often each team gets to the line and how often they makes their free throws. Minnesota didn't shoot a particularly impressive percentage (73%) but they got to the line 37 times compared to Iowa's 11. Some of this discrepancy is surely due to the fact that Iowa was undersized and actually fouling more, but 26 free throws? Fran McCaffery seemed to think that Minnesota was getting a favorable whistle, drawing a technical foul in the first half after complaining about how the refs a) missed an apparent Al Nolen travel and then b) called a phantom foul on the Hawks on the drive to the hoop that the travel allowed. I'm biased of course, and I'd have to look at the tape again to be sure, but there sure seemed to be a lot of wishy-washy foul calls against Iowa. It also didn't help Iowa that the refs seemed to have forgotten Section 9, Article 1 of the NCAA rule book, which reads "A player shall not be permitted to have any part of his or her body remain in the three-second lane for more than three consecutive seconds
while the ball is in control of that player’s team in his or her front court," and not "Ralph Sampson III may sit in the lane for 5-7 weeks" as one may have thought based on last night's game.
- Was it blocks? Yup. Block percentage (the percentage of of your opponent's shots a team blocks) isn't one of the four factors, presumably because it's included in the eFG% (a blocked shot is a missed shot after all), but it was such a big factor in this game that I had to include it. The Hawks blocked only 4.3% of the Gophers' shots, which isn't surprising given their size, but the Gophers blocked 20.3% of the Hawks' shots. That's unreal. And that doesn't even count all the shots that were altered and the general atmosphere of fear Minnesota's size instilled in Iowa's offense. If Iowa didn't get a clean look at a three or a fast break, they had a very hard time scoring. Minnesota ran a zone with Sampson on the back line to erase shots, allowing the perimeter defenders to pressure the ball.
I know it's a dread word, but I'll say it: this was a moral victory for the Hawks. Look, we're not making the NCAA tournament, we're not making the NIT, we're not even winning many Big 10 games, and we all knew that going into the year. If you want to be fair to this team, you have to grade them by how well they meet their potential. Against Purdue and Northwestern, Iowa played like they didn't care and looked like they didn't belong in the same gym. Against Minnesota, they played so, so much harder, put a real scare in the Gophers, and could very well have won if a few things had broken differently. On an inexperienced, short-handed and hodge-podge team like the 2010-11 Hawks, process, not outcome, is what counts, and the process looked miles better in this game.
Eric May seemed to get his hops back for this game. He had one awesome dunk and foul on the break, and an awesome track-down block on the break that was called a foul:
He was a bright spot all around, making three threes, playing solid D on Blake Hoffharber, and looking like his old self for the first time all year.
- Fran has a hot temper, but I think his technical was essentially tactical. He saw his team was getting hosed, and got a tech in the hopes that the refs would be embarrassed into calling things fairly.
- The D was so much better. It helped that Minnesota had only one great shooter to keep track of (Hoffharber), but the man defense (as opposed to zone) didn't show any of the big lapses and lost assignments that have plagued the Hawks.
- Anyone else notice the Big Ten Network having massive satellite problems? The most exciting sequence of the game for Iowa (a Basabe lay-up followed by an immediate Cartwright steal and lay-up) was a mess of garbled pixels for me. For a while I was listening to the game on the radio because the TV feed was too unreliable (and the radio feed was 12 seconds ahead of the TV feed).
- The Hawks might have an anti-Samson (or is it Sampson?) thing going: McCabe, May, Basabe and Gatens all looked to be sporting fresh SuperCuts.
Hey, we got a good BTN announcing crew (Shon Morris and Tom Hart)! I enjoyed the Rip Taylor reference, guys.