Iowa (7-1) vs. Notre Dame (5-1)
Date: December 3, 2013
Time: 8:15 p.m. CT
Location: Carver Hawkeye Arena
Line: Iowa -7.5
Iowa returns from its Bahamian getaway to take on Notre Dame in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge Tuesday night. Tipoff is set for 8:15 p.m. CT on ESPN2.
The Irish are 5-1 on the season, with an embarassing 83-70 home loss to Indiana State and a handful of wins over bottom-of-the-barrel opponents (Notre Dame's best win, according to Kenpom, was over No. 215 Santa Clara). Notre Dame has shot well, especially from outside the three-point arc, and distributes the ball especially effectively: The Fighting Irish have two assists for every three
points baskets scored, one of the highest assist rates in the country.
In large part because of the opponents, Kenpom is not particularly impressed with the Irish so far this year; Notre Dame is No. 66 in his ratings. With that said, the Irish do provide an interesting matchup issue for Iowa in one key aspect of the game: They don't bother getting to the free throw line, and they don't let opponents get there, either. Notre Dame gets to the line just three times for every ten field goal attempts, one of the nation's lowest free throw rates. On the other hand, they allow the opposition to get there at an even lower rate, less than once for every four shots.
The reason that is interesting: The disparity in free throw attempts between Iowa and its opponents has been one of the keys to the Hawkeyes' success so far this year. Iowa's shooting has been rather pedestrian so far this season, but the Hawks have made up for it by getting one free throw for every two attempts. If Iowa can't get to the line, scoring is going to drop. That means Iowa either has to force Notre Dame to foul like it's never fouled before or find another source of points on the fly.
Guard Jerian Grant is the straw that stirs the drink for Notre Dame, and might be the best all-around player that Iowa has faced so far this year. Grant averages 19.5 points and 5.5 assists per game, shoots 48% from three, and is maintaining an absurd 4:1 assist/turnover ratio. He's also 6'5, so Marble is likely to draw this assignment if Iowa opts for man-to-man defense. Senior Eric Atkins (14.0 ppg, 5.2 apg) is a third-year starter at point guard, and acts as an effective running mate for Grant. Freshman Demetrius Jackson did not play significant minutes in the loss to Indiana State, but has gone into double figures in the three games since and is becoming an increasingly important part of the Irish offense. Jackson is yet another outside threat: He is shooting 57% from three, on a limited sample size.
Notre Dame also provides an intriguing test for Iowa's front line. The Irish frontcourt is led by 6'11 senior center Garrick Sherman, who is averaging 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game despite playing just 22 minutes per contest. Sophomore Zach Augustine, senior Tom Knight, and sophomore Austin Burgett all play significant minutes and stand over 6'8, giving Notre Dame plenty of bodies to throw at Iowa's bigs.
The Irish do a lot of things that are going to make Iowa's life difficult: They protect the ball well, they move the ball in their halfcourt set with phenomenal efficiency and, probably most important of all, they do not allow easy points at the line. Most of Notre Dame's gaudy offensive statistics-to-date were racked up against Stetson (Kenpom No. 303 in defensive efficiency), Santa Clara (No. 315), Army (No. 324, ironically), and Cornell (a dead last No. 351), and Iowa's defense will be unlike anything that Notre Dame has faced so far. Indiana State shut them down by defending the outside shot (ND went just 7/26 that night), and Iowa remains one of the nation's best teams in perimeter defense. Expect that 42% three-point percentage to decrease significantly tonight. If Iowa does that, pressures Notre Dame into a few extra turnovers, and uses tempo to get easy shots and force fouls, Iowa should be safe.