Iowa might not have been particularly sharp Tuesday night against South Dakota -- with 4:46 left in the first half, the Hawkeyes were only up by one, and they were stagnant enough in the beginning of the second half that we saw Wrath of Fran for the first time this season -- but they were effective enough to go on a 17-5 run to end the first half and methodically pull away late, winning by 24 and covering the spread. Aaron White scored 21 and grabbed six boards, Roy Devyn Marble added 14 points, three assists, and a team-leading eight rebounds, and Anthony Clemmons dished out eight assists in his second game as the starting point guard. Defensively, Iowa held South Dakota, which had shot 46% from the field in their first eight games, to 34.5% for the night. It was South Dakota's hot outside shooting (9/22, 41%) and ridiculous free throw form (16/19, 84%) that kept the Coyotes in the game. It was the second game in a row where Iowa started three freshmen, and that lineup does appear to be a small improvement over the prior iteration.
If there was something that was worrisome about this game, it's the same thing that has been problematic since Iowa's first game of the season: This team is a poor outside shooting team. Iowa shot 2/16 from behind the arc tonight. That's 12.5%. For the season, Iowa is now shooting 31.1% from three, and, ironically, are taking 31.3% of their shots from three. Both those numbers are slightly below average for the country as a whole, but "slightly below average for the country as a whole" isn't going to go far in the nation's toughest basketball conference. Gesell and Clemmons are streaky, Marble still looks shaky, McCabe is taking too many outside shots, and the team's only pure shooter -- Josh Oglesby -- is shooting below the team's rather modest average.
The question, then, is why Iowa's taking so many shots from the outside at all. It's certainly not required under McCaffery's system. Unlike virtually every other successful mid-major program, Fran's Siena squads were not built on the three point shot. His last team, which went 27-7 and made the NCAA Tournament, took just 24% of their field goal attempts from behind the arc and scored just 18% of their points via the three point shot. In fact, only one of McCaffery's Siena teams took a ratio of three-point shots that his current team is taking: His first team in 2006, which finished 15-13. It was his least efficient squad on the offensive end, and the only team that did not win 20 games (and that team was about seven percentage points better from outside than the current Iowa team).
This team has the sort of athletes that are needed to run McCaffery's offense, capable ballhandlers on the outside that can get to the rim and size and athleticism inside that can convert. In McCaffery's desired system, those guys would be the center of the offense. As it is right now, passes from the rim that would go to White and Woodbury are all too often headed to the outside for another inexplicable three point attempt. It's not working against the cupcakes, and cupcake time is over. Iowa State entered tonight ninth nationally in opponent three-point percentage, with opposing players making just 22.6% from beyond the arc. The Cyclones are seventh in opposing effective field goal percentage. They have been good on defense, and really good on perimeter defense. If Iowa is going to win Friday, it's going to have to be without needless and contested outside shots.