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Fran-Graphs, Michigan State

There's not much need for analysis of this game, and I don't feel like cracking jokes or laughing at Fran going ape on a folding chair. This was the worst game Iowa played all year -- worse than the Campbell game, worse than Creighton, worse than Iowa State. After some impressive strides on defense against Wisconsin and Minnesota, Iowa took 30 steps backward, and the result was an unprecedented fire-bombing by the Spartans.

"But isn't Michigan State the #7 team in the country? Shouldn't they have won?" Yes and yes, but if you watched this game, you'll know it wasn't a case of Michigan State doing rare or difficult basketball things, it was a case of Michigan State making layups, dunks and wide-open three pointers. Michigan State made 37 shots in the game, and, if the play-by-play is to be believed, 24 of those makes were dunks or layups and 10 were three-pointers (and they were open three-pointers to boot). Hold on, I don't think I put enough emphasis on that...

34 of Michigan State's 37 made shots were dunks, layups or three-pointers.

Michigan State's effective field goal percentage in this game was 70%. For comparison, Michigan State averages an eFG% of 52.6%, and the best shooting team in the country averages 58.7%. Spartans scored about 1.3 points per possession (95 points in approximately 74 possessions), while their season average is 1.09 and the national leader is at 1.22. The Spartans were getting close to the theoretical limits of how well a basketball team can shoot while opposing players are on the court.

But those are just dry numbers. To really appreciate how poor Iowa's defense was last night, you would need to go back and watch every play where the Hawks made some elementary error. In other words, you would need to watch the entire game again. Take the example pictured above, where all five players collapsed on Derrick Nix, leaving three Spartans so wide open that they were all waving their arms to get Nix's attention (and if Nix were Magic Johnson, he could have passed it over his head to another wide-open player under the basket). Or take any of the plays where Michigan State got a rebound and turned it into a layup because Bryce Cartwright did not get back on defense. Or the time Eric May abandoned his man under the basket to cover a man at the three-point line, conceding a lay-up. Or the time Melsahn Basabe allowed his man to walk right past him to the lane. Or when Devyn Marble turned his head in Iowa's "zone" and allowed a man to cut behind him and catch a pass for an easy layup. Or... well, you could go on, and no name on the team would be omitted. It was as close to a lay-up drill as you will see in college basketball.

Turnovers didn't help, and I see in the post-game comments that Fran McCaffery and some of the players felt that Michigan State was being too physical with Iowa. Here's what Fran said he was yelling about when he spiked the infamous chair:

"I wanted them to get the defenders off them," McCaffery said. "Couldn't you hear me? I yelled out loud enough."

It's true: Michigan State was playing very physical with Iowa, and the refs were allowing it. Many of the steals that Michigan State got, especially early in the game, came off of minor collisions that could have been called fouls. And the Spartans never passed up the opportunity to put a hand on an Iowa player as he cut or reach across his wrist as he dribbled. Iowa has gotten used to getting fouls called in those situations, and is unable to play through that kind of contact when the foul didn't come. Turnovers led to fast breaks and fast breaks led to layups and dunks. That was certainly part of the game.

On the other hand, the fact that home teams are allowed to get extra handsy in the Big 10 should be a surprise to exactly no one on Iowa. It's an unfortunate fact of life, and it's not going to change. And against Michigan State, it was as if the Hawks collectively decided: "this game is rigged, what's the point in trying?" Their frustration on offense led to passivity on defense.

Things got out of hand fairly early in this game, so maybe the best thing to do is forget about this result and move on. But for a team like Iowa, process has to matter just as much as outcome, and Iowa's process against Michigan State was not good. They looked tired, indifferent, and lazy, especially on defense. Michigan State is a great team, and would have probably won no matter what, but Iowa seemed to agree with that sentiment a little too readily. Only one player really showed consistent effort throughout, and that was freshman Aaron White. He finished with 15 points, four offensive rebounds, two blocks and two steals, and kept Iowa within shouting distance early with his activity on the boards and movement off the ball.

Beyond that, there's not much positive to say about this game. When you have only two more field goal makes than turnovers, when you miss nearly half your foul shots, when you shoot below 40% from the field, when your defense is of the type normally seen in a particularly disorganized pickup game, and when the opposition is good to begin with, losing by 34 is probably the best result you can expect.

Stray observations

  • I know my reaction to this game is particularly negative, and I don't want to read too much into it, but the effort here seemed far worse than against Ohio State, even if the result was roughly the same. It seems possible that the Hawks were just exhausted after the game Saturday.
  • A pretty depressing day for Iowa sports, no? The Coker mess and then this sandblasting, all within a couple of hours?
  • It's interesting to note how teams have changed their defense of Basabe. For much of last year and the beginning of this year, teams doubled Basabe instantly and tried to get the ball out of his hands. Now teams play him one-on-one and give him plenty of space on the perimeter. He can be a threat when he gets the ball inside, but his outside shot is still inconsistent and he has a hard time dribbling or posting up without making a turnover. Iowa's options in the post aren't wonderful, but does the team really look dramatically different with Brommer, Archie, or even Gabe Olaseni playing instead of Basabe? Those three add little on offense, except off of rebounds and at the rim, but Basabe isn't adding that much himself. And all three are taller, stronger, and arguably better defenders. I know it sounds crazy, but should Basabe be coming off the bench, at least until he improves? There are teams where Basabe has a good match-up and excels, but those are teams without strong post players. Against teams with big centers, Basabe is just too much of a liability on defense and too hesitant on offense to add much. The counter-argument would be that benching him would destroy his confidence, but that argument has always struck me as a little one-sided. Couldn't it also motivate him to improve?
  • Do you think Tom Izzo remembers losing to Iowa last year? He kept Draymond Green in until there were just six minutes left in the game, even though the Spartans were up by 26 less than a minute into the second half. He seemed to have a "Iowa delenda est" attitude toward the Hawkeyes, as if he wanted to salt the earth of Iowa basketball and never allow it to grow again. I hope all the Iowa players remember that and take their revenge as soon as possible.
  • The point at which I spiked my chair? When a pass bounced off of May's head into the hands of a Spartan, leading to a fast break? How about yours?