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Breaking down the loss to Iowa State, one disappointing jump shot at a time.

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

This season is not last season. This much we know. Trying to compare this year's Iowa Hawkeyes to last year's Iowa Hawkeyes is literally like comparing apples and oranges; yes, they are both fruit, but, boy, do they sure taste different.

If I was going to compare this year's squad to another Iowa team under Fran McCaffery, though, it would probably be the one from two years ago. And, if you think about it, last season was a bit weird. I don't know about you guys, but I entered last season expecting Iowa to struggle from the field (like they had in 2012-2013), but continue to play lockdown defense. I mean, they had only lost Eric May to graduation and, while he was a good defender, you wouldn't expect to see much of a drop off. Well, we all know how that worked out once February started. So, entering this season, I think a lot of us suffered from the recency effect in that we expected Iowa to be a pretty good offensive team and struggle with defense. Of course, that's not how this season has started and, after this Iowa State game, I think we are all a little more confused about just what to make of this year's roster.

Again, allow me to direct your attention to the 2012-2013 Iowa Hawkeyes:


That picture is from the wonderful Kenpom website, which posts relevant statistical categories for every year so that you can compare and contrast past and present teams with ease. Now, if you look at the team from two years ago, the resemblance is pretty striking. It's not perfect, of course; this year's team isn't getting to the free throw line as much and is shooting more threes on offense (related?), while struggling to hit the glass on the defensive side of the ball. But even with those little differences, this year's team has slowed down tempo-wise, to where they were before last season; they have a similar offensive and defensive efficiency; and a big reason why their offense is a problem this season is because they can't shoot the ball worth a damn. In other words, we are looking at a team that will go as far as their defense can carry them right now.

Of course, that's no surprise to anybody who has watched this team this season, but I bring it up to try to make sense of Friday's performance. Surely, since Iowa State was red hot from the floor and put up an insane eFG%, Iowa must be a crappy defense. Feel free to insert the sarcasm font there, but that's how some fans are taking this loss. Iowa is crap, burn it all down, etc. Yet one game does not make a season, and despite what happened in the second half of the Texas game, three halves of the other team playing good offensive basketball is still a small sample size.

It is with that in mind, that I refresh your memory about the non-conference schedule two years ago when Iowa lost to Wichita State and Virginia Tech. In a similar vein to the Texas game, Iowa was up 35-33 on the Shockers at halftime before being outscored 42-28 and losing by 12 points. And in another similar vein -- warning: the following sentence may give you traumatic flashbacks and BHGP is not liable for any and all damages that may occur from you reading it -- this year's loss to Iowa State reminds me all too much of the loss to Virginia Tech in 2012. Iowa State is better than that Virginia Tech team, but that game saw an offensive outburst in which the Hokies finished with an eFG% of 59% and averaged 1.27 points per possession (PPP). I don't want to ruin the surprise below, but Iowa State finished with similar numbers, and those offensive numbers for the opposing teams are what caused Iowa to lose those games.

I bring those up to remind you that, yes, the losses this year suck, but they are not the end of the world. Iowa went on to finish that year #25 in the nation, according to Kenpom. They didn't make the NCAA tournament, which is a legitimate gripe, but that may be the result of being a defense-reliant team (these teams tend to look worse to our eyes than teams who can score at will) playing in a really tough conference (so many close losses that season). One way in which this season could be different, however, is that Iowa's non-conference schedule is not nearly as weak as that season. So, despite losing to Texas, Syracuse, and Iowa State, if Iowa can beat UNI and the North Carolina win on the road still stands up as a nice victory, then this season shouldn't end in another NIT bid. So I encourage you all to not jump off a cliff yet. There is a lot of season remaining, and one bad game like this doesn't spell complete and utter doom.

Here is the breakdown of points scored by ten minute quarters:


Oof. That second half.

Four Factors in Review

1st half

Points Per Possession: Iowa 0.91, Iowa State 1.05

Possessions: 36

2nd half

Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.11, Iowa State 1.37

Possessions: 38

4 factors

Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.01, Iowa State 1.21

Possessions: 74


I hate to keep harping on the same point, but let's talk about Iowa's shot selection.


Here's an updated version of the chart I posted after the Alcorn State game. As you can see, Iowa continues to take the fewest amount of shots near the rim that they have since McCaffery took over as coach. They are actually kind of light on long twos, which is good, but they are still taking more than they did last season. Additionally, they are shooting from distance more than ever, which, in theory, should be worth it, but it hasn't worked out so well for them this season.

Overall, though, this team is much more infatuated with jump shots than they should be. I still believe that Iowa has been a bit unlucky from downtown this season, particularly because Josh Oglesby isn't this bad. However, at some point, unlucky or not, Fran needs to adjust for the fact that they are not shooting the ball well and go for more high percentage shots. They did not do that against Iowa State. They made an early effort to go inside with the ball, but they seemed to get away from it for long stretches as the game rolled on.


(Per usual, the shot charts are courtesy of Shot Analytics)

In total, after mining the box score, here is what I came up with:

Iowa Shooting Breakdown 2pt FG Near Rim 2pt Jump Shot FG 3pt FG
% of Attempts 36.6% 35.2% 28.2%
FG% 57.7% 24.0% 35.0%

Honestly, considering the height advantage they had, Iowa should have shot the ball better than 58% from near the rim. That being said, though, taking a third of your shots from the most inefficient place on the court and only making 24% of them is just a terrible strategy (especially with a team that can't shoot very well). And a lot of this is the offensive sets they run. Mike Gesell and Peter Jok are habitual offenders, and Iowa specifically runs plays to get guys like Jarrod Uthoff and Josh Oglesby shots at the elbow all the time. In fact, Shot Analytics has Iowa taking 15% of their field goal attempts from the right elbow this year, which is the highest volume on the court for them. The second most frequent shot attempt for the Hawkeyes has been the left and right wing threes, in which they have taken 11% of their shots a piece from both. I don't necessarily have a problem with someone like Uthoff taking open looks, but running more plays to get guys open looks at the basket (which Iowa did try early on against Iowa State) and from three point range would be a smarter way to run their offense.

If you would like a look at a smarter way to run an offense, here you go:


I count 8 shots that are neither inside the paint or from beyond the arc. Yes, Iowa State has better shooters than Iowa, but they also have a more efficient shot distribution thanks to Fred Hoiberg's concerted effort to not waste possessions by taking the least efficient shot on the court. Iowa State essentially maximizes the potential of their shooters, while Iowa minimizes the potential for theirs.

Now tell me, which strategy is better?

Advantage: Iowa State


This is one of those categories in which Iowa won the battle in the box score, but I would probably argue they lost it when you take into account which team had the most damaging turnovers. First of all, despite Iowa only turning the ball over 7 times and Iowa State losing the ball 10 times, the Cyclones had 11 points off of turnovers to just 7 for the Hawkeyes. And what was even more embarrassing, was that 5 of Iowa's 7 turnovers ALL GAME and their only 5 of the second half occurred in the first 4:00 of the second half. That is also when Iowa State got all 11 of their points off of turnovers. Two turnovers a piece by Aaron White, Adam Woodbury, and a final one by Gabe Olaseni led to 3 layups, a three pointer, and 2 free throws for the Cyclones. What was a 5-point game at halftime, suddenly became a 19-point blowout. According to Kenpom's win probability chart for this game, Iowa's odds of winning went from about 40% at halftime to about 5% at the 16:00 mark. That means we can estimate that those five turnovers (and a few other things) dealt approximately a 35% blow to their win probability. That's huge.

And it wasn't classified as a turnover, but you could even argue that Mike Gesell getting his shot blocked at the end of the first half was as good as a turnover because it led to an easy Matt Thomas transition three.

In total, we are talking about 14 really easy points by Iowa State that changed the direction of this game. I have a hard time assigning those points to the defense, when it was really the offense that gave away those baskets. If you take away the play before halftime, Iowa State only averaged 0.97 PPP in the first half. If you take away those 14 points, then the defense only allowed 1.03 to one of the best offenses in the nation. So while I would agree that Iowa's defensive effort was fairly poor after the early barrage in the second half, I would argue that the outcome of this game had more to do with poor offense and poor offensive strategy on the part of the Hawkeyes. It's never good when your team looks disparaged after the other team makes a big run, but I still think the defense is fine. It's the offense, yet again, that remains a problem.

And, again, Iowa technically won this category, but those 5 turnovers after halftime just absolutely killed them.

Advantage: Iowa

Offensive Rebounding

We are establishing a bit of a pattern here, but I will again say that Iowa technically won this category, but not by nearly as much as they would have liked. First, let's talk Iowa State's 18% offensive rebounding rate. The main reason it didn't matter that Iowa kept Iowa State off the offensive glass, is the fact that the Cyclones finished the game with a 62.5% eFG%. When you shoot the ball that well, grabbing what misses you do have, is not quite as important as it is under normal circumstances.

Secondly, even though Iowa won this category, they were still held below their season average of 35.7% by quite a bit. Making it all the worse, is the fact that the Hawkeyes had the height advantage. Iowa's best offensive rebounders in Olaseni, Woodbury, and White all finished with lower offensive rebounding rates than their season average.

So yes, Iowa technically won this category, but not by as much as they needed to.

Advantage: Iowa

Free Throw Rate

Both sides came into this game being tops in the country when it came to keeping their opponent off the free throw line, and both sides continued that trend. Though, while both teams finished with 13 free throw attempts, it took Iowa 71 field goal attempts to earn those trips to the line, while it only took Iowa State 64. But, overall, this category didn't really matter a whole lot in this one.

Advantage: Iowa State

Overall: Iowa Won 2 Out of the 4 Factors



Aaron White and Peter Jok were the most efficient scorers with a high volume of scoring attempts for Iowa in this one. Of course, that didn't matter all that much when Iowa State had five players in the top right corner of the chart.

Meanwhile, even though the chart above shows us just how efficient a player was on offense, it doesn't give us the whole picture. Therefore, I give you an additional chart this week:

game score

The chart above plots each player by their minutes played and their game score. I've seen Bill Connelly use game score in his game recaps, and I thought it would be informative to use it in mine. Game score merely attempts to give each player a number rating to signify how well they played overall, and not just on offense. For reference, a game score of 10, is considered an average performance. That means, yet again, Iowa State is clustered way too far up in the right hand corner.

But, sticking with Iowa, Aaron White was the player of the night for the Hawkeyes. He put up a final stat line of 18 points on 6-11 shooting, including going 1-3 from long range and 5-5 from the free throw line.


Besides scoring near the basket and drawing fouls (the usual for White), he also came away with 6 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal. White had the opportunity for more assists, as he made two absolutely beautiful passes to Woodbury in this one, but Iowa's big man couldn't convert on either field goal attempt. Other than those two killer turnovers after halftime, White continued to show why he's the best overall player on this team.

Peter Jok came off the bench and had himself a game. 14 points on 5-10 shooting from the floor (2-4 from three) and 2-2 from the free throw line against better competition is no doubt a welcome sight for a guy who Iowa could really use some offense out of. The results were nice, but the method in which he used to score was not exactly the most optimal.


On one hand, I was very happy with the fact that Jok seemed more determined than usual to put his head down and attack the rim. It paid off in the form of two buckets from up close and with 2 free ones at the line. However, he was also part of the jump shooting problem in this one. Sure, he made a long two, but he also went 1-4 from that efficiency black hole out there. And the one he made was a contested shot that when it first went up I was like "No! Bad shot, bad shot, bad shot!" And then then it went in, and I was all like "Nice shot, Peter." All that being said, it was still a nice game for the young guy. He also tallied 6 rebounds and 3 assists and was rewarded for his offensive output by playing 25 minutes; the most he's played in a game all season.

The third best player of the night for Iowa, Mike Gesell, really struggled shooting the ball, but was a catalyst for the offense with the way he set his teammates up all game. The bad, of course, was the 12 field goal attempts (4 of them which he made) to get to 9 points.


He had some issues early on getting his shot blocked in the lane, but did better with that as the game went on. Unfortunately, after hitting an early three pointer in the first half, his shooting from outside the lane was absolutely off all night. Considering a third of his shot attempts on the season have been long twos, he's another guy I would like to see stop shooting so much from there. Last year he was only taking 27% of his shots from there, so it would be nice if he could go back to that. But anyway, Gesell's 7 assists and 0 turnovers were important for this offense, and he continued to show that he can be a good player. The main problem for him continues to be efficiency due to struggles in the lane and his affinity for long twos.

Last but not least, I want to mention Jarrod Uthoff because he had a quiet game by his standards. 9 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, and 1 steal is good for just about anyone, but the Hawkeyes need more out of him against good teams; especially with how this offense is playing right now. And I'm not going to lie, Uthoff was probably my biggest frustration on the night. His 4-10 shooting was largely because he was simply settling for contested jumper after contested jumper.


With Uthoff's size, I get that he can shoot that mid-range jumper over just about anybody, but he's shooting only 28% from there on the year compared to 71% near the rim and 39% from beyond the arc. With his size and skillset, he should be the epitome of efficiency by taking most of his shots from downtown and near the rim. When he's wide open, he's probably the one person on the team I don't absolutely hate taking a long two, but at the same time, if he's going to take so many of them (including settling for so many contested ones), it's just a waste of offensive potential.

Okay, time to finish with some bullet points.

  • Above I mentioned how Iowa's offensive issues are in part the half court offense they run. But, on the other hand, some of this isn't just about the offensive sets that Fran has taught this team to run. Some of this has to do with his philosophy of playing his bench players so much. Peter Jok had a nice game Friday night, but Fran's continued insistence on putting a lineup of something like Anthony Clemmons, Josh Oglesby, Peter Jok, Dom Uhl, and Gabe Olaseni on the court (even for fairly short periods of time) against good teams is maddening. Again, in theory, that lineup should be pretty good, but Oglesby is in a funk, Olaseni isn't a go-to scorer on the block, Jok and Clemmons are not consistent, and Uhl is way too young and inexperienced. This lineup lacks a consistent scorer (Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff) and a consistent distributor (Mike Gesell). At this point, there is no reason for Fran not to have at least two starters in the game at all times against good competition. In other words, Fran should be more like Hoiberg and play his best players a lot more than he does. If that means he has to move White back to the three spot for periods of time in order to get Gabe and Woody on the court together, so be it. This team can't afford any more offensive lulls resulting from this type of non-effective lineup.
  • Iowa's offense is better in transition than when they run their half court sets. This is not a surprise; we can all see it with our eyes on a nightly basis. However, I wanted to know just how bad, so I pulled the data from Hoop-Math to check it out. Now, ideally, I would like PPP numbers for transition and non-transition situations, but I don't have that. So, the next best thing is shooting. Now, we all know that most teams shoot better in transition due to getting better looks at the basket, whether that be in the form of easy layups or open threes. And looking at the data, the average Division I team is shooting 7% better in eFG% when in transition this season than when they are not in transition. Iowa, on the other hand, is shooting 14% worse (57% in transition, 43% in non-transition) when they are not out on the break. That's the 303rd worst differential of any team in Division I basketball this season. If there is any bright side to this, it's that Iowa is 28th in the nation in the percentage of field goals attempted in transition. However, that is still only 28% of their overall field goal attempts, which means they are putting up a 43% eFG% on the other 72% of their field goal attempts. Blah.
  • Iowa has only played about 4 real opponents this season, but I have noticed a trend against them all. Namely, the Hawkeyes tend to start fast, fade going into halftime, and then absolutely fail to show up coming out of the break:

top 40

  • There was a somewhat similar trend last year, too:

2013 quarters

  • Iowa State was the first opponent to hold the Hawkeyes dunkless in a game this season. The last time Iowa was held without a dunk came on January 28th, 2014 (last season) in a home loss to Michigan State.
  • Speaking of dunks, the bullet point above means that Aaron White was held to 0 dunks on 6 made field goals. Here is the updated dunk-o-meter for the season:
Aaron White Dunk-O-Meter Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior Career
Dunks 32 56 51 17 156
Field Goals Made 136 140 143 51 470
Dunk Rate 23.5% 40.0% 35.7% 33.3% 33.2%

  • As for tracking Gabe Olaseni's blocked shots, he swatted 3 of them against Iowa State. He is now currently the 6th best shot blocker in the nation, according to Kenpom. And I'm not saying it's going to happen, but just in case, I want to take this chance to remind everyone that my "other prediction" before this season was that Olaseni would win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Yeah, I'm just going to leave this here (h/t PSD):

With one in-state opponent now in the bag, Iowa moves on and prepares to face their final one in Northern Iowa. From all indications it seems that UNI has a pretty good team this year, so hopefully the Hawkeyes can bounce back and come away with a victory in Des Moines this Saturday.