After a disappointing showing at home against Iowa State, the Hawkeyes head to Des Moines to play their final in-state team of the season in Northern Iowa.
The Panthers are on the upswing of their five year development plan. After being just pretty good the last four seasons, they look to have one of their best teams under Ben Jacobson this year. Their recruiting strategy seems to be to comb the state of Iowa for basketball players with good bloodlines that have been overlooked or neglected by Iowa and Iowa State, and then whatever holes are left on the roster, go and pluck a few overlooked guys from neighboring states. This is a developmental program, meaning that every so often they get a year or two where they put together a team that can cause chaos in March. The Panthers believe they have that type of team this year, but the Hawkeyes are hoping they won't cause any chaos for them this Saturday.
Similar to the matchup against Iowa State, this appears to be a battle between Iowa's defense and UNI's offense. Both are ranked as top 30 units by Kenpom, while Iowa's offense and UNI's defense are both situated in the 60s and the 70s, rankings-wise. What's not similar to the Iowa State game, however, is the fact that UNI isn't looking to get into footrace up and down the court. They will look to drag out possessions and minimize the amount of easy points Iowa scores. Differing styles aside, though, we should be in for a good basketball game between two closely-rated teams.
When Iowa Has the Ball
Note: All Kenpom rankings are from Thursday (when I was writing this), so if they are slightly different at the time you are reading this, that is why. Also, a reminder on how to read this chart: 100 = Division 1 average. Anything above 100 is above average, while anything below 100 is below average. The bigger the number, the better.
Both teams are fairly evenly matched based on Kenpom's rankings. The Hawkeyes have been a bad shooting team that doesn't draw many fouls, but relies on not turning the ball over and getting offensive rebounds in order to be potent on offense. UNI, meanwhile, doesn't allow teams to shoot the ball well all that often, nor do they put their opponent on the line or let them get offensive rebounds. That leaves the turnovers, and UNI doesn't seem to really care about turnovers all that much, they would rather stay in front of you and force you to dribble around the perimeter until the shot clock is about to expire; similar to your traditional Wisconsin defense.
However, if there is one area that Iowa should hopefully be able to exploit on offense, it should be their height advantage. Of course, I said that before the Iowa State game and we all know how that turned out. But UNI has nobody on their roster taller than 6'9" and none of those 6'9" players log a whole lot of minutes per game. Instead, Seth Tuttle and his 6'8" frame is the only constant big body on the court for the Panthers, and while he is a very good player, Iowa should be able to exploit this size mismatch. That means they can't get into another jump shooting contest with a team that can shoot the ball much better than them. Finding ways to get Aaron White, Adam Woodbury, and Gabriel Olaseni looks at the basket will be important for the team's eFG% (it would also be nice if Jarrod Uthoff wasn't just settling for contested mid-range shots all game long). Hell, their size advantage may even be a boon on the offensive glass.
So, can Iowa exploit their size advantage? Yes, they can. Will they? Who the hell knows.
When Northern Iowa Has the Ball
Well isn't that quite the chart? Both teams mirror each other's strengths exactly, and both sides even have the same rebounding issue on this side of the ball.
UNI runs a slow, grind it out offense that is perfectly fine to patiently wait for the defense to have a mental lapse on every possession. They are equipped with two speedy point guards who will prod the defense, looking for holes to attack. If they are successful in penetrating the defense, they love to attack the basket and make the layup/draw the foul. If they find themselves contested, they are more than happy to kick it out beyond the arc to an open three point shooter. If the point guards are unable to get inside the lane, the offense will often times run through Seth Tuttle. UNI will make quite a few entry passes to their big man throughout the game and let him go ahead and try to back the defender down one-on-one. Defenses can choose to double team him if they like, but that leaves them vulnerable when the ball gets passed back out to an open shooter.
One thing Iowa may have going for them in this game is, yet again, their size down low. Both Woodbury and Olaseni are good defenders in the post and if they can handle Tuttle without needing a double team, that will take away the threat of the kickout three after an entry pass inside. However, I do worry about Iowa's ability to keep UNI's quick point guard duo, Deon Mitchell and Wes Washpun, out of the lane. This may be a game where Iowa chooses to go zone-heavy, but it may not be all that effective if UNI can shoot their way out of it.
Team Shooting Tendencies
(Shot charts are courtesy of Shot Analytics.)
Iowa's shooting tendencies are fairly evenly distributed from the floor this season. I've already discussed their shooting tendencies ad nauseam, but poor three point shooting has been killer this year. Also, even with Iowa looking like at least an average mid-range jump shooting team, trading more of those for higher percentage shots closer to the rim would be better for their eFG%.
As for Northern Iowa, Shot Analytics does not keep track of Northern Iowa, so I don't have a fancy chart for them. However, that website does track Virginia Tech and Northwestern, so I pulled UNI's shot charts from when they played these teams earlier this season.
First, Virginia Tech:
Notice a pattern? In both games UNI employed a very efficient offensive game plan by basically either attacking the rim or shooting from long range. It's not a surprise then, that they have the 30th best eFG% in the nation.
Other than free throw shooting, UNI is the better shooting team from the floor. However, Iowa is the better team when it comes to contesting shots. Yeah, surprising. I know.
As for shooting tendencies, Northern Iowa is a little more three-heavy than Iowa is. However, this Panther team is shooting the fewest threes of any Northern Iowa team that Jacobson has coached since 2008. That's probably good news for McCaffery's squad.
When it comes to points, Iowa gets slightly more of theirs from two point range than the average Division I team. UNI, on the other hand, draws so many fouls, that they get more points than average from the free throw line.
Opposing Players to Watch
Seth Tuttle is by far the best player on the team. He has a little bit of range, but he does most of his damage in the paint. UNI makes it a point to feed him in the post on a regular basis, and they will often times isolate him on the block. leaving him one-on-one where he can get the high-percentage bucket at the rim or draw the foul. But Tuttle is more than just a scorer. Behind only Wes Washpun, the senior forward has the second best assist rate on the team. And on the defensive side of the ball, he's the best rebounder on the team and one of the best shot-blockers.
After Tuttle, UNI has two point guards that are both quick off the dribble. Deon Mitchell is the starter, while Washpun plays just as many minutes off the bench. Mitchell is a senior who has always been an a high-volume, low efficiency scorer, but he's taken that to a new level to start this year. Mitchell is taking just as many shot attempts as in past years, but his eFG% is at just 31% thanks to making only 32% of his twos and 19% of his threes through 10 games. Even with his shooting struggles, though, Mitchell is still pretty good at finding the open shooter when he drives. On top of that, he's still drawing fouls when he gets to the rim and knocking down his free throws at a decent clip.
As for Washpun, McCaffery should be somewhat familiar with his skillset, seeing as he offered him a scholarship coming out of high school. Washpun, of course, chose Tennessee over Iowa and when that didn't work out, he came back in state, but ended up in Cedar Falls. And it's not hard to see what McCaffery saw in him. He's got the highest offensive rating on this UNI team this season, and is using almost as many possessions as Tuttle. That's good. He can shoot from distance a little bit, but he prefers to put his head down and drive to the rim where he can get a high-percentage shot or find an open shooter (he has the 53rd best assist rate in the nation). And for being only 6'1", Washpun has some serious ups. He is the second best defensive rebounder on the team and he's also got the best block rate.
Outside of those key guys, Matt Bohannon, Paul Jesperson, and Nate Buss are the main three point threats for UNI. This trio is taking over 50% of their shots from downtown, and knocking down at least 36% of their attempts. Meanwhile, Marvin Singleton has a knack for grabbing boards on both sides of the court, while Jeremy Morgan, Bennett Koch, and Wyatt Lohaus are young players that are still growing, but look to have bright futures ahead of them.
What Kenpom Thinks
Projected Score: Iowa 63, Northern Iowa 62
Projected Odds of an Iowa Win: 51%
Projected Possessions: 62
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.02, Northern Iowa 1.00
Considering that Kenpom has Iowa at #29 in the nation and UNI at #33, it should be no surprise that his model sees this game as being essentially a coin toss on a neutral court. With Iowa's defense seemingly canceling out UNI's offense and vice versa, this should be a close game.
UNI will do their best to slow down the tempo of the game, and Iowa will try to use their aggressive defense to generate turnovers, leading to easy baskets in transition. If the Hawkeyes can speed the Panthers up and utilize their height advantage in the post, they should be able to win this game. However, if UNI forces Iowa to play slower and the Hawkeyes continue to be a jump shooting team that can't shoot very well, those missed shots will be the death of them in a lower possession game; especially if UNI is making threes.
So, yet again, this game probably hinges on Iowa's offense not looking totally broke for long periods of time. If they can avoid a long offensive lull, the Hawkeyes should walk out of Wells Fargo Arena with a nice non-conference win for their tournament resume. But if they fall victim to one of their usual shooting droughts, this UNI offense could make this yet another disappointing in-state loss.