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FRANALYSIS: HAWKEYES GET IT DONE WITH DEFENSE ON THE ROAD

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Iowa helped the Big Ten clinch the ACC/Big Ten Challenge with a victory in Chapel Hill last night. Let's take a look at how they did it.

I love this picture so, so much.
I love this picture so, so much.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

After two disappointing losses against Texas and Syracuse about two weeks ago, Iowa encountered a similar situation on the road in Chapel Hill. This game had all the makings of another letdown against another top team, but this time, instead of everything falling apart, everything broke Iowa's way. With about 5:00 left in the game, Mike Gesell drove the ball to the basket and instead of going up and getting his shot rejected, he pump faked. I repeat: Mike Gesell pump faked near the basket, got the defender off his feet, and then proceeded to bank the shot home. Suddenly,  just when it seemed as if North Carolina might pull away, Iowa found themselves with a 51-50 lead. And that was just the beginning of the good fortune for the Hawkeyes.

The final 1:16 of game time saw Mike Gesell actually make a layup, draw the foul, and knock down the subsequent free throw; Anthony Clemmons take a charge as Marcus Paige was driving to the basket; and Paige actually miss a game-tying three point attempt (after a terrible time-killing possession by Iowa) that I think we all were sure was going to go in. In other words, the ending of this game was the opposite of what we are used to. Iowa started fast, faded as the game went on, but instead of coming up short at the end, they finished strong and brought home the win.

quarters

It was amazing.

Four Factors in Review

1st half

2nd half

4 factors

Points Per Possession: Iowa 0.97, North Carolina 0.89

Possessions: 62

Shooting

First of all, credit Iowa's defense because North Carolina shot the ball atrociously all game long. Iowa was bad in the second half, but the Tar Heels couldn't hit water falling from a boat in either half. For the game, North Carolina made only 15 of their 45 (33.3%) two point attempts and 4 of their 23 three point attempts (17.4%). If it wasn't for their offensive rebounding abilities (especially in the first half), the Heels would have averaged something like 0.60 PPP. But, yeah, North Carolina really struggled to shoot the ball. Here's the shot chart, courtesy of Shot Analytics:

UNC Shot chart

Iowa did their usual thing of switching between man and zone defenses throughout the game, but they played quite a bit of zone against the Tar Heels. Of course, they knew that North Carolina wanted to feed the ball to their big men in the post and drive the ball to the rim for layups/fouls, so the Hawkeyes made a bet that the Tar Heels weren't going to be able to shoot their way out of the zone. As it turns out, that was a very good assumption. Carolina came into this match up attempting only about 25% of their shots from long distance, but Iowa's zone forced them into taking 34% of their shots from out there and that's clearly not what this Carolina team is built for. Marcus Paige is their best three point shooter, and he accounted for 12 of their 23 threes attempted, but I will take him settling for contested threes all day instead of letting him get in the paint and make things happen. Seriously, look at Paige's shot selection against Iowa:

paige

The zone was a nice call by McCaffery.

As for Iowa, they were actually knocking down their shots in the first half at a nice clip. However, they were settling for a lot of mid-range jumpers and there was no way they were going to keep falling all night. And, sure enough, they didn't.

iowa shot chart

Once halftime struck, Iowa went cold from the field. The Hawkeyes went 8-33 in the second half, which is pretty obviously bad. Luckily, when their shooting abandoned them, they used the other three factors to help overcome only scoring 9 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half. That was helpful.

Overall, though, the hot first half shooting gave them the edge in this category.

Advantage: Iowa

Turnovers

Hanging onto the ball was a bit of an issue for Iowa in the first 20 minutes of play. The most significant giveaway was the play at the end of the first half, where Mike Gesell had the ball taken from him by Marcus Paige, and J.P. Tokoto was able to get out on the break and draw the foul with 0:01 remaining in the half. Iowa had the chance to go into the half with at least a 4 point lead, if not more. Instead, they went into halftime leading by only 2 points.

Thankfully, that wasn't the key turnover of the game. Rather, that distinction goes to Marcus Paige who was called for a charge with 0:50 left when he ran over Anthony Clemmons on his way in for a layup.

So, yes, Iowa lost the turnover battle slightly for the game, but they gave it away at a rate lower than their season average and the late, back-breaking turnover actually belonged to the opposing team for once. So I'm pretty happy with this category.

Advantage: North Carolina

Offensive Rebounding

Look at the offensive rebounding bar on the first half chart for North Carolina. Seriously, take another look. The Tar Heels rebounded over half their misses in the first 20 minutes of this game (15 of the 29 available misses). That's how they went into the break down only two despite Iowa out-shooting them 52%-29%. 11 of North Carolina's 29 first half points were of the second chance variety. Part of this came from the fact that Iowa played a lot of zone in the first half, and zone isn't always the easiest defense to find a man and box out because you are guarding an area. That being said, not all of it was because of the zone, and a lot of the balls looked as if they were just bouncing off of the hands of Iowa players. The first half was, quite frankly, pretty embarrassing from a defensive rebounding standpoint.

Additionally, the Hawkeyes couldn't come away with any of their own offensive rebounds in the first half either, as they grabbed only 1 of their 12 missed shots during the same time period. Fortunately, just like the we saw with the turnovers, Iowa also got its rebounding act together after intermission. Thanks to Iowa's talented front court of Uthoff, White, Woodbury, and Olaseni, the Hawks actually came way with an offensive rebounding rate of almost 60% in the second half. That's right, Iowa pulled down 16 of the 27 available offensive rebounds in the final 20 minutes of play. And this was key too, seeing how Iowa scored 12 of their second half points on second chance opportunities. The Tar Heels still grabbed a few too many of their missed buckets after halftime, but they only got 5 second chance points out of them.

In total, Iowa also lost this category, but thanks to a great second half performance on the offensive glass, it didn't cost them the game.

Advantage: North Carolina

Free Throw Rate

Iowa did their thing when it came to free throws Wednesday night. We are pretty used to Iowa winning this category, considering Fran's Iowa teams tend to draw so many fouls, yet abstain from giving their opponents free opportunities for points at the line. However, Iowa's free throw rate is a little bit down on offense this year (still early, of course), and North Carolina is very good at drawing contact and making their way to the charity stripe. None of that mattered in this one, though, as the Hawkeyes put up a free throw rate more on par with seasons past, and continued to make sure that the opposing team, no matter how good they are at drawing fouls, doesn't make a living there.

An extra special bonus even came in the form of made free throws for the Hawkeyes. They finished the night 21-24 from the line, and they even made their free ones down the stretch. This was very nice to see, and again, not something we are necessarily accustomed to in tight games of this nature.

Advantage: Iowa

Overall: Iowa Won 2 Out of the 4 Factors

Players

players

It was pretty fitting to have a trio of Iowa guys play huge roles in going into Chapel Hill and upsetting the Tar Heels. We've talked ad nauseam about Roy Williams coming into Iowa and luring our state's homegrown talent away, so this win feels even more special when you consider the starting point guard for the Tar Heels was from less than an hour up the road from Iowa City. But instead of Marcus Paige being the star of this game, it was a couple of his former AAU teammates that stole the show, and a Cedar Rapids native that did a lot of the dirty work.

Let's talk Mike Gesell first, shall we? A lot of people have been down on him after he had an abhorrent March last season and seemed to carry that over into November of this season. But the Mike Gesell we saw against North Carolina is more along the lines of what we've been waiting to see out of the third year point guard for some time. He was finally finishing at the rim and even making his jump shots.

gesell

Granted, he's not likely to go out and score 16 points on 6-10 shooting every game, but he's capable of scoring 10 points on something like 3-8 shooting on any given night. The main thing for him is to be smart when he drives the ball into the lane. Too many times we've seen him go up and get his shot blocked without drawing any contact or without looking for someone to dish the ball off to. Against North Carolina, he was smart when he penetrated the defense. As I mentioned above, he had a nice pump fake near the basket on one occasion, but on another occasion, he drew the foul going up for a layup, and actually converted the shot too. He was also smart about kicking the ball out to the open man beyond the arc, rather than testing North Carolina's bevy of shot blockers. This was a great game for Gesell, and I couldn't be more happy for him. Hopefully December spells a turnaround for him, and we can just go ahead and wash away any memory of November from our collective conscience. Maybe he just needs to pretend he's playing his friend Marcus every game?

After Gesell, Adam Woodbury was key to this Iowa victory. He started off slow and didn't do a damn thing in the first half other than collect two fouls, but he was a beast in the second half. Woody finished the night with 11 points on 5-7 shooting, hauling in 7 rebounds (2 offensive), but he did all of his scoring and grabbed 5 of his rebounds in the second half. When Iowa went through one of their patented offensive droughts, Woodbury was the man who stepped up and started calling for the ball. He showed some nice footwork when he had the ball, and continued to show an improved mid-range jump shot this year.

woodbury

The 7-footer even used his height advantage to easily shoot over the top of the likes of Kennedy Meeks and other Carolina big men on a couple of occasions, while also getting 4 points off of his 2 offensive rebounds. For a guy who had the opportunity to go to North Carolina and play with a good friend, this victory had to be bittersweet for him. I know it is for me.

Our third and final Iowan who had a big night, was none other than Jarrod Uthoff. He had a big night, but it was a little unconventional for him. We are used to him knocking down jump shots with ease, but he struggled to find his stroke against Carolina. Uthoff was responsible for most of the team's scoring attempts, but he only made 2 of his 13 shots from the field, including only 1 of his 7 tries from long range.

uthoff

But while Iowa would have benefited from a better shooting performance from him, he gave it his absolute all on the glass and on defense. Uthoff's 8 points were 2 shy of a double-double, as he pulled in 11 rebounds (4 offensive) on the night, and 8 of his rebounds (4 offensive) came in the second half of the game. On the defensive side of the ball, #20 was responsible for 5, yes 5, blocked shots and even had 1 steal. Gabe Olaseni is still the best shot-blocker and basket defender on the team, but Uthoff's length allows him to not only contest shots at the rim, but he's also able to get his hands on a lot of jump shot attempts, too. Kenpom currently has Uthoff at 94th in the nation blocked shots (Olaseni is 9th), which is damn good for a guy who pretty much plays the small forward position exclusively. In a game where it would be easy to say Uthoff was ineffective on offense, we should give him credit for doing all the other things very, very well.

Moving away from our Iowa theme, Aaron White found a way to quietly do his thing against Roy Williams' bunch. He went 0-6 from the floor, but did his usual foul-drawing routine, and went on to score 10 points on 10-10 shooting from the free throw line. His free throw performance is why he has a higher TS% than everyone on North Carolina besides Meeks. Iowa's veteran ginger ninja even threw in 8 total rebounds (3 offensive), and like Uthoff, came up with 6 of them (3 offensive) after halftime.

Last but not least, Anthony Clemmons finally had a nice game against better competition. After disappearing against Texas and Syracuse, Sapp provided some offense for team that was fairly-offensively challenged. He finished with 8 points on 3-7 shooting, including 1-3 from downtown. Besides knocking down some early jumpers, he also had a nice drive to the basket in the second half where he split the UNC defenders, made the layup and was fouled at the rim. He also played his usual good defense, and was a big part of the reason that Marcus Paige went 4-16 from the field. If there is one complaint about his performance, it was that he had 4 turnovers on the night. He's cut those fairly significantly so far this year, so I'll give him the benefit of one game. He had a nice performance, overall.

Wrapping this up, let's talk some bullet points.

  • Gabe Olaseni also played a solid game against North Carolina. He again showed just how good he is at running the court in transition, as he threw down a nasty dunk off a nice pass from Josh Oglesby. He also swatted 1 shot on the night, which means that Iowa's main shot-blocker now has at least 1 block in every game this year. For what it's worth, Uthoff has at least 1 block in seven of his eight games played, too. Iowa has a nice pair of defenders in these two.
  • Speaking of streaks, North Carolina was only the second opponent of the season that Aaron White has not dunked on. The only other team that held him dunkless was North Dakota State. He was averaging 3 dunks per game against his last 4 opponents coming into this game, too. But don't you worry, his 37.84% dunk rate (percentage of made field goals that are dunks) through 8 games is right in line with his usual non-conference dunking performances:

white dunks

  • While Gesell and Clemmons had pretty good games, Josh Oglesby and Peter Jok continued to underperform. With Oglesby, I'm at least willing to think he will start shooting the ball better at some point. He's a senior with a track record of doing nice things, and he's still doing a good job of finding open teammates and not turning the ball over. He just needs to get his shot to start falling. With Jok, however, I don't know what to think. He doesn't have the same resume that Oglesby does, so I don't know how I see this season going for him.
  • Iowa clearly can't count on much help from their most recent recruiting class this year; at least not this early in the season. Brady Ellingson may or may not redshirt, but he won't play much this year no matter what he does, so it's not like it matters. Trey Dickerson still looks to be finding his way, and with only 3 minutes against North Carolina, Fran still doesn't totally trust him yet. And Dom Uhl, despite getting more minutes than the other two, is still very raw. He's a guy I wish could have redshirted.
  • Due to the nature of this game, there were a lot of people on Twitter talking about how North Carolina is overrated because Iowa clearly isn't that good, and I'm sorry, but I think both of those statements are just wrong. North Carolina may or may not be the 12th best team in the nation right now (Kenpom currently has them at #13, though), but if they aren't that good, I don't think they fall outside of the top 25. Iowa, on the other hand, I still think has the talent to be a top 25 team, as well. I said it after last season, I said it before this season, and I still believe this team has a lot of talent on it. Outside of one really bad half against Texas, the Hawkeyes haven't been overmatched at all. I think because this team appears to be defense-heavy, as opposed to possessing something more similar to last year's potent offensive attack, a lot of people are discounting how good Iowa actually is. With iffy guard play so far this year Iowa has been blown out in one half by Texas, came close to knocking off Syracuse in Madison Square Garden, and pulled off the upset in Chapel Hill. North Carolina was a game in which the point guards played better and they won. Start getting some more consistency from the shooting guards too and Iowa could win quite a few games this year.
  • Speaking of the defensive nature of this team, I liken this game to an Alabama/LSU football game. The defenses are so good that neither offense looks all that impressive and commentators and fair weather fans talk about how both teams are just so terrible. Good defensive teams with inconsistent offenses can play tricks on your eyes, but they always seem to be right in the thick of things. Both of these teams came into this game with legit defenses, and neither was expected to put on an offensive show. And a defensive slugfest is exactly what we got. The only oddity from this game was the fact that both up tempo teams only combined for 62 possessions.
  • McCaffery briefly gave all of us a heart attack in the second half when Iowa was struggling to generate much offense and he had (if I can remember correctly) all of the starters out of the game. The second unit predictably stumbled on offense, and thankfully Fran inserted the main guys back into the game after a timeout. But that could have been an absolute nightmare that cost Iowa the game against a big opponent on the road. My only guess is that he wanted to give his starters one last breather before making a final push at the end of the game, but he should probably never do that ever again. Until Oglesby or Jok start to find their mojo, Fran should probably keep at least 1 starter on the court at all times against real competition.

Okay, that's a lot of words. I apologize, but this game has me so damn giddy, I couldn't help myself. If you haven't yet, go watch the highlights of this game. As a matter of fact, if you have ESPN3 or BTN2Go, you should probably just re-watch the entire thing. You will not regret it.

Oh, and it may be a day later, but you should just go ahead and keep moving your damn feet! WOOOOOO GO IOWA AWESOME.