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PRE-GAME FRANALYSIS: IOWA VS. DAVIDSON

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The moment we've all been waiting for since 2006 is finally here. Can the Hawkeyes step up to the challenge?

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

After nine long years, Iowa basketball finally returns to the Round of 64. It's an exciting feeling for sure, but it's also a bit nerve-wracking, given how the first round of the 2006 tournament went. But let's not go there.

The game is tonight and Iowa is playing Davidson College. It's an interesting matchup, to say the least, and one that people have been trying to wrap their minds around all week. I've heard comparisons to Indiana, Wisconsin, UNI, and Iowa State, and honestly, none of those feels like a perfect comparison to me. I get the Indiana comp because Davidson has a great offense that shoots a lot of threes, but plays no defense. Where that comparison lacks is the fact that Indiana is very reliant on the dribble, drive, and kick. The Hoosiers run a lot of screen and rolls, while Davidson's offense focuses more on screens away from the ball and they don't utilize a lot of dribble penetration because they tend not to have the kind of athletes that Indiana has. So Iowa's defensive strategy from the game in Bloomington doesn't directly apply to this one.

Wisconsin also isn't a good fit for me because they have actual big guys who killed Iowa on the glass, and that was a huge part of why Iowa lost to them in both games this season. Davidson should not be dominating the glass on Iowa, and their defense shouldn't look as good as Wisconsin's did against Iowa either.

UNI, meanwhile, was a game Iowa lost because their offense was still trying to work the kinks out and they flat out couldn't buy a basket near the rim. Again, Davidson's defense is not as good as UNI's, so this will hopefully not be an issue.

And, finally, Davidson does not have the same type of athletes that Iowa State does. Iowa State broke the game open against Iowa by forcing some early turnovers in the second half, and Davidson is not a team that forces turnovers. Iowa State is also more of a pick and roll team like Indiana, so a similar argument applies here. Davidson's excellent ball movement is probably comparable to Iowa State's as some of the best that Iowa will see all year, but their defense and their athletes are not.

Instead, the comp I am hoping works in the Hawkeyes' favor, is Iowa's similarity to North Carolina. It's not a perfect match, of course, because Ol' Roy's team is playing at a much faster pace than Iowa is this season and the Hawks don't have Marcus Paige running the point. But North Carolina is another long team that doesn't shoot a lot of threes on offense. Instead they get the ball to the rim and they protect it on the other side of the floor. And the Tar Heels beat Davidson by 18 back in November.

All of that is not to take anything away from the Wildcats. Bob McKillop has built himself a nice program down in North Carolina, and he teaches a great system. Davidson regularly has a potent offensive attack, and it will more than likely give Iowa issues on the defensive end of the floor. However, Davidson's defense is the weak link in this game that will hopefully be too much for their insane offense to overcome. At least, that's what I'm hoping.

Again, though, it's called "March Madness" for a reason. Nobody knows what the hell to expect. So let's see if we can glean anything from the numbers, shall we?

When Iowa has the Ball

offense

Iowa has a pretty decent advantage in three of the four factors on offense. The Wildcats have been good at keeping their opponents from getting to the free throw line, mediocre at contesting shots and pulling down defensive rebounds, and awful at forcing turnovers. But keep in mind that they don't exactly play in the toughest conference. Kenpom's offensive and defensive efficiency numbers are adjusted for strength of schedule, but these four factors are not, so they should probably be adjusted downward a bit.

Davidson's opponents haven't shot lights out this year, and that is thanks to making slightly less than 30% of their attempted three-pointers. However, their lack of size has killed them inside, where their opponents are shooting 51%. Their two main centers are all of 6'7" and 6'8", which means that Iowa should not only shoot the ball well near the basket, but they should clean up on the offensive glass too. The WIldcats mostly play man-to-man defense, but if Iowa is having success in the post early on, I would expect Bob McKillop to throw in some 2-3 zone, like he did in the second half of the Virginia game.

Now, it will be interesting to see what lineups McKillop decides to throw out at the Hawkeyes. His preferred lineup this year is a four-guard offense. That lineup would mean the 6'4" Jordan Barham would be looking at a match up with a much taller Aaron White all night on this end of the court. While some of that mismatch could be alleviated with zone defense, let's not forget that Aaron White is something of a zone killer. If McKillop wants to go with more size, he can slide his starting center, the 6'7" Peyton Aldridge, to power forward and bring in the 6'8" Andrew McAuliffe to play the five spot. But while putting McAuliffe in the lineup may help a bit on the defensive end, it would sure hurt the offensive side of the ball, where Barham is scoring 12 points per game and McAuliffe is not. My thought is that McKillop will probably ride his starters pretty hard for most of the game since we are in one-and-done territory. Because as much as he doesn't want to give Iowa open looks down low, his best bet is probably to try and outscore them if he doesn't want to go home early.

Really, I could see Iowa coming close to 80 points on this Davidson defense. They have absolutely nobody that should be able to defend Iowa's size down low or even out on the perimeter. And that's a good thing because the Hawkeyes will need the offense against a Davidson squad that is probably going to put up a lot of points too.

Advantage: Iowa

When Davidson has the Ball

defense

Davidson does two things really well on offense: 1) shoot the ball; and 2) avoid turnovers. And they aren't your prototypical slow-the-game-to-a-grind type of team, either. Unlike teams like UNI or Wisconsin, Davidson will get up and down the court in transition, and they are not afraid to take a shot early in the possession. Oddly enough, despite their tendency of having a lot of their shots blocked inside, Davidson is shooting the ball well from everywhere this season. They are making almost 54% of their two-point attempts and 39% of their three-point attempts. And did I mention they take 46% of their shots from downtown? Yikes.

Bob McKillop's offense is a motion-based one that teaches "principles, not plays." He lets his guys read and take what the defense gives them. The Wildcat offense isn't your basic dribble, drive, and kick offense, though. Instead, they rely on movement away from the ball for open looks and cuts to the basket. There will be a lot of ball movement and player movement in this offense, and rarely do you see anybody just standing around. Their spacing is amazing and there will always be someone in motion, whether that is setting a screen for a shooter on the perimeter, or pulling a big man away from the basket to open up the lane for a cut. And to take advantage of his numerous shooters, they will run off of an endless amount of screens and they will utilize dribble-handoffs to allow their sharpshooters to catch and release quickly.

One particular thing that does worry me about Iowa's defense against this Davidson offense is the aggressive nature of Fran McCaffery's defense. This Davidson offense is simply one of the best in the nation at reading what the defense is giving, and using it against them. Shaka Smart and VCU play a very aggressive style of defense too, and Davidson made them pay for it back in January. If Iowa's defense is too aggressive and guys like Aaron White and Mike Gesell are over-pursuing the ball in the passing lane, this is a Wildcat squad that will make them pay for that. Part of the reason they shoot so well from two-point range, despite getting a lot of shots blocked, is because they execute their offense so well that they get a lot of wide open layup attempts. Seriously, watch their offense on YouTube and count how many times a guy flies open on a cut to the basket.

That means Iowa needs to contest what are usually open layups at the rim for this Davidson team if they want to win. The Wildcats are going to take and make threes and we should all be pretty accepting of that fact by now. But for as much as the three-point shot worries me against an Iowa team that is very reliant on two-pointers and free throws, we have seen games this year where their opponents make their threes, but Iowa still comes away with a fairly easy win. The final two games against Indiana and Northwestern were prime examples, where both teams shot the ball well from outside, but Iowa protected the rim enough that the high-percentage of treys didn't hurt them. And for as good as Davidson is from inside the arc, I think some of that shooting percentage is a product of playing in the A-10. When they faced a long, shot-blocking defense in North Carolina, they only made 37% of their shots from inside and had 9 shots blocked. Iowa blocks a lot of shots (38th in the nation in block rate) and they do a very good job of protecting the rim.

iowa defense

(Shot chart via Shot Analytics.)

The only possible issue with protecting the basket tonight is that Davidson's offense can pull Iowa's big man away from the paint to defend the three. If Adam Woodbury or Gabe Olaseni get pulled away from the basket, that could make protecting the rim a little difficult. Olaseni is undoubtedly better suited for playing that far away from the basket than Woodbury is, but Iowa could use their 2-3 zone to help mask any defensive struggles Woodbury might have against a smaller team.

This is one of the best-coached offenses Iowa will have played all year outside of someone like Wisconsin, and the Wildcats are going to probably make at least 10 threes in this one. But if Iowa can hold them to a low percentage from inside the arc and rebound the misses (Davidson is terrible on the offensive glass), they should still come out on top at the final whistle, barring an offensive implosion on the other side of the ball. This game should be a pretty good test to see how much Iowa's defense has improved this year.

I am giving Davidson the advantage here, but I think Iowa is capable of doing enough on this end of the floor to win the game.

Advantage: Davidson

Team Shooting Tendencies

iowa

Since Davidson is a smaller school, Shot Analytics has no charts available for them. I imagine they would probably be all red anyway, so it's probably best that we don't get to see them.

shooting

As you probably guessed, based on the review of their offense, Davidson is the better shooting team from the field. Although Iowa is a little better from the free throw line, which is important, considering that's a huge part of the Hawkeyes' offense.

On defense, Iowa's length has helped them protect the rim this season, but Davidson's opponents are shooting worse from long range.

shots

Looking at the shot-selection, Davidson attempts a three-point field goal on almost 50% of their shots. That's insane. There are only 8 teams in Division I that take a higher percentage of their shots from deep. Don't expect that to change against the Hawkeyes either, because Iowa's foes are taking a three on almost 39% of their field goal attempts this year. The Division I average is about 34%, by the way.

Meanwhile, Davidson's defense has seen their opponents actually take a slightly below-average number of three-point attempts this season. That should stay pretty much the same when Iowa has the ball, considering they really work the ball inside for layups or with the intent of earning their way to the foul line.

points

Finally, Iowa gets the bulk of their points from inside the perimeter and at the charity stripe. Davidson's defense rarely fouls, but they do give up a huge number of their points from two-point range.

On the flip side, the Wildcat offense rarely visits the line, and gets an insane percentage of their points scored from outside. At almost 41% on the season, only three other Division I teams get a larger percentage of their points from long distance. And, of course, Iowa's opponents get quite a bit more of their points from out there, too...

Opposing Players to Know

We should probably start with the A-10 Player of the Year, Tyler Kalinoski. A combo player, who plays a little bit of shooting guard, but gets the majority of his minutes at the small forward position, Kalinoski is scoring 17 points per game this season. He's not your usual star player, though, in that he is third on the team when you look at the number of offensive possessions he uses and he is second on the team in the amount of shots he takes when he's on the floor. He does play the most minutes out of anyone on the team, and he is the most efficient offensive player, though, and that's a lethal combination. In fact, Kenpom ranks him #26 in the country in offensive rating. (Aaron White is #21 for comparison's sake.)

Kalinoski has a fairly balanced shooting profile, as he's only attempting a little over half of his field goals from distance this year. But it doesn't matter where he's shooting from because, at 52% from inside the arc and 42% from outside of it, he's usually not missing. And last, but certainly not least, he's a very good assist man for someone who doesn't the play point guard position.

While Kalinoski plays 35 minutes per game, Brian Sullivan isn't far behind at 33. Sullivan is a 5'11" combo guard, who plays most of his time at the two, but also plays the point when Jack Gibbs is out of the game. Sullivan is scoring slightly less than 13 points per game, and he does that by mostly shooting threes. In comparison to a lot of his teammates, he's a middling three-point shooter, making just 36% of his attempts this season. Of course, compared to the national average, 36% is pretty damn good and when you factor in that he shoots 70% of his field goal attempts from out there, he's pretty damn dangerous.

And speaking of pretty damn dangerous, let's talk Jack Gibbs. He may only be 5'11" and play 6 fewer minutes per game than Kalinoski, but he isn't having any trouble putting the ball in the cylinder this season. As a point guard, he is only putting up shots at a slightly lower rate than Kalinoski when he's on the court and he's scoring at an almost-identical rate too. At 16 points per game (again, in 6 fewer minutes than Kalinoski per game), Gibbs is also about 50/50 on whether he will attempt a two or a three, and he is hitting on 51% of his attempts from close and 44% of his attempts from deep this year. Throw in the fact that he's the 98th best assist guy in the nation, according to Kenpom, and it's pretty easy to see why he has the 49th best offensive rating in the country.

And then there's Jordan Barham, the 6'4" shooting guard Davidson employs at the four spot. Barham is putting up 12 points per game and shooting the ball insanely well. He is one of the few guys on the team that doesn't shoot from the outside very often. With only 15 attempts from deep all year, Barham prefers to work inside the perimeter, where he's taken 221 of his 236 attempts. He's also making 61% of his two-point shots this season, and he shoots the ball a lot. Like, the most out of anyone on the team when he's on the hardwood. He's also the best rebounder on the team, although part of his success there could definitely be a product of playing in the A-10. However, Kenpom puts his offensive rebounding rate at 130th in the nation and his defensive rebounding rate at 169th. I don't care what conference you're playing in, that is still impressive for a 6'4" player.

After the four guards that Davidson is going to throw at Iowa, there are a few post players the Wildcats play. Peyton Aldridge is the starting center, and at 6'7", he's not the biggest guy in the world and doesn't really rebound or block a lot of shots like a big guy normally does. However, he is a scoring threat from anywhere on the floor. 46% of his attempts from the field have been threes this year, and he's shooting 39% from downtown. He does get looks at the rim, but his ability to stretch the defense and pull Olaseni or Woodbury from the paint could be a real difference-maker.

Coming off the bench to spell Aldridge or move him over to the power forward position is Andrew McAuliffe. A pretty good defensive rebounder, McAuliffe doesn't really bring a whole lot more to the table at this point in his career. He has yet to attempt a three-point shot this season, and he's only attempted 65 two-pointers. In other words, he's a pretty low-usage guy on the offensive end of the court. Davidson could bring him in for rebounding and defense purposes, but that would take away some of their offensive firepower. I expect his role to be limited against Iowa.

Lastly, there are three other role players who will likely see limited action. Nathan Ekwu is a freshman who can pull down defensive rebounds, but can't do much else. Oskar Michelson is a 6'9" a freshman small forward who might be an interesting matchup for Jarrod Uthoff if McKillop wants someone who might be able to alter the shot of Iowa's own lanky forward out on the perimeter. Again, though, Michelson takes some offensive firepower from this Davidson squad when he's on the floor. And, finally, there is Jordan Watkins, who is another freshman. This time, however, Watkins is a guard that has shown the ability to shoot the ball well in limited time this season. He may see a few minutes in this game, but between Sullivan and Kalinoski at the two spot, it's slim pickings for the freshman.

What Kenpom Thinks

Kenpom Rank: Iowa #24, Davidson #31

Projected Score: Iowa 74 (54%), Davidson 73 (46%)

Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.12, Davidson 1.11

Projected Possessions: 66

Kenpom's numbers envision a slightly up-tempo game, in which both offenses dominate. And that's a pretty reasonable estimation, I would have to say.

What this game comes down to is which team is going to take advantage of their strengths better. Great analysis, right? I mean, yes, every game comes down to that, but it's not very often you see two strategies that are such polar opposites. And, if you do, there is usually a huge talent disparity between the two teams. And there is a not a huge talent gap here. Sure, just about anyone on Iowa's roster could take anyone on Davidson's roster in a game of one-on-one. But this is a team game, and Davidson makes up for any athletic disadvantage they may have by playing team basketball to almost perfection.

For Iowa to win this game on offense, they need to work the ball through the paint. Use their height advantage in the post to get easy layups or draw fouls, and if Davidson employs a zone or sends double-teams, they need to kick it out to shooters on the perimeter. The height advantage of the Hawkeyes is important, but it will also be key to shoot a decent percentage from deep. So good shooting nights from Jarrod Uthoff, Josh Oglesby, and Peter Jok will be important. And if Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons want to join in, the more the merrier.

On defense, Davidson is going to get their points. They are going to shoot a lot of threes, and they are probably going to make at least 10 of them tonight. I'm not saying Iowa should give up on their perimeter defense, but I think the under-stated key for Iowa going into this game is to protect the rim. Iowa can sustain the blows from Davidson hitting their threes if they can make sure they aren't hitting their shots from closer range. Again, I'm not advocating that Iowa forget about guarding the perimeter and let Davidson go all Travis Trice on the Hawkeyes. But Iowa can't afford to be overly-aggressive on defense, and give Davidson open lanes to cut to the basket all night long. I don't expect this unit to play lockdown defense, but they just need to be better than Davidson is on the other end of the court and they should be able to win.

Again, though, I don't really know how I feel about this game. On the one hand, I'm pretty confident Iowa can beat this kind of team. On the other, I'm a nervous wreck, picturing a close game where one of Davidson's shooters is nailing a three-pointer as time expires. No matter the outcome, though, let's all just enjoy the fact that Iowa is securely in the tournament again. It's been a long time coming, and whether they win or not, it's still exciting to watch your team play in March Madness again.*

*But, of course, if Iowa wants to win, I'm totally cool with that.