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FRANALYSIS: IOWA HOLDS ON IN A NAIL-BITER IN THE BARN

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I'm not sure I fully understand what I just watched.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

That game was... well, I'm not sure what that game was. I would say it was thrilling, I mean, after realizing that DeAndre Mathieu's layup wasn't going to count and Iowa wasn't going to go into overtime and lose in heart-breaking fashion. So, that was a nice change for once. But this was just a weird, weird game and Iowa seems to be taking part in a lot of those lately.

That's probably because Iowa is just a weird, weird team this season. And, since Big Ten play started, things have gotten even more odd. They have gone from an all defense team to an all offense team during that time frame. After this Minnesota game, the Hawkeyes are now averaging 1.14 points per possession (PPP) through four games, which is much better than the 1.03 they put up against non-conference foes. The only problem, however, is the fact that the defense has regressed from allowing only 0.86 PPP in the non-conference to 1.11 against the Big Ten. I know the number is supposed to go up a bit once conference play begins, but holy crap that is a huge shift.

And what makes this team even more confusing, is the fact that they struggle to put an entire game together. Check out their first and second half splits through the first four Big Ten games:

Iowa vs. Big Ten 1st Half 2nd Half
PPP 1.25 1.01
PPPA 0.92 1.30

In aggregate, the Hawkeyes have outscored their opponents by 0.33 PPP before halftime, but once they come out of the locker room after intermission, they are being outscored by 0.29 PPP. And that was the case against Minnesota Tuesday night, where the Hawkeyes outscored the Gophers by 0.36 PPP in the first 20 minutes, but were outscored by 0.29 PPP in the final 20 minutes.

Here is the 10 minute scoring breakdown:

quarters

On the bright side, Iowa didn't actually come out of the locker room totally flat right after the break, but waited until further along in the second half before running into one of their patented shooting draughts/defensive breakdown tailspins. This chart is nice and all, but the game didn't really breakdown that cleanly into 10 minute quarters. Instead, if we break this game down into the first 25 minutes of play and the second 25 minutes of play, we get some very crazy numbers.

Minnesota Possessions Points PPP
First 25 Minutes 38 34 0.89
Last 15 Minutes 24 41 1.71

For the first 25 minutes of game time, Iowa held Minnesota's offense in check. 0.89 PPP is a mighty fine number, and Iowa was averaging 1.34 PPP on offense, to boot. That last 15 minutes, though... woof. Absolutely woof. Iowa's offense didn't fall off a total cliff, seeing how they still put up 1 PPP, but Minnesota scored 41 points on their final 24 possessions for a whopping 1.71 PPP. And if Mathieu's layup would have counted that number would have been 1.79 PPP.

I don't know what is causing Iowa's defense to breakdown like this after halftime, but this needs to get fixed. My heart can't take much more of this.

Four Factors in Review

1st half

First Half Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.24, Minnesota 0.88

First Half Possessions: 31

2nd half

Second Half Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.26, Minnesota 1.55

Second Half Possessions: 31

4 factors

Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.25, Minnesota 1.22

Possessions: 62

Shooting

The Hawkeyes pretty much shot the ball out of their collective mind against Minnesota. This ended up being their second best shooting performance of the season, behind only the North Dakota State game.

iowa

(Shot charts courtesy of Shot Analytics.)

Aaron White and Anthony Clemmons were the only two Iowa players who didn't finish with an eFG% over 50% (although they helped offset that a little by getting to the free throw line). Overall, though, the team was knocking down their shots from up close and from distance. And good thing they were, because Minnesota turned it on at the end of the game, and if Iowa's offense would have totally collapsed, this recap would be a lot more painful to write.

Minnesota, on the other hand, rallied at the end of the game to put up a very good eFG%, but for the first 25 minutes they weren't making a whole lot of anything. Up until that point, they were only shooting a 36.8% eFG% from the floor. After that 25 minute mark, though, Minnesota put up an 83.3% eFG% for the final 15 minutes of play. During that time span they scored 41 points on 15/21 shooting from the floor, including hitting 5 of their final 7 three pointers.

minnesota

So what sparked that insane run from Minnesota? Well, freshman Nate Mason and JUCO transfer Carlos Morris helped kick start the rally by figuring out how to get their way into the lane on a consistent basis.

morris and mason

The above shot chart shows the combined field goal attempts for both Morris and Mason. These two combined for 37 points on the night, of which 26 came in the second half. And to be even more granular, Morris and Mason scored 22 of Minnesota's final 41 points in the last 15 minutes of the game. Those two driving to the basket got Minnesota some points, but it was also Iowa's struggles with keeping speedy point guard DeAndre Mathieu in front of them, which resulted in some open looks from outside for the Gophers. Mathieu had assists on the 2 Joey King threes that gave Minnesota late leads. Iowa initially went zone to keep Minnesota out of the paint and also because they weren't hitting any of their threes. Of course, that game plan broke down in the final 15 minutes when the Gophers were just penetrating the zone with ease.

All in all, the first half defense was fine, but the second half defense left a lot to be desired. It didn't end up costing Iowa the game, but they weren't so lucky with Michigan State the game before, and they may not be this lucky again.

Advantage: Iowa

Turnovers

This is the one battle that Minnesota won in both halves. But this is also the one thing that Minnesota's defense excels at because they put such an emphasis on forcing turnovers. They didn't pressure Iowa coming up the court as much as I thought they would, but they still found ways to take the ball away from the Hawkeyes. Iowa was outscored 16-4 in the points off turnovers category. That's less than ideal, but it didn't quite cost them the game. Because while 14 turnovers means 14 empty possessions for Iowa, Minnesota doesn't just put an emphasis on turnovers for that reason alone; they also want to create fast break opportunities. Minnesota officially had 6 steals, but they were only able to manage 7 fast break points on the night, despite how many chances they had.

So, yes, Iowa lost this category, but they did a good job of getting back on defense in order to make sure Minnesota had to run their half court offense. 62 possessions is not where Minnesota wanted this game played, and that worked out to Iowa's advantage.

Advantage: Minnesota

Offensive Rebounding

Iowa's defensive rebounding was a bit suspect in the second half, but they did their job on the offensive glass all night long. Even though they had their second best shooting night of the season, the Hawkeyes also came away with almost half of their missed shots and outscored Minnesota 17-8 for the night on second chances. The first half saw the biggest disparity, as Iowa outscored them 8-2 in second chance points. Add that to the hot shooting from the floor and 14 first half free throw attempts, and it's easy to see how Iowa built themselves an 11-point halftime lead that was just enough to hold off a ridiculous Minnesota second half.

Advantage: Iowa

Free Throw Rate

Offensive rebounding is always key for Iowa, but I feel like this offense lives and dies with its free throw rate. For every 100 field goal attempts the Hawkeyes have taken against their first four Big Ten opponents, they are also taking 12 more free throw attempts, on average, than they did during non-conference play. And when you are the Kenpom-ranked 11th best free throw shooting team in the nation like Iowa is, you should be doing everything you can to get to the free throw line with regularity. And Iowa has been doing this lately, and as a result, their offense has been much better than earlier this year. Their free throw rate has gone from right around average to 110th in the nation ever since the North Florida game, and they are currently the best team in the Big Ten at getting the foul line, beating second place Maryland by about 5 free throw attempts per every 100 field goal attempt.

This was no different against Minnesota, as the Hawkeyes put up a better than 1:2 free throws attempted to field goals attempted ratio on the night. They came up a little short of their usual 76% conversion rate once they got to the line, thanks to slightly out of character free throw shooting from Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni. But 70% is still better than the Division I average, so I'm not complaining.

More importantly, it was also better than Minnesota. The Gophers are a team that rarely gets to the free throw line, and when they do, they really struggle to make their free ones. The first part was true against Iowa on Tuesday night, but they did shoot much better than their season norm, knocking down 75% of their free throws against Iowa. Where the shooting part did become important to the outcome of the game, however, was when Nate Mason and Elliot Eliason missed the front half of two one-and-one free throw attempts in the final few minutes of play. Minnesota was up 3 when Mason missed his, so they missed the chance to extend their lead to 5 with 2:32 left in the game. As for Eliason's ugly miss, that came when Iowa trailed by 1 point. Eliason not knocking his free throws down was a big blow to Minnesota, as they would have built a 3-point lead by doing so. Instead, they led by only a point until Jarrod Uthoff hit a three in the corner on the very next possession to put Iowa on top 75-73.

Fran's Iowa squads have almost always been great at earning their way to the charity stripe, and this team has finally seemed to turn a corner at doing so. The Hawkeyes can't always count on their shots to be falling like they were against Minnesota, so winning the other three factors (especially, free throw rate) will be very important for winning games the rest of the year.

Advantage: Iowa

Overall: Iowa Won 3 out of the 4 Factors

Players

players

Jarrod Uthoff was the star for Iowa in this one. He finished with the highest adjusted game score and game score per minute for the Hawkeyes, scoring 22 points on 7-10 shooting (2-4 from downtown).

uthoff

His 22 points on 13 scoring opportunities was good for 1.7 points per scoring attempt, which was his highest output of the season for him. He hit threes, drove to the basket, and he even took advantage of smaller defenders by posting them up and draining turn around jumpers on them. He was also Mr. Clutch for Iowa on the road again, as he scored Iowa's final 7 points of the game, including knocking down a silky smooth, contested elbow jumper with 3 seconds left.

And it wasn't just scoring that Uthoff provided, either. He ended Tuesday night's game with 5 rebounds (all defensive), 4 assists, 4 blocks, and 1 steal. Not only has Uthoff become Iowa's go-to-guy at the end of games, but he's also become a do-it-all type of guy.

Aaron White had the third highest adjusted game score per minute played against Minnesota, and I mention him before Peter Jok because White had a more consistent game. He wasn't as efficient as we are all used to, but he got the job done, scoring 13 points on 4-10 shooting (5-8 from the free throw line).

white

White did seem to get a bit flustered in the second half when he was doing his damnedest to draw fouls, but he wasn't always getting the whistles he's probably grown accustomed to. Outside of that, though, White contributed in other ways as Iowa's other do-it-all guy. His final stat line also included 6 rebounds (2 offensive), 4 assists, 0 turnovers, 2 blocks, and 1 steal. I'd say that's still a damn fine game even if he wasn't shooting as well as usual.

Peter Jok actually had the second highest adjusted game score per minute in this one, but he did most of his damage in the first half and then disappeared for long stretches in the second. 10 of his 13 points came in the first 20 minutes, and it's not like he just went cold from the field in the final 20 minutes, either.

jok

For whatever reason, his scoring attempts after halftime consisted of 2 three point attempts, of which he made 1. That being said, seeing him go 3-5 from three point range was a welcome sight, and something that I hope we can expect to see more of going forward.

Finally, Adam Woodbury had himself a good game, as well. Iowa needed a big night from him, as Gabe Olaseni still tends to struggle with bigger, stronger centers like Maurice Walker, and Woody did not disappoint. He finished the game with 9 points and 8 rebounds (4 offensive), but what you could argue was even more important, was the fact that he held Walker in check pretty much all game. Woodbury wasn't afraid to go toe-to-toe with Minnesota's big man, and he did a marvelous job on defense, often times denying him the ball in the post and just flat out getting better position. Walker can be a difference maker when he gets going, but he never really got much of a chance on Tuesday, and that's thanks to Woodbury.

Let's wrap up with some bullet points.

  • Richard Pitino's staring lineup was interesting, to say the least. He went ahead and benched three of his usual starters, including two of his top three guys in points per game. He brought Maurice Walker and Carlos Morris off the bench pretty early on in the first half, but you have to wonder if those few minutes where Charles Buggs and Elliot Eliason were on the court potentially hurt Minnesota in a game they lost by two points.
  • Also, no offense to Pitino, because he knows more about basketball than I ever will, but I don't think his emphasis on creating turnovers this year is working out so well on defense. They are currently 12th in the Big Ten in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom, and that is exactly where they finished last season.
  • Remember when Iowa had the 111th best offense in the country going into the Ohio State game? Well, Kenpom now has them at 32nd. The defense, meanwhile, has gone from 22nd to 71st since then. In other words, don't feel bad if you have no clue what to make of this Iowa team. Kenpom's algorithm is confused, too.
  • Jarrod Uthoff really likes him some road games early on this year. At home, Uthoff is averaging 11 points per game and 0.44 points per minute on a 49.1% eFG%, which includes shooting 37.8% from downtown. While that's no doubt a good stat line, his road line is even better. It goes: 16 points per game and 0.47 points per minute on a 54.4% eFG% and 41.2% from outside. It's only 3 games, but they were three important games in which Iowa came away with victories over North Carolina, Ohio State, and now Minnesota.
  • Aaron White had 1 dunk on the night, bringing his season total up to 28. Here is the dunk-o-meter:
Aaron White Dunk-O-Meter Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior Career
Dunks 32 56 51 28 167
Field Goals Made 136 140 143 76 495
Dunk Rate 23.5% 40.0% 35.7% 36.8% 33.7%

  • Olaseni had 2 blocks on the night and is now up to 34 on the year. Kenpom currently has him ranked the 21st best shot-blocker in the nation, among players who qualify.
  • Jarrod Uthoff's 4 blocks against Minnesota also bumped him up to 28 on the season, and made him 137th on the same list of qualified players.

Sneaking out of Minnesota with the win moves Iowa to 3-1 in the Big Ten on the year. Ohio State visits Iowa City this weekend and is no doubt ready to exact revenge for what happened the last time these two teams played at the end of December. After that, Iowa has 2 games against Wisconsin and Purdue. I would really like to see Iowa take 2 of 4, but it's going to take a lot more consistency than what they've showed to in the first four games of conference play. But one game at a time, I guess.