On Monday night, Iowa beat Nebraska in a weird game of basketball. It was weird because both teams came into the game being known more for their defensive abilities, but for most of the game, the offenses were on display. Iowa finished the game at 1.15 points per possession (PPP) against a defense that Kenpom had ranked #19 in the nation before tip off. That total was the fourth highest of the season for the Hawkeyes behind games against Hampton, Northern Illinois, and Ohio State. Seeing how two of the Iowa's four best offensive outputs of the year have come in the first two games of Big Ten play, does that mean the offense is turning a corner? I sure hope so.
But Iowa's offense wasn't the only surprising offense on show in this one. Nebraska also showed more life than I think we all were expecting. This was a battle between the 262nd best offense in the nation (again, before tip off, according to Kenpom) and the 30th best defense. The Huskers finished the night averaging 0.97 PPP, but they were on the verge of putting up more than a point every trip down the floor before going cold to end the game. Surprisingly, though, we saw quite a bit of offense for a good chunk of this game. College basketball is crazy, you guys.
Here's the point breakdown by 10 minute quarters:
For the second game in a row, Iowa came out of the locker room flat, but was able to respond and not let the game get away from them. Being outscored in the first ten minutes of every second half is getting tiresome, but at least it hasn't cost them any games recently.
Four Factors in Review
First Half Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.15, Nebraska 0.92
First Half Possessions: 30
Second Half Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.14, Nebraska 1.01
Second Half Possessions: 31
Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.15, Nebraska 0.97
The Hawkeyes finished the game shooting a less-than-spectacular 44.3% from the field. They went 12-24 from inside the arc, while making only 5 of their 20 three point attempts. That may sound bad, but I actually came away impressed with the offensive performance.
Just like at Ohio State, Iowa looked like they had an offensive plan against Nebraska's defense. They knew that Walter Pitchford was the only big guy on the team and that he wasn't much of a physical force in the paint. As a result, the Hawkeyes made it a point to attack the basket and feed the post on a regular basis, which meant that Iowa's shot selection was great for most of the game. Look at their shot chart:
(Shot charts via Shot Analytics.)
Most of those attempts are from three point land or in the painted area, which is great to see. There are some long twos, of course, and a good portion of those came directly after halftime when Iowa's first five possessions to start the second half went like this:
1. Aaron White missed 3pt FG.
2. Peter Jok missed jump shot.
3. Jarrod Uthoff made jump shot.
4. Josh Oglesby turnover trying to feed Aaron White in the post.
5. Josh Oglesby missed jump shot, followed by Aaron White missed jump shot after offensive rebound.
That's 2 points on 5 long jump shots in 5 possessions, or 0.40 points per possession. During those five possessions, 3:13 came off the clock and Iowa's 7-point halftime lead had dwindled to a single point.
Finally, though, Iowa remembered that they are not a good jump shooting team and that their offense works better when they attack the basket. Coming out of a timeout, Anthony Clemmons broke the jump shooting streak by making a nice move off a Gabe Olaseni ball screen and making a layup.
And speaking of Olaseni, Iowa's offense got a spark when he came off the bench after that timeout. Immediately after getting on the court, he set the above mentioned ball screen for Anthony Clemmons and then came away with 5 points on the next two possessions, including 3 on this nice play (plus the free throw):
Of course, Nebraska made a run and even had a 51-50 lead with 8:09 left in the game. However, Iowa responded with three timely three pointers down the stretch by Jarrod Uthoff, Anthony Clemmons, and Aaron White, and that pretty much sealed the deal. Nebraska never got closer than within 4 points the rest of the way, and went on to lose by 11.
Outside of Jarrod Uthoff and a few other stray three balls, Iowa's long range shooting left something to be desired against Nebraska (as it usually does against just about everyone they play), but the offense still looked very good because they made a conscious effort to play to their strength down low. On shots near the rim, I had Iowa making 85%. And, something that doesn't show up on the shot chart, but was just as important in this one, was the fact that Iowa's game plan of getting the ball down low against an over-matched Nebraska frontline led to Iowa attempting 38 free throws on the night. This should be Iowa's game plan going forward. They aren't a great shooting team, but they are a good free throw shooting team. Putting an emphasis on getting the ball in the paint and getting to the foul line will help make up for the fact that they aren't going to torch the net from the field on a nightly basis.
As for the defense, I don't really know what to make of this performance. On the one hand, Iowa did hold Nebraska to 0.97 PPP. They also did a pretty good job of shutting down Terran Petteway. He was held to only 11 points, and what was probably more surprising, was the fact that he only had 11 scoring attempts compared to the 18 per game he averaged coming into Carver on Monday night. For the most part, Iowa was able to keep him from driving to the lane and forced him to shoot from distance or give up the ball and make his teammates beat the Hawkeyes.
Unfortunately, Iowa's defense had some issues at times against Petteway's teammates.
The Huskers were a horrendous 2-14 from downtown, but they made 20 of their 34 attempts from two point range. Fran saw that Nebraska couldn't hit water from a boat outside, so he switched up to zone on a number of possessions, but poor defensive rotation allowed Nebraska's front court to get in the middle and make shots in the paint. And if that wasn't enough, Shavon Shields went off for 25 points on 23 scoring attempts. In the second half there was a stretch where it seemed like Shields was just attacking the basket on every possession only to make a shot in the paint or earn a trip to the foul line. Iowa struggled to keep him out of the lane in man defense, so they tried a 1-3-1 zone in which he promptly made this floater:
Then they tried the 2-3 zone again and he had success against that, too.
Here is Shields' shot chart, and using your brain waves, just imagine about five more shots in the painted area that resulted in him getting to the free throw line:
So Iowa had pretty decent success against Petteway, but Shields had himself a game. It would have been better if they could have shut both of them down, but that's probably not realistic thinking. I'm happy only one of the tandem went off, rather than having both of them going off. I guess I'm just hoping that the last two performances from Iowa's offense are a sign that they are finding their groove, while hoping that their defensive issues against Nebraska are just a one-time thing. Either way, they are both small sample sizes, so who the hell knows exactly what to take away from them?
But, yeah, Nebraska won the shooting battle, but it ended up being Iowa's ability to get to the free throw line that mattered in the end.
Turnovers weren't much of an issue for Iowa in this game. They only had 9 turnovers all game long, and distributed them pretty evenly among both halves. None of the turnovers were particularly damaging to Iowa and they didn't end up with too many empty possessions, as a result.
For Nebraska, however, turnovers were an issue in the first half. 9 of their 10 total turnovers happened before halftime, which was why they only averaged 0.92 PPP in the first half even though they shot 61.9% from the field. Iowa outscored Nebraska 8-4 after turnovers in the first half, and this was probably the most enjoyable one for Hawkeye fans:
Turnovers were such an issue in the first half for Nebraska, that they were part of the inspiration for coach Miles' halftime tweet:
We need continue to play good defense without fouling and need to cut down on our turnovers.
— Tim Miles (@CoachMiles) January 6, 2015
The Cornhuskers responded to their coach's social media post and cleaned up the sloppiness in the second half, but too many empty possessions early on were pivotal in explaining why they were in a 7-point hole at halftime.
Coming into this game it seemed as if Iowa would have a huge advantage on the offensive glass, given their length and depth in the front court. The Hawkeyes did win this match up, but they didn't quite hit their season norm when it came to pulling down offensive boards. Nonetheless, Nebraska lived up to their billing and was unable to secure many second chances for themselves. Offensive rebounding wasn't all that huge in this game, but Iowa did outscore the Huskers 9-5 on second chance points. So, hooray!
Free Throw Rate
This was the key factor to Iowa's victory. Without the 28 free throws between Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni (along with the remaining 10 sprinkled in by other players), Iowa's below average shooting would have hurt them. To reiterate what I said above, Iowa needs to work the ball inside like this every game. Other than Jarrod Uthoff, no one on this team is a trusted shooter from any type of distance right now, so the only way to put up the PPP numbers that they have been the last two games, is to get the ball inside for high-percentage shots and to draw fouls. The 0.86 free throw attempts per field goal attempt against Nebraska is easily Iowa's best free throw rate of the season, far eclipsing their 0.54 against Hampton and 0.52 against Texas. Iowa's eFG% may have been just 44.3% on the night, but their TS% (includes free throw shooting) was 56.4%, while Nebraska's was 50.9%. Shot selection and free throws are the keys to this offense. Hopefully they will continue this recent trend.
As for Nebraska, it was the Shavon Shields show when it came to getting to the free throw line and that's about it.
There were three clear players of the game for Iowa in this one: Aaron White, Gabe Olaseni, and Jarrod Uthoff.
I feel so many of my recaps about White start with "White did his usual thing." I apologize for the repetitiveness, but White really did do his usual thing against Nebraska. He put up 23 points on 5-10 shooting from the field (1-3 from long range) and 12-15 shooting from the free throw line.
As you can see, he was at his best when he was near the basket, but he did make a big three down the stretch of the second half. In addition to his scoring, he also hauled in 9 rebounds (3 offensive), blocked 2 shots, and plucked the ball away from the Huskers 2 times. His adjusted game score of 28.02 was the best of any player on either team, although he was helped by the fact that he played 36 minutes.
Gabe Olaseni, on the other hand, finished with the best adjusted game score given his minutes on the court (White was second best). In 22 minutes of playing time, Olaseni racked up 18 points on 3-5 shooting and by sinking 12 of his 13 attempted free throws.
He also pulled down 5 rebounds, which doesn't sound like a lot, but isn't terrible for 22 minutes on the court. Unfortunately, he did not record a blocked shot this game, but Kenpom still has him at #19 in the country when it comes to swatting opponents.
Lastly, Jarrod Uthoff had a nice game for Iowa, scoring 15 points on 5-11 shooting (3-8 from downtown), grabbing 7 rebounds (2 offensive), while also recording 2 assists, a block and a steal. I was also very pleased to see his shot chart look like this:
Uthoff did a nice job of driving the basketball on Nebraska a couple of times, but I think it's pretty clear at this point in his career, he's more comfortable shooting from outside. That being said, if he wants to do that, it's always nice when he steps a couple of feet back and shoots from behind the three point line. He went 3-8 from long range, which comes out to 1.13 points per three point attempt. Do that on long twos and it's only 0.75 points per shot attempt. That extra point is valuable, and Uthoff is shooting 40% from out there this year. In other words, keep firing, Jarrod.
Now, let's wrap up with some bullet points.
- Adam Woodbury had the chance at a double-digit scoring game, but it just wasn't his day. I saw him bobble two passes on pick and rolls to the basket, in which he could have at least drawn fouls if not made the layups. And something that was less his fault happened when he managed to get called for a travel while only taking one step to the basket, which left Fran less than impressed with the referees:
- And, yes, Fran was not happy with the officiating job in this one. I could have made vine after vine of Fran making comments or slamming water bottles, but I wanted to sleep instead. Sorry.
- Nebraska was draining their two point shots at an unreal pace for about 34 minutes of this game. With 6:57 left in the game, Shavon Shields made a two point field goal that put Nebraska at 20-27 (74%) from inside the arc up to that point. The Huskers then went on to miss their final 10 field goal attempts, including their last 7 two point shots. Weird.
- I've been making a lot of vines recently, and I'm not sure why. But here is a Nebraska offensive set that I found interesting in which they set a back screen on the man who just set a ball screen, leading to a wide open layup:
- Aaron White had 1 dunk against Nebraska, which brings his season total to 26. Here's the updated dunk-o-meter:
|Aaron White Dunk-O-Meter
|Field Goals Made
- And here is the actual dunk itself:
- Lastly, Aaron White broke a record on Monday night:
Aaron White now holds the school record for FTs made (517). #Hawkeyes
— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) January 6, 2015
That's enough about the Nebraska game. It was a nice offensive display and a weird defensive display. But more importantly, it was a win and Iowa is 2-0 in Big Ten play. Now it's on to Michigan State Thursday night. It should be a tough game, but at least it's in Carver.