Last night was Iowa's first true road test of the season, and they passed it with flying colors. After starting the season off with warmups against Gardner-Webb and Coppin State, last night was supposed to be the first big challenge of the season for the Hawkeyes. This was a young, but extremely talented team in Marquette that was bolstered in the front court by two near 7-foot former blue-chippers, who were skilled in all areas of the game. This was Marquette, after all. A basketball program with a proud tradition. You are forgiven if you thought this would be a close game, or that Iowa could potentially lose this one. I know I was nervous coming into this game.
But then the tip-off happened. Luke Fischer propelled the basketball on a trajectory that sent it a mile out of bounds (it was actually pretty funny). Little did we know, that would be the first sign that Iowa was about to roll, while Marquette was about to rollover.
This game was a blowout from the start. Despite all the recruiting stars that this Marquette team possessed, they had clear weaknesses coming into this game: The guard play had been terrible, they had turnover issues, they were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the nation, and their defense had been non-existent in their first two games. All four of those showed up against Iowa, and they showed up from the beginning. This allowed the Hawkeyes to take advantage of Marquette's struggles and jump out to an early lead and eventually earn a 28-point road victory.
Four Factors in Review
First Half Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.27, Marquette 0.55
First Half Possessions: 38
Second Half Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.14, Marquette 1.11
Second Half Possessions: 36
Total Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.20, Marquette 0.82
Total Possessions: 74
|Iowa||2pt Near Rim||2pt Jumper||3Pt FG|
The Hawkeyes were on fire from the floor the entire night against Marquette. It got to the point where I expected just about every shot they hoisted to go in. Iowa's impressive shooting performance was aided by absolutely beautiful and often breathtaking ball movement. Not content to just stand around on offense, Iowa's half-court offense looked like a well-oiled machine for most of the night, as guys aggressively took their man off the dribble and were able to either get a layup, dump it off to an open big man down low, or kick it out to an open shooter on the perimeter. Guys were always more than happy to make the extra pass to the open man.
Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons both did spectacular in this area, but I was also happy to see Jarrod Uthoff put the ball on the floor and take his man to the rim, rather than just settling for mid-range jumpers. Even Adam Woodbury was getting in on the assist game, as he leveraged the mid-point in the defense (whether MU ran man-to-man or zone) to perfection, swinging passes around without hesitation to open shooters.
But it wasn't just the half-court offense that was clicking in this one, the Hawkeyes had their transition game on in full display, too. McCaffery has always been a fan of easy buckets, and his pressure defense early on gave Iowa a 12-0 advantage on points off turnovers in the first half and a 15-5 advantage in fast break buckets during that same time frame. And Iowa wasn't just running off of misses, they were getting the ball down the floor off of makes and Marquette had issues getting down the floor and getting their defense set multiple times. Iowa's ultra-aggressive style put pressure on Marquette from the start of the game, and they buckled quickly.
On defense, Iowa also looked every bit as impressive. Not to take anything away from them, but this was also aided by the fact that Marquette looked horrible on offense. They were the antithesis of the Hawkeyes, as they had absolutely no ball movement all night long and they didn't even try to play to their strengths. All throughout the game, Fox Sports 1 had a mic on MU head coach, Steve Wojciechowski, and he sounded like a broken record, preaching to his team to stop shooting threes so early in the clock, and instead get the ball in the post. Well, they didn't. Despite having two talented behemoths, they rarely tried to post up Iowa and take advantage of their height differential. Rather, they were more comfortable jacking up three-pointers early in the shot clock and hardly attempting to move the ball. And, considering they were one of the worst teams in the country from behind the arc coming into this game (small sample size, but still), shooting over half of your attempts from out there seems like an awful strategy.
|Marquette||2pt Near Rim||2pt Jumper||3Pt FG|
Part of that was likely exacerbated by the fact that Iowa was up 27 at the half, and they probably felt they needed three-pointers to get back in the game. But that doesn't totally explain the 2-19 from long range that Marquette shot before halftime.
Anyway, the point stands that Marquette couldn't take advantage of their talented post players, even when Iowa had their 7-footer on the bench. Instead, the Hawkeyes mixed a 2-3 zone in with their aggressive man-to-man defense and did just fine. Jarrod Uthoff and Dom Uhl may have been shorter than Ellenson and Fischer, but they did a superb job of keeping their guys in front of them and challenging shots with their long arms.
Overall, this was a great game for Iowa on offense and defense.
Marquette's guards struggled all night long to deal with Iowa's aggressive defense. They had absolutely no idea what to do when the Hawkeyes hedged hard on ball screens or when they showed trap. They couldn't deal with Iowa's style of constantly throwing arms into the passing lane. And their big men had some issues with getting their pockets picked when they tried to make a move to the rim. Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons were the main beneficiaries with 7 steals between them on the night, but the Hawkeyes took the ball from Marquette 14 times because of their intense defense. I mean, you can say that Marquette played horrible (and they did), but when 14 of your 19 turnovers come on steals, the other team clearly has something to do with that.
The turnovers slowed down for Marquette a bit after halftime, and they picked up for Iowa. The Hawkeyes had a brief moment in the game, after coming out of the locker room, where they turned the ball over on their first three possessions. Marquette got a quick run out of it, but not a big enough one to even dent Iowa's 27-point halftime lead. The Hawkeyes then responded with a run of their own and those early turnovers proved meaningless, as Iowa still won by 28.
There are two potential concerns for this team moving forward: 1) Free throw attempts, which I will discuss next; and 2) Offensive rebounding. The Hawkeyes are doing fine with defensive rebounding, for the most part, but offensive rebounding looks like an area of weakness early in the season and it continued against Marquette. On the night, the Hawkeyes only grabbed 7 of their 30 available misses. That 23% is way below the 35-37% we are used to seeing in past years, but it is pretty in line with what Iowa did against Coppin State and against Augustana. It wasn't a huge concern against Marquette, though, and it has yet to really be one in three games. As long as Iowa can continue to shoot the ball well, this area won't hurt them as bad as it could, otherwise. But, on those nights when the threes and whatnot aren't falling, this could be an area that haunts the Hawkeyes.
Marquette, on the other hand, was only able to corral about a quarter of their own misses, which also isn't a great number. When a team is having a rough time shooting the ball -- as Marquette was in this game -- offensive rebounds could have been a big help. They technically didn't win this category, but kudos to Iowa for hitting the defensive glass hard.
Advantage: Marquette (Slightly)
The other area of weakness right now looks to be getting to the free throw line. But I think we all saw this coming to some extent, as we acknowledged that this team was moving away from the paint and more toward a perimeter shooting team this season. Through 3 games (small sample alert), Iowa has attempted 37% of their field goals from long range. That is by far and away the most of the Fran McCaffery era. The next closest is the 2013-2014 season that attempted 31% from out there. As a result, Iowa's 28% free throw rate (free throw attempts divided by field goal attempts) so far this season is the first time a Fran McCaffery team has been below 34%. It's only 3 games, but Iowa took a third of their attempts from behind the arc, which resulted in just 7 free throw attempts all night. Again, that's not a huge deal so long as Iowa is a legitimate shooting team this season. But, on those nights when things aren't clicking on offense, rebounds and free throws will be more significant. Tonight they were not.
Overall: Iowa Won 2 of 4 Factors
From a micro perspective, Iowa had a lot of guys have great games. Peter Jok was the player of the game, according to adjusted game score per minute and Kenpom's box score also labeled him MVP. In just 18 minutes of play, and coming off an ankle injury, Jok scored 20 points on 7-12 shooting. More importantly, 6 of his attempts were of the three-point variety and he made 4 of them. When he was in the game, he made his presence felt, as he had an insane usage rate of 36%. For reference, Kenpom classifies anyone who averages more than 28% on the season as a "go-to guy." What I liked most about Jok's game tonight was that he didn't settle for contested jumpers. He shot open threes, drove the rim and found open guys, and he even had one of the most nonchalant dunks off of a steal that you will ever see. Basketball came easy to him on Thursday evening.
After Jok, Dom Uhl continued a nice bounce back from his exhibition no-shows. He only had 1 rebound, but he scored 10 points on 4-4 shooting and recorded 3 steals. Most importantly, though, he continued to show his early improvement on three-point shooting. He made both of his attempted treys against Marquette, and after being a 19% shooter from long range last season, his 56% so far this season is a nice improvement. As with everything, it is still too early to draw concrete conclusions, but if Uhl is now a three-point threat that is a HUGE addition to his game. And it makes Iowa that much better.
Not to be overlooked was Iowa's own 7-footer. He was overlooked coming into this game, playing in opposition to Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer, but the wiley veteran sure outplayed the talented youngsters on the night. Woody finished with 10 points (on 4-6 shooting) and 7 rebounds. But what was most impressive to me was the passing display he put on. He finished the night with only 2 assists, but he was great at getting into the middle of the defense and reversing the ball to open shooters on the wing. Not only did he reverse the ball, but he did so without hesitation. He seemed to always know where the ball should go before he caught it, and he got it there before the defense could rotate. On a night where he was overlooked, Adam Woodbury quietly put on a clinic.
Last but not least, Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, and Anthony Clemmons also played great games. Uthoff scored 15 on 11 shots from the floor and 2 attempts from the line. His insane versatility was on display, as he did a little bit of everything. He shot the ball well from three (66.7%), he attacked the rim off the dribble, and he showed some nice moves in the post against players taller and shorter than him (he shot 75% near the rim). He also played great defense on Marquette's big men.
Gesell and Clemmons had almost identical stat lines, as you can tell from the chart above. Both played 28 minutes, scored 11 points and put on a show when it came to passing the ball. Clemmons finished the game with 7 assists, while Gesell only had 4. But Gesell also made some beautiful passes, including a Steve Nash-like bounce pass in transition to Anthony Clemmons who slammed it home. As I mentioned, Iowa's senior guard duo also combined for 7 steals (4 by Gesell). The only reason Gesell had a slightly better better night, according to adjusted game score, was because Clemmons had 3 turnovers to Gesell's 0. Not that it mattered, of course. Both played a great game, and gave Iowa a huge advantage over Marquette's inadequate guard play.
I've already mentioned most of what I wanted to above, but I'll end with a few bullet points.
- I'm not taking any credit away from Iowa, but I really don't know how good Marquette is at this point in the season. They lost to Belmont, barely beat IUPUI in overtime, and got crushed last night. The Golden Eagles have a lot of individual talent, but they just aren't playing as a cohesive unit right now. Again, not taking anything away from Iowa, but I think we all are happy we played them in early November and not in February.
- I just want to praise Iowa's defense through 3 games. They have held everyone so far to 0.82-0.83 points per possession. That's impressive, even if Marquette isn't totally gelled together yet on offense, they potentially could have taken advantage of Ellenson and Fischer in the post, but they didn't. And when they did get in the post, Woodbury and Uthoff played excellent defense. Additionally, Iowa's guards and wings played great help defense, often times crashing down for a double team. This often forced the big guys to kick it back out to MU's terrible outside shooters or forced Ellenson to go 1-4 from two-point range. Fischer was 4-4 from the floor, but he was in foul trouble and on the bench a lot. I was expecting Iowa to have to go to a lot of zone to keep the big guys from working down low, but they didn't have to. They played energetic defense, and communicated with each other well. Let's hope this continues.
- It was nice to see Dom Uhl learned something from Aaron White last year. His alley-oop dunk was exactly what made White so dangerous against the 2-3 zone. The back line of the defense was pulled up too high, and it left the baseline wide open for Uhl to catch the lob from Gesell and throw it down. I'm waiting to see when Fran starts to run those back screens for Uhl to get some easy dunks too. This team loses a lot of the non-transition dunking ability with Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni no longer around. Uhl will hopefully be able to make up for some of that easy basket production.
- Seriously, we all need to enjoy Jarrod Uthoff while we still have time. I already mentioned his versatility, but man is he talented. The best example I have from this game came around the 15:00 mark in the second half, where he went to work in the paint and made a nice move to finish in traffic near the rim. He then followed that up on the very next possession by draining a three-pointer in transition. Toss in him using the pump fake to take his opponent off the dribble, and throw in the fact that he blocked another shot (he's the best on the team and currently 64th in the nation in rejections, according to Kenpom) and I'm still pissed that he didn't make anyone's preseason top 100 list.
- It's still really early, but last night's game moved Iowa from #34 to #21 in Kenpom's eyes and Marquette from #74 to #98. So, Iowa is currently in someone's top 25. I imagine this performance will at least have them getting votes (if they aren't already, I haven't paid attention), and they have the potential to move into the real top 25 depending on how they do next week.
Again, though, it's still early. Iowa has passed the eye test so far, but we should get a better idea of where this team is during the tournament next week and then against Florida State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. They're off to a great start, though.