Iowa (7-3) vs. Drake (4-6)
It's that time of year again when Iowa jumps on a bus and heads west on I-80 to play at the Wells Fargo Arena in downtown Des Moines. After facing Northern Iowa last season in a game I'd rather not reminisce on, the Hawkeyes are set to play Drake this season, while the Panthers take on Iowa State on the same court at 6pm.
Along with Tennessee Tech, Drake signifies one of the last remaining non-conference games on Iowa's schedule. No offense to the Bulldogs, but they represent one of Iowa's last times to get their young players some quality court time before the Big Ten season starts and Fran McCaffery's rotation shortens quite significantly.
This one shouldn't be particularly close, so let's just get to the numbers.
When Iowa has the Ball
Note: All numbers in this piece come from Kenpom or Sports Reference. Additionally, ratings in the four factors charts are scaled so that 100 = average. Thus, above 100 is above average, while below 100 is below average. For example, Iowa's 111 shooting rating means that their eFG% has been 11% better than the national average this year, while Drake's 95 means they have been 5% worse at contesting opponent shots this season.
Drake has one advantage on this end of the court: keeping opponents off the foul line. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Iowa isn't putting much emphasis on getting to the line this season and is making up for it with their ability to shoot the ball at a nice clip. And that should continue on Saturday, seeing how Kenpom has Drake currently ranked 253rd in the country in contesting shots and 345th in blocking them. Additionally, Iowa shouldn't have much of a turnover problem or any trouble getting second chance opportunities when they do miss.
In summation: Iowa's offense is averaging 1.14 Kenpom-adjusted points per possession (PPP) this season, and Drake is giving up 1.07. The NCAA average is 1.02. This really shouldn't be close.
When Drake has the Ball
The Drake offense is better than the Drake defense, but when you break it down into parts, you can see that they have some real issues. And before I get into those issues, just keep in mind that it is still a bit early in the season and Drake has yet to play anyone inside of the Kenpom Top 100. Thus, their numbers are probably worse than they actually look, once you take into account the competition they have played.
Now, their 1.03 adjusted PPP this season is a bit above average, but the only reason they have been above that average is because of their shooting. More specifically: Three-point shooting. You see, Drake is currently the 15th best three-point shooting team in the nation, making 41.6% of their attempts from out there. The triples have helped push their eFG% into the 7% above the national average range, but when you look at their two-point shooting, we see that they are just 202nd in the nation. So, what gives? Well, the best explanation is that Drake is currently getting 13.3% of their shots blocked on offense, which is good (or bad) for 314th in the country. (Jarrod Uthoff should have a heyday.) What that means, is that the Bulldogs are insanely dependent on the three-point shot falling. If it doesn't, this game could be ugly. If it does, they could potentially hang around, depending on how Iowa's offense looks.
Of course, Iowa's defense has been strong at contesting shots this season. Hawkeye opponents have made only 28.6% of their tries from outside this season. But this is your weekly reminder that Kenpom has some literature hinting at the defense not having much control over their opponents' three-point field goal percentage, and that essentially the defense has more control over their opponents' field goal percentage on two-point shots and their shot selection, in general. In Ken Pomeroy's exact words:
The defense's tools are two-point defense and influencing shot selection. While a frightening number of things are in the offense's control - leading to the offense having 64% control over its points per possession number - the defense has significant influence over where shots are taken from and how effective the offense is near the rim.
In that case, Iowa's opponents take quite a few more threes than the national average, but Iowa's two-point field goal defense has been above average this year. So the Hawkeyes are a bit of a mixed bag in the tools area. But it's worth pointing out that Iowa's opponents take a lot of threes and Drake has made quite a few of them this season. That should be the key thing to watch on this end of the court.
Even if the Bulldogs are connecting from outside, though, Iowa should be able to control the other three factors, while shutting down Drake inside the arc. If they do that, they can win this side of the ball.
Style of Play
Both teams have a contrasting style of play. Drake is going to try and take the air out of the ball, while Iowa likes to run a little bit more than the norm. The Bulldogs are currently averaging five fewer possessions than Iowa per game, and they are 317th in the country in time of possession on offense. Compare Drake's average offensive possession length of 18.7 seconds to Iowa's 16.1, and you can start to see where Iowa gets those extra possessions every game.
If we look at the types of shots that each team takes, we can see that neither team is far from the Division I norm in terms of shot selection, but both do favor the three-point shot a bit more than normal.
Of course, both teams are shooting the ball very well from three-point range this season. They are also shooting the same percentage from the free throw line. The big difference on offense here is that Iowa makes their two-point shots, while Drake gets a lot of them blocked. And Iowa's two-point defense has been good this season, thanks in part to being 48th in the country in blocking shots. So again, unleash the Uthoff.
Neither team is particularly great at drawing fouls, so both teams score a below average amount of their points from the free throw stripe. However, Drake does get more of their points from there, while Iowa makes up for that with better two-point shooting than the Bulldogs. Of course, both teams get an above average amount of points from three-point range.
Players to Watch
Drake is heavily dependent on a dynamic trio of players. All three guys play 29+ minutes per game, and all three are using 25% of Drake's possessions when they are on the floor, which falls into Kenpom's "major contributor" category.
First in line is shooting guard, Reed Timmer, who is averaging 19 points per game on a 60.8% eFG%. In essence, he's a guy who takes a lot of shots, but he's also a guy that makes a lot of them. He is shooting 53% from long range this season, but he's more of a slasher, considering 71% of his attempts have come inside the arc this season. Anthony Clemmons should be matched up with him for most of the night, so hopefully he can keep him under wraps. Because outside of scoring, Timmer doesn't do much of anything else.
Next is West Des Moines native, Kale Abrahamson. Fran is very familiar with him, seeing how Abrahamson has played against him before and Fran offered him a scholarship out of high school. Abrahamson turned the free ride down, however, to attend Northwestern, but has since transferred back to Des Moines to play for Drake. You may remember him as the "guy with the really ugly shot" and you would be correct. (Unless this has changed. I haven't seen him play this year.) Ugly-looking shot aside, Iowa has seen him four times when he was with Northwestern, and he's taken a lot of threes and scored a little less than 5 points per game against the Hawkeyes, including two 8-point efforts.
Abrahamson is essentially Drake's version of Jarrod Uthoff. He is scoring 16 points per game (including a 41-point outburst against Western Kentucky) and can shoot from anywhere on the court. That being said, 55% of his attempts have come from long range this season, where he's making about 36% of them. So he clearly likes to shoot from outside. Like Timmer, he's also a high volume shooter (the highest on the team when he's on the court), but also a high efficiency one. In addition to that, he also adds value by rarely turning the ball over. At 6'8" and 218 lbs., Abrahamson is a huge mismatch for most teams Drake will play this season. But he shouldn't be as much of one for Iowa. Not to belittle Abrahamson's skill set -- he does have talent -- but Jarrod Uthoff should have the pleasure of guarding him throughout the night, and Uthoff has a similar game, only with more tools in his tool kit and more talent.
The third member of the offensive trio is point guard, and Penn State transfer, Graham Woodward. Iowa faced him once when he was a freshman and he had a game to forget, logging 0 points, 2 turnovers, and 3 fouls in 14 minutes of play. Of course, I would imagine that his game has developed a bit more over the last two years.
In 2015, Woodward is mainly a jump shooter, but he's averaging almost 13 points per game doing so. He takes over half of his field goal attempts from three-point range like Abrahamson, but he's making almost 45% of those attempts. Since he's the point guard, he's also the team's best assist man which definitely adds some value. Unfortunately for Drake, Woodward also takes away a lot of value from his team with his turnover problem. And that could be good news for Iowa, as he will be going up against a veteran guard in Mike Gesell, who can be a bit of a pickpocket.
After those three guys, though, Drake's offensive abilities fall off quite a bit. Nobody else averages even 5 points per game. Jacob Enevold Jensen is the next highest scorer at 4.7 per game. He is the Bulldog's 7-foot starting center, and he has been one of the best rebounders in college basketball this season. That being said, he's done it only 17 minutes per game and against questionable competition. And a lot of the rebounding value he gives Drake in his short spurts, he gives back with a low field goal percentage, a high turnover rate, and an average of 5 personal fouls every 40 minutes.
When Enevold Jensen sits down, Drake's other 7-footer, Dominik Olejniczak, fills the five spot for another 15 minutes per game. Olejniczak is a better shooter than his counterpart and is a great defensive rebounder, but he has a bigger turnover problem than Enevold Jensen and is averaging 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes. Unlike Enevold Jensen, Olejniczak's problems are bad enough that he is considered a below average offensive player, according to his offensive rating.
Finally, at the small forward position, C.J. Rivers starts and plays 24 minutes per game. At 6'2" and 187 lbs. Rivers is an extremely undersized small forward, and his stat line is just as weird as his stature. For a starter, Rivers uses (by far) the fewest possessions on the team. His 11% usage rate means he's pretty much just there for show on the offensive end of the court, as he is classified as "nearly invisible" by Kenpom. So what does he do? Well, I don't know enough about Drake to say that he's a great defender (he may be), but he does manage to somehow pull down 20% of all defensive rebounds available when he's on the court. For context, that is 226th in the country and higher than anybody on Iowa not named "Dale Jones." Yes, Drake hasn't played anyone worth a damn, but a 20% defensive rebounding rate by a 6'2", 187 lb. player? Holy crap.
What Kenpom Thinks
Kenpom Rankings: Iowa #13, Drake #212
Projected Outcome: Iowa 81 (93%), Drake 65 (7%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.21, Drake 0.97
Projected Possessions: 67
After looking at the numbers, it shouldn't be all that surprising that Kenpom is calling for an easy Iowa win. Drake has three talented players, but they don't have much firepower after that. And the numbers above should be discounted quite a bit, due to playing the 238th toughest schedule in the nation to date. Drake's only real chance at hanging with this Iowa squad is to make their three-pointers and hope the Hawkeyes have a cold shooting night.
The odds of that happening aren't very good, though. Iowa has defeated the four non-Kenpom Top 100 teams on their schedule this year by an average of 26.5 points. Barring a really off night from the Hawkeyes, this game should game should end in a similar fashion.