If you read Pre-Game Franalysis this week, at least some of what we saw in Iowa's 70-64 win over Drake in the opening game of the Big 4 Classic in Des Moines should't have come as much of a surprise. Because Matt absolutely nailed a few things that ended up being critical on Saturday:
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.
Drake did end up hanging around for the entire game -- Iowa pushed the lead to double-digits a few times in the second half, but Drake responded with a rally each time -- and it was because of their three-point shooting. The Bulldogs were on fire from deep, draining 11/26 three-pointers today. They were just 13/34 on two-point shot attempts. And about that shot-blocking stat? Well, it's not going to get any better after today's game -- Iowa blocked a school-record 14 shots in the game today. Jarrod Uthoff did have a heyday -- 5 blocks.
But the story of the game wasn't Uthoff, who had 10 points (on 4/8 shooting), 5 blocks, and 3 rebounds in severely foul-shortened minutes (he sat the final 15 minutes of the first half after picking up two quick fouls). The story of the game was Nicholas freaking Baer, who had himself A GAME. Baer had 13 points on 5/10 shooting (including 3/5 from deep), 7 rebounds, 6 blocks (!), 2 assists, and a steal... and that doesn't even cover all the hustle plays he made and the energy he provided. Baer played a career-high 30 minutes today, partly because of Uthoff's foul trouble (as well as Woodbury's ineffectiveness and the season-ending injury to Dale Jones a few weeks ago) but mainly because he was too good to take off the court. Without Baer, Iowa most likely loses this game.
The coaches have praised Baer for a while, especially before this season, and we knew he would probably play quite a bit this year as Iowa tried to replace the production and size lost when Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni graduated... but I don't think anyone envisioned a game like this. Let's hope it's only the beginning of big things for Baer. If it is, he won't be a walk-on for much longer -- a fact Fran readily admitted post-game.
McCaffery on Baer: "Obviously we're going to have to give him a scholarship at some point."— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) December 19, 2015
(For the record, Iowa does not have an available scholarship for next season unless someone transfers out.)
Baer was the main story from the game, but Iowa also got good production from their 1-2 punch in the back court, Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons. Gesell had a team-high 17 points on 7/8 shooting (!), as well as 4 assists and 3 rebounds. (He even got in on the BLOCK PARTY action!) Clemmons had 10 points on 4/9 shooting. That was good because Peter Jok was in a serious funk all day: 4 points on 2/10 shooting (0/4 from deep). Dom Uhl also gave Iowa some quality minutes off the bench -- he only shot 2/8 from the floor, but had 7 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal while playing 28 minutes. He was preferred to Adam Woodbury for the bulk of the second half.
The game was as close as it was because of Drake's long-range gunning, but there were some other problem areas for Iowa. Offensive rebounds were again a problem -- Drake outrebounded Iowa 39-31 overall and had a 15-9 edge on the offensive glass. And the Iowa defense had no answers whatsoever for Reed Timmer, who had 25 points on 11/21 shooting and seemed to make bucket after bucket when Drake needed it in the second half. So, no, this wasn't the easy win we thought it probably would be... but Iowa avoided a bad loss and got back on the winning track after last week's painful loss to Iowa State. For now, that'll do just fine.