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FRANALYSIS: THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME FOR IOWA VS. MICHIGAN STATE

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Iowa faced a different Michigan State team this time around, but the outcome was the same.

Welcome home, Sapp!
Welcome home, Sapp!
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

This was supposed to be a different game. Coming into Thursday night's contest, in a primetime slot on the national stage, Iowa was supposed to be facing a different opponent. Sure, they had played this team and 90% of the roster a few weeks back. But that one player, that one Player of the Year candidate, hadn't been on the court when Iowa earned that victory. Surely his scoring, his passing, and his defensive abilities would make Michigan State the stronger team. After all, this game was in East Lansing, and we all know that Iowa hadn't won there since 1993. And these guys wanted revenge. Tom Izzo was frustrated with the effort his team gave at Carver-Hawkeye Arena back in December. I mean, Iowa handed them their first loss in humiliating fashion, and now they were going to settle the score in front of their home crowd, right?

Wrong.

There were plenty of things about this game that were supposed to be different this time around, but instead Iowa dominated Michigan State for the second straight game. The Hawkeyes dealt with foul trouble to one of their best players from the start. Just like they had last time. But instead of folding in the face of adversity, the rest of the team stepped up to the plate and delivered. Just like last time. The Spartans were beat in the first half once again, thanks to a host of turnovers, poor shooting, and because Iowa crashed the boards and didn't leave opportunities for Michigan State to score second chance points. Just like last time. And, yes, Michigan State outscored Iowa in the second half (just like last time), but you know what? They weren't able to overcome the 0.67 points per possession they scored before halftime. Just like last time.

quarters

Four Factors in Review

1st half

First Half Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.26, Michigan State 0.67

First Half Possessions: 37

2nd half

Second Half Points Per Possession: Iowa 0.92, Michigan State 1.08

Second Half Possessions: 32

4 factors

Total Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.10, Michigan State 0.85

Total Possessions: 69

Shooting

Iowa 2pt Near Rim 2pt Jumper 3Pt FG FT
Attempts 35.4% 30.8% 33.8% N/A
FG% 47.8% 35.0% 45.5% 62.5%
MSU 2pt Near Rim 2pt Jumper 3Pt FG FT
Attempts 52.7% 9.1% 38.2% N/A
FG% 65.5% 0.0% 19.0% 69.2%

Michigan State straight up dominated this game in the paint. But you know what? It did not matter. The Spartans attempted half their shots and scored all 38 of their points from two-point field goals in the painted area on the night. I can appreciate the emphasis on high-percentage shots, but this game just highlights how big of an equalizer the three-point shot is. Iowa took a lot of jump shots in this one, but their shot was falling further away from the hoop better than it was up close. And that was the deciding factor.

But for the second straight game between these two teams, the outcome was pretty much decided in the first half when Iowa went 9-15 from beyond the arc.

1st half shooting

That first half eFG% of 65% predictably cooled down a bit in the second half. Michigan State pushed to make it a game, and Iowa looked as if they would oblige at some moments when the offense was stagnant, and their possessions were ending with contested jump shots or missed free throws. But Michigan State could never do enough in the other areas of the game after halftime to make it competitive. They never got closer than within 13 points, as Iowa always seemed to make a big play on defense or a big shot on offense to stem the tide.

Three-point shooting was Iowa's saving grace on offense in this one, as they struggled near the rim. The funny thing about Iowa winning in this manner is that it feels so weird, considering this is how teams used to beat the Hawkeyes in past years when Iowa couldn't shoot from deep. Needless to say, it feels good to be on the other side of it for once.

Tom Izzo, how do you feel about your team's performance in the shooting category?

izzo 4

Advantage: Iowa

Turnovers

All night long we heard from the announcers that Tom Izzo had put an emphasis on not turning the ball over, the way they had done in the previous match up against Iowa. Well, that message apparently fell on deaf ears, because Michigan State came out and, for the second straight time against Iowa, turned the ball over on more than a third of their possessions in the first half. And, also for the second time in a row, Iowa was more than happy to capitalize on these turnovers to the tune of 17 points. Some of this was sloppy play, but Iowa also forced 7 steals in the first half, including two by Peter Jok who continues to show improvement on the defensive end.

But allow me to reiterate just how dominant Iowa was in the first half. Michigan State turned the ball over 14 times (!) before the half, and Iowa scored 17 points off of those turnovers. Michigan State was able to force 8 turnovers on the Hawkeyes in that same timeframe, but managed a big fat goose egg (!) when it came to magically changing Iowa's lost possessions into points.

The second half calmed down on the turnover front. Iowa lost the ball just once in the final 20 minutes, while Michigan State did so only twice. The only thing the lack of turnovers in the second half contributed to was fewer fast break points for Iowa, and 8 fewer possessions for both teams after the break. The first half was enough to give the turnover advantage to Iowa.

Tom Izzo, how do you feel about your team's performance in the turnover category?

izzo 2

Advantage: Iowa

Offensive Rebounding

This is probably the area where I am the most impressed with this team. Peter Jok and Fran McCaffery mentioned in interviews after the game that Iowa put an emphasis on rebounding and just practicing the fundamentals of boxing out over their 9-day preparation. Well, whatever drills they ran, they sure seemed effective because they did work against one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and the best in the conference.

The first half was an especially spectacular show of rebounding effort for the Hawkeyes, as they grabbed 37.5% of their offensive rebounds. For reference, Iowa's season average this year is 32% and Michigan State allows only 24%. And, on the flip side, Michigan State is used to getting 37% of their misses on the year, while Iowa surrenders about 32% to opposing teams. But in the first half, Iowa hauled in 87% of Michigan State's misses, and left them with just 13% to try and get second chance points off of.

The second half rebounding battle went back to Michigan State ever-so-slightly, but it still couldn't make up for the first half. and Iowa still came away with the overall second chance points advantage, 10-7. Between the offensive rebounds and the turnovers, Iowa was able to muster 11 more scoring opportunities (including free throw possessions) than Sparty on the night. And those empty possessions were a huge contributing factor to Iowa's 17-point win.

Tom Izzo, how do you feel about your team's performance in the offensive rebounding category?

izzo 3

Advantage: Iowa

Free Throw Rate

This category wasn't particularly all that important to this game. It looked as if it was going to be early, when every player on the Iowa roster seemed to have 2 personal fouls. But Iowa cut their fouls after halftime and started earning their own way to the line on the other end of the court. The only issue for both teams was converting once they did get there. Michigan State made just 9 of their 13 attempts from the line, and Iowa was an even worse 10-16. Luckily, Iowa's free throw struggles down the stretch didn't hurt them. But the Hawks still win this category, more due to the volume of free throws they shot than the efficiency they showed once they were on the stripe.

Tom Izzo, how do you feel about your team's performance in the free throw category?

izzo 1

Advantage: Iowa

Overall: Iowa Won all 4 Factors

Players

players

Before we talk about Iowa, let's talk about Michigan State. Denzel Valentine was back in the starting lineup for this game, and he predictably got his points and dished out his assists. However, holding him to 14 points on 5-12 shooting was a big victory for Iowa's defense against a player that can go off for 20+ on any given night. Iowa's strategy put the pressure on guys not named "Valentine" to beat them, and those other guys just couldn't do enough. When Michigan State tried to utilize a ball screen to get him an open shot or run the pick and roll, Iowa focused all of their energy on making sure Valentine didn't get any space. They did their usual aggressive hedging on screens, and they double-teamed and tried to trap Valentine off those ball screens, which forced him to get rid of it to his teammates. And this strategy helped them keep Valentine in check all game long.

And then there are Bryn Forbes and Eron Harris. Forbes was erased from the game plan again thanks to Iowa's defense. Clemmons played his part, but so did Ellingson and others because Sapp moved up to defend the point guard when Gesell left the game due to foul trouble. Forbes finished with 2 points (both from the free throw line) on 0-5 shooting in just 10 minutes of play. His playing time was way down in this one thanks to his shooting, but also because he had foul trouble.

Meanwhile, Eron Harris had a nice dunk for Michigan State, but only managed 7 points on 2-9 shooting from the floor. Instead, Matt Costello tried to pick up the pieces that Forbes and Harris had dropped. He had another nice game against Iowa, but it just wasn't enough to help Michigan State be competitive.

Now, Peter Jok. Despite not quite scoring a career-high number of points in this one, I still think this was Jok's best game of his career. He was efficient on the offensive end, averaging 1.5 points per scoring attempt (including free throw possessions) and shooting 8-13 from the field, including 3-5 from downtown. He did his best offensive work in the first half, when he scored 19 of his 23 points.

In addition to his hot shooting, Jok continued to play excellent defense. He nabbed two steals on the night, and he helped Iowa set the tempo at the high rate Iowa wanted to play at in the first half, scoring 10 of Iowa's 12 first half fast break points with 2 transition threes, a steal and layup, and an emphatic dunk to send Iowa into halftime on a high note.

While Jok was the player of the night, Jarrod Uthoff had a much better game than he did against Michigan State in December. He shot just 5-18 from the floor and 3-8 from three-point range, but he still managed 15 points and knocked down an insane three-point attempt from almost 30 feet out. More importantly, though, Uthoff logged a double-double by doing extremely important work on the rebounding side of things. 7 of his 10 rebounds came on the defensive end, and that was key to keeping Michigan State off the offensive glass where they had the potential to kill Iowa. He also played 35 minutes this time around, and only logged one foul all game and didn't turn the ball over once. He also blocked 2 more shots and surpassed Denzel Valentine for second place on Kenpom's Player of the Year list. I think Uthoff has to be considered the front-runner for the Big Ten Player of the Year award at this point, and if he keeps this up, he could very well make the All-American team when everything is said and done.

From the point guard spot, Iowa still managed to get a pretty high level of production despite Mike Gesell getting in foul trouble two minutes into the game. With him on the bench, Iowa did the same thing they did back in December when Jarrod Uthoff had to leave the game early because of fouls: they hit Michigan State in the mouth. Anthony Clemmons stepped in at the point, played his usual great defense and contributed 8 first half points, also making 2 of Iowa's 9 first half threes. He would finish the game with 13 points, which was great to see since this was his homecoming. He had a huge group of family behind the Iowa bench and it was pretty easy to see them celebrating throughout the game when the Breslin Center went quiet.

Gesell, meanwhile, still made his mark on the game. Even before he left early on, he was able to slice the defense and get an easy layup, and he even found Peter Jok for a three in transition. When he entered the game after halftime, he had some struggles finishing near the rim, but he still managed 6 second half points and 5 second half assists. Gesell is still averaging about 7 assists per game, which means he is still on pace to break Andre Woolridge's record by late February or early March.

Finally, Dom Uhl and Adam Woodbury also played key roles in this victory. Uhl was an early catalyst off the bench for Iowa on the offensive end. He started the game off by getting 4 quick points off of putbacks at the rim, and then he helped Iowa expand their first half lead by knocking down 2 threes. He scored all 10 of his points in the first half, but he was extremely efficient, as he shot 4-5 from the field on the night. He also contributed 5 rebounds (3 on the offensive side) in his 17 minutes on the court, which, again, was huge in keeping Michigan State off of the glass for the game.

As for Woodbury, he struggled to put the ball in the basket on Thursday night. But he did give Iowa 35 minutes on the court, and pulled down 8 rebounds (4 on both offense and defense). He also dished out two assists, only had one turnover, and even blocked a shot. I need to go back and re-watch the game while not chasing a 13-month old around because I'm not sure how to feel about his defense, considering Costello did what he did. But Woodbury still did a great job on the glass, and that was big for this Iowa victory.

Now, I know a lot of people were mad about Izzo's back-handed compliments after last night's game, and I'll admit I lost a bit of respect for him, too. He did go out of his way to say that Clemmons wasn't a good shooter, which isn't completely true since Clemmons has actually been good from three-point range over his career. Even more odd, was that he threw multiple compliments his way after the last loss, so I'm not sure why he had to go out of his way to single him out as lucky here. Second of all, it's one thing to imply that Iowa's three-point shooting early on was purely luck, saying something to the effect that even "Fran hit a three in the first half." But for him to complain about the refs is just hilarious to me, considering he is the master of attempting to work over the officials on the sidelines. And for him to complain about them in this game, as if they were the reason his team got run out of their own building is absolutely ridiculous. I mean, Iowa had somewhere near a million guys in foul trouble in the first half, and they still had a 22-point lead at the break. And we've seen plenty of games in the past where Michigan State has assaulted Iowa players and the referees have let it go.

But you know what? He did say something after the game that was absolutely correct:

This is something that Iowa fans have thought for a while, too. And it's something we continued to believe after the Iowa State game. Under Fran, Iowa has seemed to lack a certain toughness at key times in games. They couldn't close a game, or they couldn't match the physicality of a team like Michigan State. But since that Iowa State game (small sample size, of course) this team has maintained big second half leads against Michigan State and come back from a 17-point deficit on the road at Purdue. This team looks as mentally tough as ever, which is a welcome sight for a team led by four seniors and a junior. They are going to need that toughness, too, because they still have games against Michigan and Purdue at home, and Maryland on the road this month. And they shouldn't discount Northwestern (sorry, Rutgers), who looks much-improved from last year.

Again, though, this Iowa team is battle-tested. They played a tough non-conference schedule, and they opened up Big Ten play with three games against Michigan State and Purdue, two of which came on the road. I think most of us would have been happy to start the Big Ten season 2-2, and would have learned to accept 1-3. But this group of guys has exceeded expectations, and made themselves legitimate contenders to win a Big Ten title. They have upcoming games against 1-loss (conference-wise) Michigan and Maryland, and they face the only other undefeated team in conference play (Indiana) twice toward the end of the season. This is starting to feel a little like the football season did with how well Iowa is setting themselves up in Big Ten play. And it all started by sweeping the Michigan State Spartans.

You know, I used to think Tom Izzo and his teams were tough. But after watching his sideline antics and his team continuously wilt under pressure, I don't think so anymore.