Iowa (19-4) at Indiana (19-5)
Time: 8:00 p.m. CT
Location: Assembly Hall
Line: Indiana -3
After three games against teams in the bottom of the conference, Iowa hits the road tonight to take on the Indiana Hoosiers in Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers are currently tied with Maryland as the only other two-loss team in the conference, vying to knock the Hawkeyes off their first place pedestal.
Of course, while Indiana is 19-5 overall and 9-2 in the conference, there are still questions about just how good they are. Sure, they look like they have plenty of talent, but are they really one of the three best teams in the conference or are they a product of their schedule?
Coming into this game, Kenpom ranks Iowa's schedule #20 in terms of difficulty, while Indiana is #136. If you compare Big Ten schedules, Iowa has played the fifth most-difficult schedule of any Big Ten team, while Indiana is dead last in conference strength of schedule by quite a bit. Going even further, out of Iowa's 23 games this season, 9 have come against teams Kenpom has rated as Tier A (Kenpom Top 50 teams) and 4 have come against Tier B (Kenpom Top 100 Teams). Indiana, meanwhile, has played 5 Tier A teams and 3 Tier B teams.
I bring this up not to belittle Indiana for playing the schedule they have been given. (I do, after all, remember Iowa's 2015 football schedule.) Instead, I bring it up because the fact that their conference strength of schedule rating is so low (the only one in the Big Ten below .7000) means we need to take that into account when judging their numbers below, and I think that's especially the case for the defense. One of the big differences between this year's Indiana team and last year's Indiana team is supposed to be on defense. Last year's team could light it up from anywhere on the court, but they also had the tendency to get lit up themselves. This year, though, the defense has looked better. But they have done so against a light schedule, and there have still been some consistency issues. Even without James Blackmon Jr., we know this Indiana team can put points up on the board. But the question remains, just how good is this Hoosier defense?
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 106 shooting rating means that their eFG% has been 5% better than the national average during Big Ten play, while Indiana's 103 means they have been 3% better at contesting opponent shots.
Here we can see that Iowa's offensive ranking and Indiana's defensive ranking are quite a ways apart, but the four factors chart looks fairly close. That's because the rankings are adjusted for strength of schedule, while the four factors aren't. So, here is where we need to adjust for who each team has played so far.
|Iowa Opponents||Venue||Kenpom Tier||Opponent Adj. Defensive PPP||Iowa PPP vs. Opponent|
|Indiana Opponents||Venue||Kenpom Tier||Opponent Adj. Offensive PPP||IU Defensive PPP Allowed|
One thing to note first is that Kenpom's Tiers are adjusted for where each game is played. Thus, Iowa's home game against Nebraska didn't even register as a win over a Tier A or B team, while Indiana's registered as a Tier A because the game was in Lincoln. Want to know more about why he does it that way? Read this.
Now, looking at this data, we can see a couple of things: 1) Iowa has played some really tough defenses, but has only been held to less than 1.05 points per possession (PPP) once, and that was in their loss at Maryland. 2) Indiana has played one Big Ten offense of Iowa's caliber, and that was Michigan. The Wolverines' 1.16 adjusted PPP is similar to Iowa's 1.18, and Indiana's defense impressively held them to 0.97 in Ann Arbor, thanks to a 28-0 run. But while that is impressive, Indiana did give up 1.09 PPP in their loss to Wisconsin and 1.05 PPP in their loss on Saturday to Penn State. And if we look outside the conference, they surrendered 1.52 PPP to Duke and 1.11 to Notre Dame. My point here being that Indiana's defense may have made some progress this season, but outside of the cold spell that Michigan experienced a few weeks back, they aren't shutting down great offenses with any type of regularity.
This is where you have to think that Iowa should probably be able to shoot the ball well and maybe even get to the line more against Indiana than the four factor chart may indicate. This is also where Indiana's inability to force turnovers looks even worse, too. It would appear that Iowa has two pretty solid advantages in this category, and potentially three, if we give them the upper hand at getting to the free throw line.
In general, Indiana has some solid defenders in Williams, Anunoby, and Hartman, but Iowa has a real length advantage at just about every position, to where I think Iowa can shoot over the top of them. On top of that, Indiana's defense still shows quite a few inconsistencies for me to think Iowa shouldn't have the advantage on this end of the court, barring a cold shooting night.
When Indiana Has the Ball
On this end of the floor, the raw numbers are far enough apart that the chart probably does actually give us a fairly accurate representation of what to expect in this game.
Still, I want to do a similar comparison for what I did on the other side of the ball.
|Iowa Opponents||Venue||Kenpom Tier||Opponent Adj. Offensive PPP||Iowa Defensive PPP Allowed|
|Indiana Opponents||Venue||Kenpom Tier||Opponent Adj. Defensive PPP||IU PPP vs. Opponent|
The interesting thing about this table is that for all the questions about Indiana's defense, it's pretty interesting to note that their offense hasn't exactly played many defensive stalwarts, either. And for as much praise as we heap on Iowa's offense this year, It's pretty damn impressive in those 7 conference Tier A and Tier B games that they have held their opponents below their collective average by 0.16 PPP.
So, yes, Indiana is shooting lights out in conference play, but Iowa is third in the conference in eFG% defense and second in three-point FG% defense, to boot. Indiana's offense relies heavily on the three-point shot falling, so whether or not those shots are going down will go a long way in determining who wins this side of the ball.
However, if those shots aren't falling, Indiana can help offset that by grabbing offensive rebounds. Iowa's defensive rebounding has been a weakness against teams not named "Illinois" this year, so I fully expect Indiana to grab quite a few offensive boards in this one. But if Iowa can keep the perimeter on lockdown, they can probably withstand any potential second chance points the Hoosiers might come up with.
Beyond those two areas, Iowa looks to have favorable match ups in the turnover and free throw categories. Indiana never visits the foul line and Iowa never fouls, so don't expect many Indiana free throws tonight. However, Indiana does have a turnover problem and they are particularly vulnerable to having the ball stolen from them (last in the conference in both categories). So look for a decent amount of turnovers forced by Iowa, who is second in the conference in turnovers forced and first in steals. If Indiana's threes aren't falling at an insanely high rate, and Iowa can win these final two categories, they have a good chance of winning this side of the ball. Of course, this game is in Bloomington, so I will stay on the side of caution here, and call this side of the ball even.
Style of Play
Both Indiana and Iowa have similar uptempo styles of basketball. Both squads average between 70-71 possessions per game on the season and both are around 69 in conference play. Iowa has been slightly faster in conference play, as their average offensive possession has been just 16.5 seconds long (first in the Big Ten), while Indiana's 17.1 has been closer to the Division I average of 17.2.
Both teams like to run, though, and neither of them are afraid to look for early offense. Both defenses will need to not only retreat to the hoop when getting back on defense, but they will also have to fan out on the perimeter in order to avoid leaving the other team open for a transition three. Iowa has had some difficulty getting back on defense in a few games this season, so it's something to watch for in this one. But Indiana also had their share of troubles against Minnesota and their uptempo game, so it's a cause for concern for both teams.
When it comes to shooting, Indiana's biggest advantage is from inside the arc. Meanwhile, Iowa matches their shooting ability from long range, and they are also plenty above average from the free throw line like Indiana also is.
Shot selection-wise, Indiana shoots a ton of threes, while Iowa shoots a few more two-point shots than the average team. This is a potential issue for the Hawkeyes, as their two-point field goal attempts continue to rise, but they seem to be rising because they are taking a lot of mid-range jumpers and not because they are taking more shots in the paint. This has especially been the case for Jarrod Uthoff. Maybe Iowa can get more shots near the basket against this Indiana defense, otherwise I'm hoping they take more threes.
Finally, looking at scoring, we see that Iowa gets fewer points on their twos than average because of some of their struggles shooting them against Big Ten competition. Indiana, meanwhile, gets a ridiculous amount of value from outside because they take and make so many threes, plus they don't visit the free throw line all that much. Those two things are probably related.
Players to Watch
Note: A quick reminder on how this chart works. The horizontal axis represents a player's usage rate, while the vertical axis represents a player's offensive rating. The circle size represents playing time (bigger means more time on the court). This chart should tell us how involved in the offense the player is, how efficient they are in doing so, and in how many minutes per game they accomplish all of this.
Indiana's offense is highly dependent on Yogi Ferrell. They have a lot of weapons on offense, but he is the engine that makes them go on that side of the ball. At point guard, Yogi is Indiana's biggest passing and scoring threat. He is extremely versatile in the pick and roll where he is a threat to shoot the three, attack the rim for a layup, or find the open man. He's playing 36 minutes per game in conference play and averaging almost 19 points doing so. He's dangerous out on the break, where he can pull up for a quick three or find an open man on the wing or in the paint, but he's also dangerous in the half-court, where he can also do all of those same things.
Ferrell is seventh in the conference in assist rate and is shooting 51% from downtown, which is good for fourth in the Big Ten. His only real weakness is that he is a 50% finisher when he gets into traffic at the rim. Iowa's strategy on the pick and roll is usually to get the ball out of the ball-handler's hands by hedging hard. So I would imagine that Iowa will take their chances with someone like Thomas Bryant trying to finish at the rim among Iowa's trees and do anything to keep Yogi from pulling up and hitting the three or driving and collapsing the defense.
After Ferrell, Indiana has freshman big man, Thomas Bryant, at center. He's the other difference between this year's Indiana team and last year's. They are still heavily-dependent on the three-point shot falling, but this year they also have an inside game to go with their outside one. And Bryant has been very good inside this season. He's shooting 73% on two-pointers, showing an incredible knack for finishing around the rim. He has the ability to post up opposing big men, get points off of putbacks, he's dangerous in the pick and roll, and he draws a lot of fouls. He's also a great rebounder and he blocks quite a few shots. He does have some negatives, however.
First, Bryant does have a turnover problem that has ballooned in Big Ten play. He's giving the ball up on an estimated quarter of his possessions on offense, which takes a little bit of sheen off his efficiency down low. Second, he can have some issues on the other end of the court when it comes to defending. There have been some questions about his conditioning this season (he plays 23 minutes per game) and he can struggle defending away from the basket and in the pick and roll. Ethan Happ showed us some the former when he took Bryant to work for 25 points in a loss at Wisconsin. Both of those are causes for optimism for Iowa, as Adam Woodbury is at his best in the pick and roll, and Dom Uhl can exploit Bryant away from the basket by taking him off the dribble or hitting from outside. Additionally, Woodbury is also one of the best defenders that Bryant will have to work against this season, so I'm fairly optimistic he can limit the freshman's impact on the game.
After Bryant, Troy Williams is Indiana's next best scoring option at 11.5 per game in 25 minutes of play. The 6'7" combo forward is taking more threes this year and he's making 35% of them (32% in conference play), but he's more of a threat in transition and around the rim where he can use his athleticism to throw down dunks and grab rebounds. Williams' game has become more polished over the years, but he still doesn't create a lot of offense on his own. Most of his field goals come in transition, on cuts to the basket, or in the pick and roll. Iowa has the luxury of putting one of the nation's top shot blockers on him in Jarrod Uthoff, so hopefully that will keep Williams from doing too much damage against Iowa. Hopefully, Williams won't be able to return that favor when he guards Uthoff for stretches in this game.
Since James Blackmon Jr. is out for the season due to injury, those three are the big stars for Indiana. Aside from them, the Hoosiers have a ton of role players who are capable of scoring points, too.
Sophomore Robert Johnson is the starting shooting guard on this team, who looks to have entered a sophomore slump since Big Ten play started. After scoring almost 9 points per game, shooting a 52% eFG%, and making 39% of his threes against Big Ten teams last year, Johnson is scoring slightly less than 7 points, shooting a 43% eFG%, and connecting on only 31% of his threes in conference play this season. He's also turning it over more than anyone on the roster against conference teams right now, so you can see why his circle is at the bottom of the chart in efficiency. He's still a big part of this Indiana offense, though, and not someone Iowa can afford to leave open from behind the arc. If Anthony Clemmons is going to be on Yogi, then that would mean that Mike Gesell will be responsible for Johnson.
The final starter for this Hoosier team is small forward, Collin Hartman. He's the guy who's best known for replacing Blackmon Jr. in the starting lineup after he went down with an injury. Unlike his predecessor, Hartman is not a focal point of this offense. But he is giving the Hoosiers 5.5 points per game, has a nice three-point shot (43% in conference play) and brings a lot of versatility to this Indiana team. However, with those positives, comes a weakness. And his biggest issue on offense is the fact that he turns the ball over so much. He's primarily a wing player, but at 6'7" he was forced into playing the five last season when Indiana had no depth at that position, so he's comfortable playing down low. That shouldn't be the case on offense against a long Iowa team, but he is one of Indiana's better defenders so I wouldn't be surprised to see him defending Jarrod Uthoff for portions of this game.
Moving to the bench, Max Bielfeldt is a grad-transfer from Michigan who is giving Indiana almost 8 points per game. He's an undersized stretch four/five who is making 52% of his twos and 36% of his threes against conference opponents. He's currently second in the conference in steals, but I'm not sure I would call him a great defender. He's featured briefly in the Ethan Happ link above, and he was never a strong defender at Michigan. If Iowa can get Thomas Bryant in foul trouble, I think they would be happy having Indiana's tallest player on the court be 6'8". In other words, think Iowa has enough length to give Bielfeldt troubles on both ends of the court.
Next is OG Anunoby, who is a true freshman forward who chose to attend Indiana over Iowa last year. He's actually been a pleasant surprise as a freshman this season, scoring 6.5 points in Big Ten play, while showing some promising results on defense. At this point in his career, his athleticism is his biggest asset, and he uses that to get rebounds (a third of his field goals have been second chance baskets), block shots, and to defend whoever Tom Crean needs him to defend. With his size (6'8") and athleticism, I would expect to see him guard Jarrod Uthoff at times, and I also wouldn't be surprised to see him chase Peter Jok around the perimeter. His one big downfall on defense is that he can get in foul trouble (probably one of the reasons he only plays 16 minutes per game), so if he does end up on Uthoff, it would probably be in Iowa's best interest to post him up and go right at him.
Now, we all know how much Indiana loves their three-pointers, so it's finally time to talk about Nick Zeisloft. He plays 20 minutes per game at the two and three spots, and basically does nothing but shoot threes. On the season, he's taken 11 two-point shots and 113 three-point ones. He's shooting 40% from outside this season, but he's been ice cold (29%) in 65 Big Ten attempts. There's no real secret with Zeisloft, Iowa just needs to stay on him out on the perimeter and make sure his 6 attempts per game from the outside are contested.
Finally, Juwan Morgan is a freshman forward that plays about 9 minutes per game in conference play. He has turnover and fouling issues, so he really isn't much more than bench filler at this point for when Indiana is up big or when someone gets into foul trouble.
What Kenpom Thinks
Kenpom Rankings: Iowa #2, Indiana #24
Projected Outcome: Iowa 77 (56%), Indiana 75 (44%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.08, Indiana 1.06
Projected Possessions: 71
Overall, after looking at all the numbers, I feel confident in saying that I think Iowa is the better team. Do I think that will directly translate into a win? Not necessarily. Anything can happen in the span of one college basketball game, and the fact that this game is in Bloomington also gives me caution.
But I really do think Iowa has a lot of advantages in this one. First, I don't think Indiana really has anybody who can stop Jarrod Uthoff or Peter Jok. They struggled to control Penn State's Brandon Taylor and Wisconsin's duo of Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ, and both of Iowa's star players are just as talented, if not more so, than those three guys. Second, I think Iowa's length will be enough to give Indiana fits on both ends of the court. The Hoosiers have yet to face a team that can not only defend the perimeter well, but can also shoot the ball just as well as they can from the outside. And the fact that Iowa is not only battle-tested on offense, but also battle-tested on defense is the main advantage I think this Iowa team has.
This isn't a must-win game for the Hawkeyes, as they join a three-way tie for first place if they lose. But if they can win this game -- the game Kenpom projects as the most difficult game left on their schedule -- it should go a long way in helping them move closer to an outright Big Ten title.