Iowa (17-4) vs. Penn State (11-11)
Time: Wednesday 6:00 p.m. CT
Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Tickets: University of Iowa
Line: Iowa -20
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 6% better than the national average this year, while Penn State's 95 means they have been 5% worse at contesting opponent shots this season.
On this side of the ball, Iowa takes their top-ranked conference offense against Penn State, who has had the second-worst defense in Big Ten play. Their 1.12 points per possession (PPP) allowed is only better than Rutgers, and not far off the 1.15 that Iowa has scored on offense. Keep in mind, though, that Penn State has played Michigan (twice), Maryland, Michigan State, and Purdue in their first 9 Big Ten games, so their defense may not be quite this bad. Of course, even adjusting for strength of schedule, this defense still probably isn't that good, and Iowa's offensive numbers are better than those aforementioned teams. So this battle shouldn't be particularly close.
Penn State is above average in absolutely none of the four factors on the defensive end. The only statistic they can claim to be pretty good at is blocked shots. Meanwhile, Iowa does just about everything well. So, again, this battle should not be particularly close.
When Penn State Has the Ball
When Penn State has the ball, their offense is actually above average in a couple of areas, but those areas are not currently translating into points. They are not giving the ball away much and they have been able to draw fouls at a decent rate, but they are still averaging just 0.97 PPP against Big Ten defenses. If we adjust for the defenses that they have played, though, that number probably breaks a point per trip. This is still not an offense that has much firepower, though.
As for Iowa, their defensive shooting rating has dropped recently, but it's not like other teams are just scoring at will on them. For one, the end of the Northwestern game -- where the Wildcat starters scored 24 points on an 80% eFG% on Iowa's bench players -- is not helping things. Second of all, Iowa is third in the conference in opponent three-point percentage and first in blocked shots. The main issue? Iowa's foes have made almost 51% of their two-point attempts against them in conference play. Northwestern made only 47%, though, so hopefully this number is just residue left over from that insane stretch of tough teams the Hawkeyes played to open the conference slate.
Overall, though, Iowa has the advantage in every factor on this end of the floor. So this battle should not be particularly close, either.
Style of Play
Tempo-wise, Penn State plays at a slower pace. They average 67.5 possessions per game, and that number has since dropped to 66 against Big Ten teams. The main reason for that is because they hold the ball on offense for about 18.5 seconds, on average. The Division I norm is 17.2 seconds, so this means a lot of long possessions that usually end in a missed shot for the Nittany Lion offense. Iowa's defense forces opposing teams to hold the ball for about a half a second longer than the Division I norm, so I would expect to continue seeing a lot of long Penn State possessions on offense.
On defense, Penn State forces opposing teams to hold the ball about a third of a second more than the average defense. But Iowa's offense is 72nd in the nation in time of possession, holding the ball for only 16.3 seconds. That number has gone to 16.7 in Big Ten play, but that's still #2 in the conference, behind only Illinois. Iowa isn't afraid to shoot early in the shot clock if they have an open look, and with as bad as Penn State's defense has been, I don't expect this to change much, either.
When it comes to shooting, Iowa has a pretty standard shot distribution, but it does skew slightly toward two-pointers. Penn State, though, has been a little three-point heavy now that conference play has started.
The thing is, while Penn State may be taking a lot of threes against Big Ten competition, they are only making about 29% of those tries. That's not good. And their two-point shooting hasn't been good enough to help make up for those misses. Plus, since they don't seem to be very good at hauling in second chance opportunities, Iowa's superior shooting should open this game up.
Finally, you can seen by the percentage of points scored, that Penn State's three-point shooting is bad. They take an above average number shots from distance, but they get a below average number of points from there. Iowa, of course, is the opposite. And the whole 3 > 2 could spell bad news for Penn State.
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 do they accomplish all of this.
Penn State's offense basically consists of Shep Garner, Brandon Taylor, and Payton Banks. Between those three, the Nittany Lions get 39 of their 64 points per game in Big Ten play.
Garner is a talented sophomore point guard, who is playing 34 minutes per game. With 3 assists per outing, he's got some passing ability, but he is more of a scorer than a traditional pass-first type of point guard. He's got the ability to get by his defender off the dribble, but he struggles to finish in traffic this year (just 38% on two-pointers). Instead, Garner's biggest asset is his three-point shooting. He's got unlimited range and the ability to knock down a three from 35 feet out. On the season, he's taken 133 of his 254 field goal attempts from outside, and he's connecting on 36% of them. That has since dropped to 29% against Big Ten defenses, but Garner is still Penn State's best shooter from distance and should not be left open on the perimeter.
While Garner runs the offense, senior Brandon Taylor is leading the team in scoring this year with 16.6 per game against Big Ten competition. Taylor plays on the perimeter (he's the starting small forward, but plays the two guard position at times), but 70% of his attempts from the floor come from inside the arc. He will shoot a three when he's open, but he's just a 33% shooter from out there. He currently plays 35 minutes per game, which is the most on the team, and he is by far the highest volume shooter when he's on the court (which is basically always). He's averaging 14 field goal attempts and 3 free throws per game, so I would expect him to do something to that effect against Iowa.
Next, Payton Banks is a 6'6" forward who plays both the three and the four in Penn State's offense. This Nittany Lion roster isn't stocked with a ton of big post players, so they will use a lineup of four perimeter players a quite a bit. Banks starts at the four, though, and is taking 62% of his field goal tries from two-point range on the season. That's probably a good thing, considering that he's shooting just 28% on his 81 looks from deep this year. In conference play, he's averaging around 9 points per game, but it's taking him about 9 field goal attempts and 2 free throws per game to do so. So he's not the most efficient player on offense, but he is a pretty good defensive rebounder. So, that's something.
After those three, the production falls off a good deal. Devin Foster has been a recent addition to the starting lineup and is giving his team almost 6 points per game against conference foes from the shooting guard position. He doesn't take many threes, but he has shown a knack for getting to the rim. Julian Moore is the starting center, and he had a nice little game against Wisconsin a few games ago. But, outside of that, he's only averaging 3.4 points per conference game, and his main contribution to this Penn State team is that he is the 283rd best defensive rebounder in the country and 267th when it comes to blocking shots.
Off the bench, Penn State has 6'9" power forward Donovan Jack. He's a guy who I feel like has been in college for like 7 years now, but he's finally a senior this season. He's a stretch four who is giving Penn State 5 points per game lately. About one of every three shots he takes is from long distance, but he's only a 33% shooter from out there. Of course, that's one of the best percentages on the team, so...
Then we have 7-footer Jordan Dickerson who plays 15 minutes per game at the backup center position. He is very limited when it comes to scoring, but he does a little rebounding on the offensive side of the ball and is the 25th in the country when it comes to rejecting opponents' shots. Then there is Deividas Zemgulis, a 6'6" forward from Lithuania. Besides having an awesome name, he doesn't really do much outside of making one three per ball game. And, finally, Josh Reaves is a really inefficient shooting guard that has made just 3 of his 33 three-point tries this season, but has not seen the court since being diagnosed with mononucleosis weeks ago. I have no idea if he will be back for this game.
What Kenpom Thinks
Kenpom Rankings: Iowa #2, Penn State #145
Projected Outcome: Iowa 82 (96%), Penn State 62 (4%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.21, Penn State 0.92
Projected Possessions: 68
Iowa should win this game, and they should hopefully win it by a margin that allows the underclassmen to get some good minutes. Getting to 9-1 in Big Ten play is all that matters, obviously, but getting the young guys (Christian Williams, especially) some on-court experience would definitely be ideal.