Watching the game last night, I couldn't help but think that Wisconsin looked the way Iowa did last month. Sure, they had two star players you game plan around, but everyone on their roster looked like a potential star on Wednesday. The same way Iowa's role players and bench looked damn near unstoppable in January, Wisconsin's looked like that last night. Nigel Hayes hit some key shots at the end, but this game was won by guys like Khalil Iverson throwing down dunks, Jordan Hill hitting a timely three and throwing down a fast break dunk of his own off a steal, Zak Showalter shutting down Peter Jok in the second half, and even Charlie Thomas -- all 6'8" 253 lbs. of him -- giving the Badgers a late game putback layup and a clutch three-pointer. Last month, guys like Mike Gesell and Dom Uhl were playing the part of unlikely heroes for an unstoppable Iowa team. Now, though, they are slumping, and they are slumping hard.
But for as well as everyone on Wisconsin played, it's not like Iowa didn't have their chance to win this game. The Hawkeyes were in this one the whole way, and actually had several opportunities to push out in front and increase their lead to a more comfortable margin. But every time they got up by 6 or so points, Wisconsin always seemed to hit a big three and force an Iowa turnover. And once this game got into the final ten minutes, Iowa looked completely gassed on defense and completely lost on offense. The latter stemming partly from Fran having one or both of Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok out of the game, leaving the offense in the hands of Anthony Clemmons (who actually played pretty well) and Dom Uhl.
If you are looking for a silver lining to all of this, we can still see that Iowa is good because they are playing much worse than what their true talent level has shown to be, and yet they continue to be in a position to win at the end of every game they have lost this year. Of course, the big issue is the losing, and there are no consolations for this veteran squad almost winning a basketball game. This is still a tournament team, but their dreams of a Big Ten title are dying, and they are dying fast. They need to figure something out quick.
Keep this chart in mind. We are going to come back to it at the end.
Four Factors in Review
First Half Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.07, Wisconsin 1.10
First Half Possessions: 32
Second Half Points Per Possession: Iowa 0.86, Wisconsin 1.10
Second Half Possessions: 29
Total Points Per Possession: Iowa 0.97, Wisconsin 1.10
Total Possessions: 61
|Iowa||2pt Near Rim||2pt Jumper||3Pt FG||FT|
|Wisconsin||2pt Near Rim||2pt Jumper||3Pt FG||FT|
This category was Wisconsin's biggest advantage in this game. The Badgers out shot Iowa from up close and from out beyond the three-point line all game long. However, Iowa's three-point shooting percentage really isn't represented all that accurately by the 27.8% they finished with, as their final 4 three-point attempts were off-balance looks in the final minute of the game. Before those hurried tries, Iowa was shooting 36% on the night from downtown. (Most of that coming in the first half.) That's not an outstanding number, but it is above average.
What really hurt Iowa from a shooting perspective, though, was their lack of a three-point threat in the second half, and their inability to get anywhere near the basket in the final ten minutes of play. Peter Jok going missing and Jarrod Uthoff spending a significant amount of time on the bench hurt Iowa's ability to stretch the defense in the second half, but the offense also looked completely disoriented down the stretch. The ball movement was non-existent, almost nobody was attacking off the dribble, and every possession seemed to end in a forced jump shot or a turnover. Wisconsin, meanwhile, had excellent ball movement and consistently found an open guy on just about every possession. If you want to know the key difference between the two offenses in this game, 68% of Wisconsin's made field goals were assisted, while only 50% of Iowa's were. Iowa was stagnant and playing a lot of one-on-one. Wisconsin put on a clinic of how to play team offense.
Iowa's final eFG% of 37.3% is easily the worst shooting night they have had all season, and the only time they haven't eclipsed at least 42%. Their second half points per possession (PPP) total of 0.86 was one of the worst halves of basketball Iowa has played this year. It was worse than the 0.89 PPP first halves against Notre Dame and Florida State, and it was only bested (worsted?) by the 0.63 they scored in the first half at Purdue -- a total that is made easier to swallow because they played their best half of basketball after halftime.
A month ago, no team could beat Iowa in a shootout. Nowadays, Iowa is struggling to even make a game a shootout.
The Hawkeyes actually forced Wisconsin into turning the ball over more than they are known for doing this season, but unfortunately the Badgers also did the same to Iowa at a higher clip. The most frustrating part about Iowa's turnovers were the fact that a good chunk of them were unforced mental errors. There were errant passes and guys not being on the same page. These are things that shouldn't happen to a team whose starting core has been playing together for the last three years.
That being said, Iowa was technically more efficient than Wisconsin in points off turnovers, as they scored 11 points on 11 turnovers compared to 13 on 14 for the Badgers. However, in a close game that had only 61 possessions in total, those 3 extra wasted ones by Iowa loom large.
Thanks to Adam Woodbury, Iowa absolutely crushed Wisconsin on the glass all game long. Iowa held Wisconsin below their season average for offensive rebounds in both halves, while grabbing north of 40% of their misses for the game. On the one hand, Iowa's 14 second chance points helped keep them from getting blown away by a Wisconsin team that shot 58% from the floor. On the other hand, Iowa failing to score more than 14 points off of 20 offensive rebounds also held them back from winning this game.
So yes, Iowa won the offensive rebounding category in quantity, but Wisconsin's 10 second chance points on just 8 offensive rebounds won the quality.
Advantage: Iowa (Technically)
Free Throw Rate
In addition to second chance points, free throws were the other reason Iowa managed to keep this game competitive. While Wisconsin was splashing away from deep, Iowa was looking like McCaffery-coached teams of old by consistently earning their way to the free throw line throughout the game. Overall, they shot the ball well from the line, as they made 72% of their 25 attempts. However, that whole late game issue of not making their free throws reared its ugly head again, as the Hawks made just 4 of their 9 free throw attempts in the final ten minutes of the game, and finished the second half shooting just 61.5% from the line after shooting 83.3% in the first half.
I don't know if the problem is tired legs or a lack of composure, but with as much as the offense is relying on getting to the free throw line lately, the strategy of getting to the line loses a lot of luster when they can't make them in crunch time.
Overall: Iowa Won 2 of 4 Factors
Adam Woodbury was Iowa's best player all night long. He played 34 minutes for the Hawkeyes and gave his absolute all by coming away with 18 rebounds; 10 of which came on the offensive end of the court. He only attempted 3 shots and 4 field goals on the night, but if it weren't for his rebounding Iowa would have gotten blown out with the way Wisconsin outshot Iowa.
Of course, with the amount of energy he was expending and the number of minutes he played, it's not a surprise that he was completely running on fumes at the end of the game. What was more of a surprise was Fran not using his timeouts to help him get a breather. I understand him trusting his team to work themselves out of a rut, but when Adam Woodbury can barely make it down the court without collapsing from exhaustion, it may be time to use one of those timeouts.
Other than Woody, Peter Jok was the player of the game in the first half, but went missing in the second. The Badgers absolutely took the air out of the ball in the second half, and the only reason the possession total got up to 61 was because Iowa was forced to condense possessions at the end of the game by fouling and jacking up quick threes. Otherwise, there were only about 55 possessions in the game with a minute left to play, and the game may not have broken 60 if Iowa hadn't gotten in the position where they needed to foul. And with no transition game to speak of in the second half, Peter Jok struggled to get open in the half-court. Jok was at his best in transition in the first half, where his teammates were able to find him for a quick three before Wisconsin could get their defense set. Iowa looked to push the tempo and make it so Wisconsin couldn't get into their defense on possession after possession in the first half, but that seemed to go out the window after intermission. Instead, the Hawkeyes were forced into long half-court possessions, and Jok was pretty much locked down by a combination of Zak Showalter and Khalil Iverson.
Other than those two, Anthony Clemmons had 13 points and was great when it came to attacking the basket, but had absolutely no jump shot whatsoever against Wisconsin's defense and turned it over 3 times. Jarrod Uthoff also gave Iowa 11 points, but he only played 23 minutes due to foul trouble and was not very aggressive on offense. His two extremely deep made threes were impressive, but those were the extent of his highlights on the night. Fran keeping him on the bench way too long at the end of the game probably didn't help his rhythm down the stretch, either.
But that's enough about the players on an individual basis. Before I finish, I want to talk about some recent trends. First, here's a comparison of the offense over the first seven and the last eight Big Ten games.
As you can see, Iowa's offensive profile has changed pretty significantly. On the positive side, they are getting more offensive rebounds and earning their way to the foul line quite a bit. On the negative side, they are giving the ball away more and shooting it a lot worse. And that decreased shooting doesn't even account for free throws, where Iowa has gone from making 72% of their freebies in the first seven games to 70% over the last 8 and 64% in their four Big Ten losses. The offense hasn't totally collapsed, but the downtick in production has been noticeable, as their PPP has dropped from 1.17 to 1.08 since this change.
It should also be noted that the percentage of their made field goals that have been assisted has also dropped from 59% over the first seven games to just 47% over the last eight. That coincides with Mike Gesell's offensive struggles, and seems to back up the fact that our eyes have been seeing less flow and more discombobulation to this offense.
As for the defense, there doesn't seem to be as large of a change as on offense. Really, the biggest issues have been a lack of turnovers and fewer defensive rebounds. And the PPP allowed has changed less dramatically from 0.99 to 1.03 over the last eight games. Of course, that's stretched out over the course of an entire forty minutes. The biggest defensive issue seems to be appearing at the end of games.
The above chart shows Iowa's average points and points allowed per ten minute quarters over their last eight games. They are outscoring their opponents during the first three quarters of play, but they are epically collapsing once the clock gets inside the final ten minutes of play. But if you think giving up an average of 23 points in the final quarter of a game is bad (and it is), February has actually been much worse, as Iowa is giving up 26 points in crunch time. To be fair, though, the offense is scoring almost 20 points in that same time frame, but it's hard to win games when you are surrendering an average 26 points with the game on the line.
Now, this actually isn't a new trend for Iowa. Their opponents have been scoring a majority of their points in the final ten minutes all season long, and that was also the case when Iowa started conference play 7-0.
But much of that can probably be attributed to Iowa winning by double-digits and opposing teams getting to play large chunks of time against the bench. Even when that was the case, though, Iowa was still outscoring conference foes over the last ten minutes of play. And, lately, they haven't been in that type of a scenario, which means that Iowa's starters are the ones giving up all these points and not scoring any of them at the end of games. Are they tired from logging thirty-something minutes on a nightly basis? Are they just really bad at handling the pressure of a close game on the line? I have no idea what the cause is, but the problem is clearly manifesting at the end of games.
No matter the reason, pairing a vastly different and less efficient offense with a defense that collapses and/or tires out at the end of games is a bad, bad combination. Iowa is still in the hunt for a Big Ten title, thanks to Maryland hitting some potholes of their own lately and because Indiana still has to face Iowa and Maryland in their final three games. But one more loss -- especially to Indiana -- will pretty much squash any Big Ten title hopes this team had. And, unfortunately, going 3-0 over their next three games doesn't seem very likely if they continue to play the way they have of late. The opportunity is still there, but the window is closing quickly. Hopefully the find a way out of this tailspin.