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Iowa Basketball Takes On Drake in Hy-Vee Classic

Fran McCaffery and Company Head to Des Moines for neutral site showdown

Instagram via @champagnepapi

In what should be an easy matchup, the Iowa Hawkeyes face Aubrey “Drake” Graham in the Hy-Vee Classic at Wells Fargo Arena, “where there’s a helpful smile in every aisle,” “oh, please let it be for me.”

It’s a bold move for the multi-platinum “rapper” to take on the Hawkeyes single-handedly. Though the 31-year-old is a transfer from Kentucky, his time there was a mixed bag:

Since his time in Lexington, he’s taken the last two years to add muscle:

Instagram via @champagnepapi

Oh wait, different Drake. Will Aubrey Graham be gracing Des Moines with his presence courtside?

No? Well, never mind then.

Back to reality: Iowa faces the Drake Bulldogs in what is likely to be a close game, considering Iowa’s struggles with similar squads thus far. The Bulldogs will throw 4 guards, none taller than 6’3”, and a forward/center on the court at all times, unless Iowa is able to force an adjustment.

Niko Medved’s squad has a mixed bag of a season thus far, with an early win over Wake Forest marking the high point before a strong showing in a one-point loss at Minnesota. In between the two games, they’ve split a pair in a rare home-and-home against Omaha, beaten Drexel and Chicago State, and lost to Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota. An early win over Coe College has them sitting at 5-5 overall.

The straw who stirs the drink is senior guard Reed Timmer. The dude is averaging 20.7 points a game on a blazing line of: .471/.532/.925 (FG%/3P%/FT%). Considering he’s averaging 6.2 attempts from behind the arc, it’s perhaps more impressive to note he’s getting to the free throw line 6.7 times a game, indicating his game is well-suited for today’s game of drives and threes. Jeremiah Davis noted his impressive career totals earlier this week.

Overall, Medved likes to slow the game down, including limiting transition opportunities. Since his time at Furman, opponents’ offensive rebounding numbers have decreased each year. This year’s team is his best at taking care of the ball, as their turnover percentage ranks in the top 60 of the nation. Drake and their opponents force possessions above 17 seconds, on average, both of which ranks in the bottom 150, according to KenPom ($).

In their slow-tempo offense, they’ll look to find open shooters with their four-guard lineups. In addition to Timmer, Graham Woodward and Ore Arogundade both shoot above 40% from three.

So, what is Iowa to do?

First, Fran should try to force the Bulldogs to defend two big men. Drake has only used three guys over 6’8”: Nick McGlynn (6’8”) and Casey Schlatter (6’10”) split time about 50/50 with Kory Kuenstling (6’11”) playing sparingly. Literally any of Iowa’s second bigs should be able to post the guy who is likely to guard them, assuming Hawkeye guards can successfully complete an entry pass. Even if Iowa is posting up one of Drake’s forwards, they should go right at them, as all three have high foul rates.

Iowa’s length on defense should be able to pose threats, even if it does not result in turnovers. Jack Nunge, who is likely going to match up with a number of guards throughout the day, should continue his strong defensive start, as he is leading the team in steals and rate second in blocks. The Drake offense has been effective at limiting steals against them but are very susceptible to blocks.

Fran should also lean on a more limited rotation, especially in the post. He has focused much more within recent weeks on having three-guard lineups, considering Maishe Dailey’s emergence. With Cordell Pemsl unlikely to play due to the deep gash in his leg, it is an opportune time and opponent to rely on Tyler Cook as the main post with limited minutes from Luka Garza and Ryan Kriener if they are not able to take advantage of size mismatches or look exceptionally slow on offense. The aforementioned Nunge received time at center against Southern (with Nicholas Baer manning the 4). Those two paired together offer shooting and guile without sacrificing much speed.

Of course, if a hot hand emerges among the big men, McCaffery should ride it.

Finally, a win is not likely if Iowa continues to maintain their high turnover rate. In this week’s Pants Party, I mentioned Iowa’s sky-high status quo. The 19.5% rate is the worst it’s been under Fran since his first year (21.5%). Roughly, one in every five Iowa possessions ends in a turnover. Drake is the perfect team to improve at this, since their defense does not force turnovers.

Iowa should win this game. Weird things have followed this team all season so I expect this trend to continue until proven otherwise, which explains my hesitation to pick them to win convincingly. Ultimately, if the Hawks play a clean game offensively, the shots will be there. Their defense should follow suit to give them the victory.