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Lineups In Review: 2016-17 Recap

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A Group-by-Group Look at What Worked, and What Didn’t

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

For someone as numbers-oriented as I am, this season was defined by the play outside of the numbers. The leadership displayed by Peter Jok, and increasingly Nicholas Baer. The moxie Jordan Bohannon, Cordell Pemsl, and Tyler Cook played with from the second they stepped into the starting lineup. The sticktoitiveness displayed in the regular season when their backs were up against the wall: reeling after three straight losses and the star out; down 13, five minutes into the regular season Indiana game after another three-game losing streak; and losing by 9 with four to go at the Kohl Center, to name a few.

These guys never quit. There were so many times they could pack it in and wait until next year. But they didn’t. Though the overall record isn’t as pretty as the 20-win standard set by last year’s seniors, they clawed their way to 10-8 in the conference and finished tied for 5th among a strong middle tier. Though the nougaty center of the Big Ten will return significant production, Iowa staked a claim for more with their production and potential this year.

Prevalent Lineups

Over the course of the conference and tournament season, Fran McCaffery deployed 173 lineups over 875 minutes. Such is the life of a coach with an 11-man rotation with the possibility of anyone going off in a particular game. Only 18 of those lineups played more than 10 minutes:

Lineups Over 10 Minutes (Conference/Tournament Play)

Lineup Points For Points Against Minutes Net Points Per Minute
Lineup Points For Points Against Minutes Net Points Per Minute
Bohannon-Jok-Baer-Cook-Kriener 28 14 11.20 1.25
Bohannon-Ellingson-Jok-Baer-Pemsl 59 38 20.98 1.00
Bohannon-Moss-Baer-Wagner-Cook 47 29 22.48 0.80
Bohannon-Jok-Baer-Uhl-Pemsl 40 28 16.45 0.73
Williams-Ellingson-Baer-Uhl-Pemsl 40 26 21.85 0.64
Bohannon-Ellingson-Baer-Wagner-Cook 21 14 12.62 0.55
Bohannon-Jok-Baer-Cook-Pemsl 79 66 38.18 0.34
Bohannon-Jok-Baer-Wagner-Kriener 30 26 13.77 0.29
Bohannon-Jok-Baer-Wagner-Cook 30 27 15.98 0.19
Bohannon-Moss-Jok-Baer-Cook 53 53 31.05 0.00
Bohannon-Jok-Baer-Uhl-Cook 22 24 12.53 -0.16
Bohannon-Moss-Jok-Baer-Pemsl 37 40 17.42 -0.17
Bohannon-Moss-Jok-Wagner-Cook 131 161 72.97 -0.41
Bohannon-Moss-Jok-Wagner-Pemsl 45 60 25.83 -0.58
Bohannon-Jok-Baer-Wagner-Pemsl 40 55 23.85 -0.63
Bohannon-Ellingson-Baer-Uhl-Pemsl 12 23 13.75 -0.80
Bohannon-Moss-Jok-Cook-Pemsl 72 121 53.75 -0.91
Bohannon-Ellingson-Jok-Baer-Cook 23 38 13.87 -1.08

These 18 lineups account for almost exactly half of the minutes played in conference and tournaments (438.5 out of 875), which is a wild coincidence. Additionally, these lineups are -34 (the rest are +6). However, much of these negative results are driven by Iowa’s starting lineups. Four of Iowa’s five conference/tournament starting lineups are among the 18 listed above (Bohannon-Moss-Jok-Jones-Cook did not hit the 10 minute mark). Their results broke down as follows:

Iowa Starting Lineups

Lineup Starting Not Starting
Lineup Starting Not Starting
Bohannon-Moss-Baer-Wagner-Cook 17 / 6 / 7.65 / 1.44 30 / 23 / 14.83 / 0.47
Bohannon-Moss-Jok-Cook-Pemsl 48 / 79 / 32.15 / -0.96 24 / 42 / 21.6 / -0.83
Bohannon-Moss-Jok-Wagner-Cook 63 / 81 / 39.15 / -0.46 68 / 80 / 33.82 / -0.35
Bohannon-Moss-Jok-Wagner-Pemsl 4 / 13 / 4.23 / -2.13 41 / 47 / 21.6 / -0.28
(Points For / Points Against / Minutes / Net PPM)

Weirdly, only one of Iowa’s starting lineups is ever positive. It was the one deployed during Jok’s injury, which speaks to a couple things: competition (Rutgers and Ohio State were among the worst teams in the conference) and “chemistry.” My views on chemistry in this case speak to the composition of the guys on the floor in terms of whether a player needs a ball or not to impact the game. Putting Nicholas Baer in for Peter Jok meant there were only 3 guys on the floor who needed the ball to make an impact. Baer moves the ball on offense, takes open shots when they’re there, and never wavers in his defensive intensity.

This is not a knock on Jok. To his credit, Iowa improved to start games once he returned from his injury (-40 in 36 minutes prior vs. -17 in 42 minutes after). Though it was due largely to shot-making - 52 points scored before improving to 73 - the defense also improved from 2.55 points allowed per minute to 2.14 points allowed per minute.

There are two times in McCaffery’s tenure here where the defense has been as porous as this year (KenPom): 2012 and 2014. In 2013, Iowa had 2 four-star, defensive-minded recruits hit the books with Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury. Opponents’ eFG% went from 51.8% to 44.1%. In 2015, there was a similar drop in eFG% (47.4% to 45.6%) but Iowa also improved at limiting their opponent at the foul line. The Free Throw Rate that year dropped from 35.4 to 29.1.

Iowa doesn’t seem to have any defensive-oriented recruits coming to Iowa City - in the way of a Gesell or Woodbury, at least - but they already are Fran’s second-best Iowa team at keeping opponents off the free throw line. The main opportunity areas are eFG% (51.0%) and offensive rebounding rate - 32.3% ranked the worst of any Iowa team since KenPom started keeping stats (2002). With an offseason available for all true freshmen to improve as directed by the coaching staff, I expect a solid jump in Iowa’s defensive ratings.

The Point

Six guys saw minutes here, though only Bohannon and Williams were the two with any viable data. It would have been nice to see more Brady Ellingson at the spot, as his very limited minutes - largely in the game at Nebraska - produced solid results.

Point Guard Minutes Breakdown

PG Minutes Net Points Per Minute +/-
PG Minutes Net Points Per Minute +/-
Bohannon 662.88 -0.07 -47
Williams 195.83 0.05 10
Ellingson 12.18 0.66 8
Jok 2.25 0.00 0
Rose 1.27 0.00 0
Dailey 0.58 1.71 1

As with all tables/graphs in this piece, these are conference and tourney statistics.

A common theme, position-by-position, is how much the starters’ numbers improve when you take out the minutes they actually started. Bohannon is no exception as his non-starting minutes are +2. Additionally, the limited minutes Williams and Bohannon played together produced similar net neutral numbers, at -2 in 28 minutes. With Jok’s departure, the door is open for Williams to take some of these wing minutes as a defensive stopper alongside Bohannon. Looking into the team stats, you can see how Bohannon and Williams affect the group differently.

The items which stick out against the eye test in this case are Off. eFG% and Off. ORB%. I would not have expected Iowa to perform similarly for eFG% with Williams in for Bohannon as his lack of shooting doesn’t require the same tightness on defense as Bohannon, who is within range when he crosses halfcourt. Perhaps as a result of Bohannon’s long 3s, Iowa gets more offensive boards when he runs point. Though his rebounding rates are in line with what Fran has said about Williams, it isn’t reflected at the team level: “He's a really good offensive rebounder, so you've got to let him go a little bit and get others to come back and protect the basket.”

Unsurprisingly, the Def. TO% numbers are eye-poppingly different. Iowa forced turnovers 20.7% of the time with Williams at point, which would rate tops in the conference while Bohannon’s number places Iowa 13th. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat, of course - Purdue and Michigan State have two top-5 B1G defenses with low turnover numbers - but when a defensive is yielding the eFG% Iowa does, it’s imperative to find ways to eliminate scoring opportunities.

The Wings

Shooting Guard Minutes Breakdown

SG Minutes Net Points Per Minute +/-
SG Minutes Net Points Per Minute +/-
Moss 332.82 -0.24 -80
Ellingson 286.37 0.05 15
Jok 245.28 0.15 36
Dailey 5.18 0.77 4
Bohannon 4.60 -0.22 -1
Baer 0.75 -2.67 -2

Unlike point guard - where Bohannon and Williams have drastically different games - it’s difficult to determine what impact a player has from a certain position without understanding the context of the other guys on the court. After all, it’s unsurprising to see Peter Jok impact Iowa with better offensive four factors across the board when he is the game at shooting guard.

But the defensive numbers raised suspicion. How could Iowa be better in nearly every metric even though Pete’s block and steal rate are among the lowest on the team? If you’ve watched this team, I guarantee the answer will not shock you:

Nicholas Baer.

With his defensive effort, offensive skillset, and athletic ability, he covers up the flaws of pretty much everyone on the roster. Iowa was +67 in 536 minutes Baer was on the court and -95 in 339 when he was off. His impact on Iowa’s wings is perhaps most important to the team going forward (this also accounts for time Baer spends at power forward):

Iowa Wings with/without Nicholas Baer

Player With Baer Without Baer
Player With Baer Without Baer
Ellingson 188 / .09 / +17 98 / -.02 / -2
Moss 119 / .12 / +34 214 / -.44 / -94
Jok (SG) 225 / .15 / +34 21 / .10 / +2
Jok (SF) 106 / .04 / +4 252 / -.40 / -101
(Minutes / Net PPM / Raw Plus-Minus)

Because Jok played 91% of his minutes at shooting guard with Baer on the floor, compared to only 30% while at small forward, it really skews the overall team statistics of Jok’s, as the following demonstrates.

Small Forward Minutes Breakdown

SF Minutes Net Points Per Minute +/-
SF Minutes Net Points Per Minute +/-
Baer 395.83 0.15 58
Jok 357.88 -0.27 -97
Moss 35.48 -0.54 -19
Uhl 27.57 0.62 17
Williams 24.35 -0.12 -3
Wagner 16.98 0.53 9
Dailey 16.58 0.54 9
Pemsl 0.32 -6.32 -2

While Jok’s numbers sans Baer are ugly. The same is not said about Baer without Jok. Iowa was:

  • +39 in 334 minutes (+.12 PPM) with both Pete and Nicholas on the floor, and
  • +28 in 202 minutes (+.14 PPM) with only Baer.

Sadly, modern medicine precludes Iowa from cloning Baer. So, it’s worth pointing out the Hawkeyes were also +4 in 67 minutes (+.04 PPM) without either him or Jok on the court. Perhaps great than the void Pete leaves scoring the basketball are the minutes he occupied at small forward. Whether McCaffery finds a suitable replacement (I think it will be Nunge by this time next year) is among the biggest questions following this team into the offseason.

The Post

The previous positions were, for the most part, pretty straight forward in terms of the depth chart. That cleanliness is no longer the case as we have 5 guys who played significant minutes and all have valid claims for time next year. The key will be the right context for each of these guys to thrive.

Power Forward Minutes Breakdown

PF Minutes Net Points Per Minute +/-
PF Minutes Net Points Per Minute +/-
Wagner 296.00 -0.08 -23
Cook 192.53 -0.30 -57
Uhl 176.05 0.13 23
Baer 135.90 0.07 9
Pemsl 58.38 0.38 22
Jones 12.30 -0.33 -4
Dailey 2.80 -0.36 -1
Jok 1.02 0.98 1
Williams 0.02 120 2

When exploring Baer’s impact on the wings, I also looked at how Iowa’s post players were impacted as well. Every one who received significant minutes was impacted positively with one exception: Dom Uhl at power forward. While it could be a function of smallish sample size on either side (-11 in 105 minutes together vs. +34 in 71 alone), it’s worth exploring because it demonstrates they occupy a different version of the same role.

Both Uhl and Baer are guys who can play the 3 or 4 (or 5). They have the traits McCaffery looks for in his zone defenders and they are able to handle the ball on offense. However, Uhl’s “shooting strike” torpedoed the offense with Baer because teams could clog up the lane. However, without Baer, opponents were often forced to defend 3 guard lineups, which regularly included Peter Jok. A similar luxury is not clear for next year, as Isaiah Moss is still finding his way as a gunner and Christian Williams is an even shier shooter than Uhl. Since 51 makes literally everyone else better, it will fall on Uhl to make a partnership work.

Center Minutes Breakdown

C Minutes Net Points Per Minute +/-
C Minutes Net Points Per Minute +/-
Pemsl 353.55 -0.14 -51
Cook 306.73 0.02 6
Kriener 166.67 0.14 23
Uhl 36.83 -0.19 -7
Wagner 8.10 -0.12 -1
Baer 3.12 0.64 2

Before diving into the biggest conundrum of the team, I’m going to take this time to appreciate Ryan Kriener. He fought through an illness during the summer which sapped his weight and kept him out of the gym. His work ethic was worthy of regular praise from Fran which gave him the opportunity to be a force in Iowa’s win over Purdue. His advanced stats compare favorably to Adam Woodbury’s freshman year. He is a key cog to this team, as the guy most like a “true center” on the roster, and the table and graph above demonstrate his worth (the numbers with Pemsl at PF are driven by Kriener at C).

Yet, how can Fran get the most out of the frontline rotation? It was shocking, really, to see Cordell Pemsl and Tyler Cook to struggle while they shared the court despite being so talented. We saw Fran flip-flop their assignments throughout the season in Iowa’s zone as they tried to determine who provided the best foundation for Iowa’s defense.

Only One Cook in the Kitchen?

Frontline Minutes Net PPM +/-
Frontline Minutes Net PPM +/-
Cook Alone 338.37 -0.01 -2
Pemsl Alone 251.35 0.07 18
Cook (PF) Pemsl (C) 140.23 -0.43 -60
Neither 124.38 0.04 5
Pemsl (PF) Cook (C) 20.35 0.64 13

This is where Fran makes his bones. The more I watched the limited minutes with Cook manning center and Pemsl at the forward spot, I understood the logic: on defense, it limited Cook to a smaller area to defend while Pemsl could contest the corner using his long arms without overreacting. On offense, the cross-match of Cook on slower centers with Pemsl on smaller forwards is also enticing. For it to work, Cook must learn the communication which was vital to the Iowa teams, manned by Woodbury, with top 30 defenses and Pemsl was already demonstrating. There is also the possibility of a straight platoon, but both guys are worthy of more than 20 minutes. They need to learn how to play together. Knowing their mental makeup, I trust they will figure it out.

After spending so much time in the weeds with these spreadsheets, I’ve gotten myself even more revved up for next year. While they didn’t extend their NCAA Tournament streak to four, they did raise the bar on a “rebuild.” There are brighter days ahead and I’m excited to continue this effort to see where this group takes us.

Go Hawks.