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Lineup Bites: Looking for Franswers

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Seeing what could be done to fix the Hawkeyes

NCAA Basketball: Northern Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, I went deep into data to try and understand what was, and wasn’t, working for the Iowa Hawkeyes. I’m back at the task after letting the data accumulate to get to a reasonable sample size.

As it stands, Iowa is 9-9 on the season. Not great, Bob. Well, it’s even worse when one realizes Iowa is actually 1-9 in every game KenPom rates as at least a top 100 opponent, adjusted for home court. While there isn’t a whole lot of positives, there are certainly some interesting things in the (still) limited data set.

I’ll keep it brief, since even though the season is over halfway complete, there’s still only so much we can try to gather from the relevant data.

The Cog

In Big Ten play, Iowa is +12 in 134 minutes (239 possessions) with Tyler Cook on the floor. They’re -75 in the 66 minutes he’s off. Simply put: Fran McCaffery needs to maximize the time Cook is on the floor. 26.8 minutes per game won’t cut it.

Breaking down the 66 minutes is fascinating because it highlights the deficiencies other post tandems have, especially the one we’ve seen the most of: Cordell Pemsl and Luka Garza. Though the 26.2 minute sample size is small, they are nearly a point (.95) between every possession they and the opponent is on the floor in Big Ten play. Speaking to sample size, Iowa is turning the ball over 37.1% of every possession (to 4.1% for the opponent) and has an eFG% of 29.0% (to 61.5%) with these two on the court

It gets better when you include the 16.5 minutes from high-quality non-conference games but this tandem is nearly unplayable together. Sliding Ryan Kriener in for Garza improves these numbers but that isn’t my prescription: play Cordell Pemsl exclusively as backup center. He has not displayed requisite athleticism to defend power forwards in the conference, a problem which extended to last year. Though his offensive game is varied under the rim, it is hampered by his lack midrange game. If he looks and quacks like a center, he is probably a center.

With this, you get two garbage men - Luka Garza and Cordell Pemsl - on the floor 100% of the time. Tilt the 40 minutes however you like but those 40 minutes should be bookmarked for them (and a sprinkling of Cook there, as matchups dictate). Pemsl is best with Cook as the 4, which is hardly of a surprise, but the limited sample size indicates slotting Jack Nunge (or Nicholas Baer) aside him in backup lineups is better than going with Ahmad Wagner.

If Fran McCaffery insists on maintaining his huge post rotation, one way thing he can extend it is by slotting Tyler Cook at the 3. McCaffery has rarely done this (10.0 minutes against UAB) but it showed unsustainably positive signs, as Iowa outscored them 33-16 in 17 possessions. Right now, Cook is the best player at breaking down a defense one on one. Let him grow these skills by putting him here more. It also allows Fran to shift Nunge away from the wing - Iowa is -19 in 36.6 minutes (64 possessions) in Big Ten play with him there versus + 14 in 21.6 (38 possessions) at the 4.

The Dearth

All of this hullabaloo around Iowa’s post avoids the elephant in the room: there are not enough guards on this team. All three of Jordan Bohannon, Maishe Dailey, and Brady Ellington are net negatives at the point. There is hope, however.

The recent starting lineup of Bohannon-Isaiah Moss-Baer-Cook-Garza is outscoring opponents 85-75 in a shade over 40 minutes together. It mirrors my eye test, as Iowa hasn’t shown the same problem starting games as they did last year.

So what should Iowa do when it goes away from this lineup?

Trick question: Iowa should try to maximize their shared time on the court.

The way Nicholas Baer plays does not make him available for 36 minutes a game but Ahmad Wagner has shown to be surprisingly viable as a small forward when surrounded by offense. Let him be the 6th man with Cordell Pemsl when coming in for Baer and Garza.

Next, in something which kinda goes against the eye test, Iowa should limit Bohannon/Dailey time together, especially Dailey at the 3. They are -61 in 52.84 conference minutes (96 possessions) together. Woof. It is not the worst thing in the world, however, as Dailey has acquitted himself nicely, can play alongside most anyone else at guard, and it allows Bohannon more rest.

Fran should also extend Isaiah Moss as much as possible. It is 100% the recency bias showing, but he was exactly what Iowa needed from the 2 against Maryland. If he can be that type of player more often, it’s to Iowa’s benefit. One way to do find minutes for him is at the 3 alongside Brady Ellingson and Dailey.

All of this comes down to limiting the rotation. There is enough good here for Iowa to make a run and show improvement. There are only 520 minutes left in the regular season so Fran should spend them wisely.