After a fun week of basketball for the #3 Iowa Hawkeyes (2-0) which saw Iowa climb a couple spots as Villanova and Virginia were upset, the Hawks return to Carver-Hawkeye Arena to face the Western Illinois Leathernecks. It is WIU’s first game of the season and Rob Jeter’s tenure as head coach.
There are two reasons a mid-/low-major program is in the first season of their head coach: they were either really, really good last year or really, really bad. The Leathernecks, despite having as good a nickname in Division I basketball, fall into the latter bucket. Over Billy Wright’s six-year tenure, he accumulated a 53-115 record (.315 winning percentage) and peaked in KenPom’s rating system at 232 in 2016.
Jeter followed Bruce Pearl at Milwaukee and had a nice 11-year run where he made a couple tournaments (his first and second-to-last years) and performed generally okay in the Horizon League. His last year for the Panthers was actually his second best, per KenPom, trailing only his first season. He is the all-time winningest coach at Milwaukee.
The turnover Western Illinois is facing is significant, as they brought 11 new Leathernecks into the fold per Iowa’s game notes as Jeter looks to overhaul a moribund program. Hopefully the resurrecting begins after tonight’s game. They are currently slated to play 19 games, three out of conference.
As an aside, the Summit League is one of a few which are being creative in their scheduling throughout the pandemic. Each weekend four schools (men’s & women’s team) will travel to four other schools and play a pair of doubleheaders on back-to-back days with the ninth team receiving a bye. There is also some Dakota “neutral site” games (KenPom currently has them delineated as conference games but they look like a multi-team event).
Will Carius (F, 6’7”, 225 lbs): The Monmouth College (D-III) grad transfer hails from nearby Bettendorf. He was an All-American after averaging 25.5 points and 11.0 rebounds for Monmouth. He operates best inside the arc (55%) and is a capable free throw shooter if Iowa sends him to the line, at 88%.
Justin Brookens (G, 5’9”, 175 lbs): Also a transfer, the junior college All-American averaged 20.5 points on 52% shooting from three and 49% from the field. He is another strong foul shooter (88%).
Anthony Jones (G, 6’5”, 190 lbs): He is WIU’s leading returning scorer at 5 points a game. I have him here because he is probably a good bellweather to understand how much Jeter is playing his new blood vs. what remains from the 2019-20 roster.
Can Iowa shut down the offensive boards? Iowa’s lax rebounding on Friday (19 opponent offensive rebounds) after a pretty solid outing on Wednesday (11) is chalked up to some combination of: 1) getting out to the big early lead and 2) going up against a bigger team. Both speak to a drop off in Iowa’s effort on the glass.
Rebounding is entirely effort-based and something which can set reserves apart in the battle for minutes. Pat McCaffery has been opportunistic as an offensive rebounder but lags behind on the other side of the court with just 1.0 of his 3.0 rebounds/game coming on defense. Keegan Murray has done an excellent job helping Iowa finish possessions and averages 3.5 defensive boards per game.
This isn’t to write disparagingly of Pat, as he’s had a great start to the season, otherwise. Plus Iowa is getting plenty of rebounding from all the known quantities (Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp, Connor McCaffery) and even Jordan Bohannon has stepped up in the area with 7 in two games.
But the easiest way to improve on defense is simply not allow opponents to get second-chance opportunities.
Does Luka keep it going? What Garza is doing is currently laughable to an aggressive degree, as Evan Miyakawa has pointed out:
Luka Garza is just ridiculous. For players that have played over 60 possessions, Garza leads the nation in Player Efficiency Rating at 70.9.— Evan Miyakawa (@evanmiya) December 1, 2020
Second place is all the down under 50.
These PERs will go down as the season unwinds but he is at a whole other level. pic.twitter.com/RGzFPBgua7
I mean, Garza has missed just six of his 45 shots, including free throws, this year but may face his most difficult test this season in 6’10” Tamell Pearson, a UAB transfer. Will it lead to the inevitable dropoff or will his near perfection move along another game?
Can Jordan Bohannon find his groove? The fifth-year senior has had a slow start from behind the arc, going 3/12. He’s impacted the game in other ways, with the aforementioned rebounding and a team-leading nine assists but it would still be nice to see him fill it up.
With his first tweet post-game, he did allude to being affected by the lack of crowd. His game feels as externally-dependent as any Hawkeye with a big three revving Carver-Hawkeye up or silencing whatever away gym Iowa is playing in.
The Leathernecks are Iowa’s final game before the season ramps up in a big way. Dates with North Carolina, ISU, and Gonzaga loom large over the next three weeks before conference play gets going on December 22nd. Tonight is Iowa’s last chance to iron out some of these kinks before facing teams who can take advantage of Hawkeye miscues in a big way.