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Jordan Bohannon is Back. The Big Ten Has Been Put on Notice.

Jordan Bohannon may finally be back to his old self. If he is, Iowa’s offense might become virtually unstoppable. 

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Rutgers Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

There is a term of art in both sports and statistics called “regression to the mean,” which describes what happens when a small sample size of data produces results that are unusually small or large compared to their expected value, only for the remaining data points to fall much closer to the population mean. To put that in sports terms, if a career .270 hitter starts the season batting .400, one can usually expect that player’s remaining at-bats to be more in line with their traditional performance than with their extreme outlier. While the word “regression” might imply that this phenomenon only applies to a comedown after early results are unsustainably high, regression to the mean also happens when a player or team starts the season performing abnormally poorly based on their past results, only to revert back to their statistical mean as the season progresses.

Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon is either regressing to the mean right now or is due to experience this phenomenon any day now. The difference between the senior point guard’s offensive output and efficiency over the past four games compared to his first nine this season is as stark as that of any Hawkeye player in recent memory, as evidenced by his dramatic improvement in field goal and three-point percentage over the past two weeks.

Jordan Bohannon’s Shooting Turnaround

Jordan Bohannon's Game Log FG% 3P% FTA PPG
Jordan Bohannon's Game Log FG% 3P% FTA PPG
First Nine Games 30.60% 27.90% 2 6.9
Last Four Games 65.70% 63.30% 10 18.5

Bohannon is finally resembling the player Hawkeye fans remember watching for much of his Iowa career: a deft passer and three-point marksman who can create scoring opportunities for others and carve out shots for himself. After watching Bohannon struggle with his shot through much of the early season, it was easy to wonder whether multiple hip surgeries and nearly a year away from the court had diminished his capacity to score at the level he was accustomed to. Now that the fifth-year star is filling up the nets again, is it safe to say that Bohannon has permanently recovered his scoring form, or are Iowa fans witnessing a four-game deviation from his new normal, a statistical aberration that will see his numbers fall closer to what they were to start the season once his hot shooting streak ends?

While Jordan Bohannon probably won’t shoot 63% from beyond the arc for the rest of the season, there are several reasons to believe that the player fans are watching now is much closer to his real self than the one who began the season making only 28% from deep. First, Bohannon’s surge in scoring production has been sparked by him finally making the kinds of shots he has consistently hit throughout his career. Bohannon’s uncharacteristically poor shooting performance in the early season had little to do with his form being off, as he certainly looked like a career 40% shooter from three when the ball left his hands. The only technical difference in Bohannon’s shot between now and the beginning of the season (besides the disappearance of the sleeve he once wore on his right arm), is that the ball is going through the net instead of clanking off the front end of the rim.

However, there have been several small, but important changes in Bohannon’s game over the past two weeks which point to the senior having finally gotten his groove back. Where the senior sharpshooter was once having to manufacture opportunities to fire from distance, he is increasingly taking his shots in the flow of the offense, which is both a credit to his patience and improved shot selection, as well as his teammates’ increased willingness and ability to get him the ball when passing out of double-teams. Bohannon is still willing to fire from Steph Curry range, but is taking fewer of these shots early in the possession and increasingly letting loose from beyond the NBA line only when in rhythm or off of a slick swing pass from a teammate. Iowa’s offense discovered a new identity last season when Bohannon was out with injury, and it occasionally appeared that the senior had to operate outside of Iowa’s primary action to get his shot attempts this year. Now, Bohannon has seemingly found his role in the Hawkeye scoring attack, and the results speak for themselves.

Bohannon has also looked slightly quicker on the court over the past few weeks, which has contributed to his improved scoring and allowed him to create more space to shoot the ball. Whether his renewed shooting prowess has energized his play or his scoring surge is attributed to his body fully readjusting to the speed of the college game, the Hawkeye point guard has appeared more explosive in his feints and jukes beyond the perimeter, faster turning the corner around screens, and far more willing to penetrate beyond the three-point line with the ball in his hands, the last of which has been particularly important.

The strength of Bohannon’s game has never been in attacking the basket, but while he spent most of the early season playing exclusively on the perimeter, showing defenders that he’s willing to take them off the dribble opens up several avenues for him to exploit. By attacking the basket more, Bohannon prevents defenders from playing too close to him on the perimeter or sprinting at him every time he catches the ball in an attempt to contest a possible shot, as doing so leaves them vulnerable to him driving past them and beating them with his midrange floater. Furthermore, the more Bohannon attacks of the dribble, the more frequently he can get to the foul line, which has historically resulted in two easy points for the Hawkeyes. Bohannon, one of the best free throw shooters in program history, had only two attempts from the line in his first nine games before shooting ten free throws in his last four contests, which can be attributed to Bohannon looking more comfortable in the Hawkeye offense and more willing to attack off the dribble when the situation calls for it. Bohannon should never make driving to the basket his primary line of attack, but his increased willingness to drive beyond the perimeter is already paying dividends.

If Bohannon truly is regressing to the mean after a slow start to the season, the rest of the country should be terrified of what this means for Iowa’s offense. Every shot Bohannon hits from NBA range forces the defense to guard him further from the free throw line, creating greater spacing for his teammates. Every textbook lob pass he throws to Garza makes post defenders think twice about putting their body between Luka and the ball, and every three he hits after Garza passes to him out of a double makes opposing coaches less willing to send help to guard college basketball’s most dangerous scorer. Every time Bohannon goes for 19 points, 14 assists, and seven rebounds as he did against Minnesota or 24 points, five assists, and five rebounds as he did against Northwestern creates another sleepless night for opposing coaches who are running out of ideas for how to stop the Hawkeyes from scoring. The past four games show that Jordan Bohannon may finally be back to his old self. If he is, Iowa’s offense might become virtually unstoppable.