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Previewing the Hawkeyes vs. Maryland

The Hawks return to Big Ten play and look to move out of the conference’s basement

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes (10-3, 0-2) return to the hardwood after just two games over the prior 15 days. The Maryland Terrapins (8-4, 0-1) had a similar break in their schedule, with just two games since December 12th, though both of those games occurred last week. How they skirted the second pre-January Big Ten game...I don’t know. They and the Hawks are two of the three winless teams, though, with Nebraska joining them at 0-3.

It’s been a whirlwind for them, as they parted ways with Mark Turgeon in early December after a 5-3 start. Danny Manning has taken over and they’ve gone 3-1 but haven’t seen a discernible increase in points/game offense or defense since. Small sample, to be fair.

Manning joined the Terps this offseason after six seasons with Wake Forest where he went 78-111. They made one NCAA tournament during his time in Winston-Salem, a First Four loss in 2017.

Maryland has maintained the top 40ish defense seen during the course of Turgeon’s tenure but with a downtick in their offensive output. They’re ranked 83rd on that side of the court, according to KenPom, the lowest it’s been since 2014 (101st). The biggest driver of that is a reduced shotmaking ability. The Terps lost wings Aaron Wiggins, Darryl Morsell, and stretch big Jairus Hamilton off of last year’s team. Of returning players, Donta Scott went from a 40% three-point shooter to under 30% this season.

Projected Starters:

G: Fatts Russell (Grad, 5’11”, 165 lbs) - 12.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.6 APG, 40% FG%, 35% 3P%, 30.7 MPG
G: Eric Ayala (Sr, 6’5”, 205 lbs) - 14.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 38% FG%, 31% 3P%, 33.5 MPG
G: Hakim Hart (Jr, 6’8”, 205 lbs) - 9.3 PPG, 55% FG%, 71% 2P%, 28.4 MPG
F: Donta Scott (Jr, 6’8”, 230 lbs) - 11.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 39% FG%, 32.0 MPG
F: Qudus Wahab (Jr, 6’11”, 240 lbs) - 9.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 60% FG%, 2.3 FPG, 20.9 MPG

(stats via sports-reference)

As the stat lines indicate, the Terps have struggled to develop a #1 option from a scoring perspective. They also don’t really feed the hot hand, with just 6 games where a player has gone over 20 points. Unfair comparison alert: Keegan Murray has done that 9 times with Payton Sandfort & Jordan Bohannon adding one of their own. Eric Ayala owns 4 of those games and has shot a combined 49% to reach that mark. Not good, not great.

Wahab & backup Julian Reese provide stout interior defense with block rates of 5.7% and 8.2%, while the Terps combine for 4.7/game. Opponents are shooting just 43.8% from 2 against them. They’re solid in limiting opponents’ second chance opportunities, as well, with a defensive rebounding rate which ranks in the 30s (76.4%). They do all this without fouling all that much - with a top 50 opponent FT rate.

Three questions

Can the Hawks force Maryland into inefficient shots?

The Terrapins shoot barely over 30% from the three point line and under 50% from two. Both rank in the 200s. So a lot of their shots are inefficient. But there a couple key areas Iowa will need to excel. 56% of the Terps catch-and-shoot jumpers are guarded (just 44% of Iowa’s are), where they about .15 points/possession worse, according to Synergy. Even better is forcing them into dribble jumpers where they are among the worst teams at just 0.47 points/possession - a 50% degradation below their contested jumper number.

And hey, maybe none of that matters and Eric Ayala can use his size advantage over Iowa’s guards to just rise and fire over them with efficiency. All of it is also dependent on the Hawkeyes being able to continue their newly found ability to lock down on offensive boards.

Can Iowa continue to value the basketball?

It’s a silly question because everyone values the ball but the Hawks have followed up their top-ranked turnover percentage offense with the top-ranked turnover percentage offense. Some of it is certainly opponent configured, but Iowa’s worse loss (at Iowa State) was alongside their worst turnover percentage at 18%.

In some ways, Maryland resembles the Cyclones with versatile, athletic wings but the Cyclones are an elite defensive unit who constantly turn teams over. Maryland has yet to have a single game where they’ve turned an opponent over at the rate ISU has done for the season, though.

How long can The Keegan Show go on?

Iowa’s worst two games were those where Keegan seemed visibly not himself against Illinois and ISU. The opponents had something to do with it but the main reason was lingering issues from his ankle injury. He’s bounced back in the three games since and went for 84 points on 34/50 shooting, including a wild 30/36 inside the arc.

If he can continue to muster performances like that while remaining near 100% healthy, Iowa is going to push for a top 4 spot in the conference again. But if he takes a step or two back with the uptick in opponent or finds himself banged up as the conference season drags on, then Iowa will find themselves on the bubble.

Considering the Hawks play just three games over the next 11 days, it gives the Hawks ample runway to flip the script after two early defeats in conference play. If they go as Keegan does, I like their chances.

Conference season is upon us and the Hawkeyes have an opportunity to make some moves over the next couple weeks. If they remain in the basement, though, it will just be trickier for them to get into the tournament as the season drags on.