NIT First Round: Iowa (21-12) vs. Indiana State (18-14)
Date: March 20, 2013
Time: 6:00 p.m. CT
Location: Carver Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
Line: Iowa -12.5
Iowa opens its second consecutive postseason at home Wednesday, this time against the Indiana State Sycamores. Indiana State finished fifth in the Missouri Valley this year after one of the most up-and-down campaigns we've ever witnessed. They started like gangbusters in non-conference, getting wins against Miami (yes, the #2 seed ACC champ Miami) and Ole Miss and a tough overtime loss to New Mexico. At the end of December, Indiana State looked like an NCAA tournament team, and if they had the good sense to take that resume into a horrible conference and win 14 games, they could well have Middle Tennessee'd their way into the field.
As it was, the Sycamores hit the wall in the Missouri Valley, going just 9-9 overall and a woeful 2-7 on the road (oddly enough, those two wins were against Wichita State and UNI, so, yeah, weird season). ISU closed with five consecutive Valley losses, sandwiched around a Bracket Buster win against Iona. They barely beat Evansville (who had stomped them by 16 the previous week) in the first round of the Valley tournament, then got mollywhopped by Creighton in the semifinal round.
The positives? Indiana State has wins over five tournament teams (Miami, Mississippi, Iona, Creighton, and Wichita) and a generally solid tempo-free profile. The Sycamores play at a fairly standard tempo, get to the line at will, and rarely have a shot blocked (as in, 1 block in every 17 attempts). Wichita, which probably comes closest among MVC teams to matching Iowa's trio of shot blockers, only recorded six total blocks in two games against them.
Indiana State gets to the free throw line at an even higher rate than Iowa, which is saying something. The Sycamores are also more reliant on the free throw for their offense than are the Hawkeyes: Nearly 25% of Indiana State's points have come at the line. They do not take many three-point shots, and they make even fewer. This is an interior team, with junior guard Jake Odum stirring the drink.
The parallels between Odum and the point guard iteration of Roy Marble are verging on creepy. Odum is 6'4, has an uncanny ability to get to the rim, and dishes out assists at an absurd rate once he's there. He's also scored more than Marble this year, and shot at a higher percentage. Late in the season, once the importance of Odum to Indiana State's entire system had become apparent, teams focused their attention on him to great success, mostly because there isn't much else there. Shooting guard Manny Arop is a matchup problem who can also get to the hole, but he's a relatively horrendous outside shooter. Junior forward RJ Mahurin is their only semblance of an interior presence, though 6'8 forward Justin Gant also mans the frontline for 25 minutes a game. There is depth, in that Indiana State will play nine guys, but there is not quality in that depth. Stop Odum, stop Indiana State.
The negatives for Indiana State entering the NIT are obvious: The late-season swoon does not portend great things, especially when it is coupled with some truly horrific play on the road. In the last five weeks, Indiana State has lost to Missouri State (11-22), Bradley (16-16), Drake (15-17) and Evansville (18-14) by an average of 10 points, and has not recorded a road win since January 29. That is not good, especially given that Carver Hawkeye Arena again figures to be sold out for an NIT game (well done, people).
Iowa's tempo might be the key to unlocking the Sycamores. Indiana State hasn't seen up-tempo offense often this year. Only two Valley teams -- Illinois State and Drake -- run like Iowa runs, and the Redbirds and Bulldogs took three of four games from Indiana State this year. UCLA, which was running at Iowa's pace before injuries, annihilated Indiana State in the season's inaugural game. Indiana State's one truly baffling non-conference loss, at Morehead State, was also against an up-tempo team. The Sycamores handled Ole Miss despite the Rebels' propensity to run, but needed a season-high scoring output of 87 points to do it.
Iowa should have enough talent to get them through this game. Eric May and Devyn Marble are capable defenders, and should be able to keep Odum from running wild in the lane. Expect plenty of zone from Iowa unless and until their bigs get in foul trouble (and if Odum is getting to the rim, they will be in foul trouble). Nevertheless, Indiana State is not a particularly stellar defensive team -- they have a tendency to commit a ton of fouls, ironically -- and the Marble/White/Basabe show should be enough. If Iowa can exhaust Indiana State with pressure defense and fast break points, the Sycamores should fall in a building filled with people to see it.