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SCOUTING FRAN MCCAFFERY: THE OFFENSE

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Taking a look at Fran McCaffery's offense to see what we might expect for the upcoming 2014-2015 season.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2014-2015 season nears, I can't help but find myself preoccupied with what this year's team will look like. I'm not talking how good they will be, per say, but more like how the personnel and strategies will differ this year compared to last. This same time last year, we weren't really all that concerned with how the team would operate because they were only replacing one key player. This season, Iowa will be replacing three key players, including one of the best players we've seen don an Iowa jersey in quite some time. Without Devyn Marble around to drop in 17 points per game, the Hawkeyes are going to have to rely on Aaron White and need others like Jarrod Uthoff, Adam Woodbury, etc. (the list could really go on and on) to step their game up.

Because the Hawkeyes are going to need so many players to step up into a bigger role this year, there is some uncertainty as to how this team will look. Because of this uncertainty, I thought it would be a good idea to scout Fran McCaffery and pick out some things that I believe we are sure to see this upcoming season.

Offensive Numbers

FM Offense

Before we dive too deep into this, I need to explain that these charts are a little different than the four factor charts I use for my game previews. In my game previews, I scale everything so that above 100 is "better than average" and below 100 is "worse than average." For this post, however, everything is scaled so that above 100 simply means "more than average", while below 100 means "less than average." That's because there are some things included in these charts that cannot easily be judged as "better than" or "worse than average." For instance, if a team takes more two point shots than three point shots (as Iowa has been known to do), can we necessarily say that's a bad strategy? Therefore, because I don't want to make value judgements like that, everything is scaled the same, so remember that anything above 100 just means "more than average" and anything less than 100 means "less than average."

Now, the chart above goes through the 2005 season. So, not only does it include Fran's four years coaching Iowa, it also includes his time at Siena and one year at North Carolina Greensboro. I did this in order to identify trends that have been consistent under Fran, no matter the team.

Okay, let's discuss Fran McCaffery.

As far as offensive style goes, the first thing we notice right away is that any team under McCaffery usually pushes the tempo of a game more than the average Division I team. We also notice that his teams have historically taken more two point shots than the average team, and the exact opposite from long range. So, first and foremost, what we see here is a coach who prefers his team to get out in transition and get easy layups.

Adding to that, we see that Fran's teams tend not to be lights out when it comes to shooting (eFG% on the chart). They aren't bad, per se, but his teams have been right around the NCAA mean. On the other hand, they make up for not being excellent shooters by drawing tons of fouls. And while they are right around the NCAA average when it comes to handing out assists (something reliant upon hitting shots), they are generally excellent at not giving the ball away. After all, they want to play quick, but they don't want to play out of control. This knack for avoiding the turnover bug also includes being good at limiting their opponents steals. And finally, Fran's teams are consistently good at crashing the offensive glass, and they don't get their shots blocked much either.

Putting it all together, we get an up-tempo team that attacks the rim, draws fouls, doesn't turn the ball over and crashes the glass. This makes sense when you think about the type of players McCaffery recruits. Here's what I've said in the past:

From what I can tell in looking at McCaffery's roster construction since he's been at Iowa, he pretty much has four distinct types of players he desires: 1) A small, speedy point guard that can push the ball up the court in transition; 2) At least one pure shooter that can catch and fire out on the perimeter; 3) A bevy of tall, rangy, versatile forwards that can play a combination of the three, four, or five positions; and 4) At least one true center that can run the court in transition.

I think that fits what we see in the numbers. Fran puts an emphasis on speed and athleticism more than he does shooting. If you can't run the court consistently, he's not offering you scholarship. Point guards need to be quick, while the rest of the team needs to consist of long (not just tall, but long arms), lean athletes that can get up and down the court. Of course, every few years he recruits a player whose main talent is shooting (e.g. Oglesby and Ellingson). This explains why his teams tend to be faster-paced, more interested in shooting twos, and better at drawing fouls. The emphasis on length probably also explains the offensive rebounding prowess and ability to avoid having their shots blocked.

Okay, so the numbers are good, and you all know I love numbers. But basketball is played on the hardwood, and talking strategy is always more fun when we can see what we're talking about. So, let's dig a bit beyond the numbers and use some video to scout McCaffery and the Hawkeyes.

Transition

Now, as fans who have watched Fran McCaffery coach for the past four seasons, the fact that the chart above told us that his teams play faster than the average team is pretty unsurprising. After watching three seasons of a Todd Lickliter-coached team, we were already extremely aware of this fact. But the tempo at which his teams play is extremely important for his coaching philosophy—and not just because it looks a whole hell of a lot more exciting than Lickliter ball.

Under Fran, Iowa has taken pride in its ability to beat the other team down the floor on a regular basis. Iowa isn't so much worried about getting into their half-court set, as much as they are worried about getting the easiest basket possible. And the Hawkeyes do this in multiple ways.

The Hawkeyes are always looking to take advantage of slacking or tired defenders, and Iowa's bigs always try to beat their man to the basket and get into position for an easy layup.

Iowa's big men will also sprint the floor to clean up any misses in transition.

But it's not just layups that they are after in transition, the Hawkeyes will take any open look they get, including from three point range.

And what makes Iowa's transition offense even more dangerous, is the fact that they don't only run after their opponent misses a shot, they run after a made shot too.

Under Fran McCaffery, Iowa has made a living off of easy baskets. It's almost like stealing points when the other team isn't ready. Iowa's tempo forces the defense to get back and guard the basket or pay. And if they are able to constantly get back on defense, it can have a tiring effect against a team that isn't properly conditioned for this type of pace for long periods of time.

Half-Court Offense

Now, while Iowa's strategy may seem as if they try to avoid running a half-court offense at all costs, they are perfectly fine running their motion offense when the easy basket isn't there. Since coming to Iowa City, McCaffery has installed an offense that is tailored to his player's strengths on the offensive side of the ball. Like most teams, Iowa uses penetration, ball movement and spacing to get their guys open looks. Additionally, Iowa uses a variety of screens to get good looks at the basket. And it's these screens that I want to take a look at today. First, let's talk screening the ball.

Iowa's not primarily a pick and roll team, but they will use it, and they do have athletic big men that can get easy baskets out if it. For example, here is Gabe Olaseni:

And here is Adam Woodbury:

Besides the roll to the basket, the Hawkeyes will also set the ball screen and pop out to the perimeter for the open three.

Those are pretty basic, so let's move off the ball.

When screening away from the ball, Iowa uses a whole host of screens to get the ball into each player's hands in a position to score. One of the most common screens they like to use to do this is a down screen.

There are a couple of options available off the down screen. If the player running off the screen is a shooter he can catch and shoot the three.

If the defender is quick off the dribble and the lane is open, they can curl off the screen to the rim for the easy lay in or dunk.

Notice that sometimes Iowa will force the defender to run through multiple screens. And, if you are worried about this set being gone with Devyn Marble this season, I'm pretty sure Jarrod Uthoff can do it just fine too.

In addition to down screens, the Hawkeyes will also run back screens to get their perimeter players easy shots at the basket. This works well to get Aaron White easy alley-oop opportunities.

It also works against Big Ten competition.

There are also some occasions where this type of screen can lead to an open look from downtown. For instance, when the lane is already clogged.

Finally, Iowa loves to run their shooters off of baseline screens in order to get them open looks from beyond the arc. Josh Oglesby is the main beneficiary of these screens, though Brady Ellingson will probably be a future beneficiary.

Iowa will even sometimes set their opponent up, by first setting a down screen, and then running the baseline screens.

And if that wasn't enough, Oglesby will sometimes cut across the first baseline screen, only to turn back around and use the same screener again for another baseline screen back to his original spot. If his man gets caught on the screen, he's left with an open three attempt. If the defenders switch, Iowa can take advantage of the size mismatch that happens when a guard tries to defend one of their post players.

All in all, Iowa under McCaffery will use a variety of screens that play to their player's strengths on offense. Baseline screens for Oglesby to hit threes, back screens for easy shots at the basket for Aaron White, etc.

This Season

Honestly, I think we will see business as usual. Everything that was shown above is well within the range of possibilities for this year's roster. The one thing that Devyn Marble brought on offense that Iowa will miss will probably be his ability to break down the defense. This not only led to shot attempts in the lane, but it also led to open shot attempts for the rest of the team. Outside of Marble, Mike Gesell is pretty much the only one on the roster that has shown the consistent ability to do this. Anthony Clemmons is capable, but who knows how much playing time he'll get this season? And the rest of the guys on the roster are capable to a certain extent, but it's not one of their primary attributes. We think Trey Dickerson will be able to do this for the next three years, but it's not a given that he's going to step right in and be a catalyst for this offense in his first year on campus. That means Iowa will probably have to be a little more disciplined with running their half-court offense this season. Last year, when the offense slumped, it relied on Marble to get the team out of their offensive rut. This year, who knows who that will be?

That being said, this team still has plenty of talent and even if it isn't a top five offense like last season, it should be quite a bit above average. I expect Iowa to continue to push the ball and look to steal points when their opponents are napping. And when those easy baskets aren't there, I expect them to flow right into their half-court offense and put points on the board with little issue.

We'll talk defense next time.