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Iowa's defense continues to go splodey.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

If there is any positive to come out of this game, I think it's that I have become numb to these kinds of losses. The dagger three from Jon Ekey last Sunday started it, and Northwestern helped finish the job Thursday night. So no, Dave Sobolewski, I will not let you haunt me in my dreams; I am officially numb.

Four Factors in Review




Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.05, Northwestern 1.14

Possessions: 59

Northwestern was the second team in a row to successfully hold Iowa under 60 possessions in a game.


Northwestern has a 46.1% eFG% on the season. The Division I average is 49.5%. They shot 64.8% against Iowa, and 70% in the second half. Okay, I'll stop. Some of you may not be quite as numb as me yet.

On offense, the Hawkeyes shot fine in the first half, but their shot selection was unusual. They shot 15 of their 27 field goal attempts from beyond the three point arc. They made 6, of course, but that is a large departure from their usual offensive style. In the second half, they stayed more true to their style, only taking 9 out of 35 attempts from downtown. This time, though, they missed all 9 threes and only made 9 out of their 26 two point attempts. They finished the second half with a lousy 37.1% eFG% and 0.96 PPP. The second half offense was just awful.

Advantage: Northwestern


I'm not going to delve much into turnovers. This could have been more of an advantage for Iowa if they had been hitting their shots. Instead, they decided to go cold from the field, and those extra Northwestern empty possessions were all for naught in a close game.

Advantage: Iowa

Offensive Rebounding

Similar to turnovers, this should have been a bigger deal for the Hawkeyes than it was. In the first half, Northwestern won the offensive rebounding battle. In the second half, Iowa didn't allow Northwestern to grab a single offensive board, and came away with 15 of their own in addition to 14 second chance points. Thanks to winning the turnovers and offensive rebounding battles, Iowa still lost the game by 5 points despite having 20 more (!!!) scoring opportunities (including free throw possessions) than Northwestern. That's the stat of the game right there. In case you were wondering, yes, that is the highest shot differential in a loss for Iowa this year. The previous high was 12 at Minnesota.

In other words, Iowa lost this game because they couldn't put the stupid ball in the stupid basket.

Advantage: Iowa

Free Throw Rate

Technically, Northwestern won this category thanks to the end-of-game fouling. Iowa was basically stonewalled from getting to the free throw line in the first half, but was able to get Northwestern in the bonus very early in the second half. That and offensive rebounding really kept Iowa in this game despite some terrible second half shooting.  Iowa even made 16 of their 18 free throws on the night.

In other words, Iowa basically won three out of the four factors, and still lost the game. Shooting is important, if you hadn't noticed by now.

Advantage: Northwestern

Overall: Iowa Won Two Out of the Four Factors



I'm going to make this brief because I've got more I want to cover.

Essentially, Roy Devyn Marble and Jarrod Uthoff (yay!) were Iowa's offense in this one. Aaron White had a 125% TS% (why he's not on the chart), but he was invisible outside of an early alley-oop and a made three pointer. After making his first two shots in the first 4:10 of game time, he didn't attempt another shot for the rest of the game. He had a couple of assists and rebounds, but in 28 minutes of play, Iowa needs more than 2 shot attempts out of him.

As for the defense, Drew Crawford and Tre Demps were nightmares, and Dave freaking Sobolewski (of all people) actually did good things on a basketball court. That's probably the most damning thing we can say about this Iowa defense: They let Dave Sobolewski do good things on a basketball court.

Let's Talk Defense

Speaking of terrible defense, let's talk about it in more depth. Seeing as my weekend was freed up thanks to Iowa losing on Thursday night, I decided to analyze Iowa's defensive possessions from this game. I've heard people say how Iowa's zone has been terrible this year, so I wanted to see what the numbers would say in regards to the Hawkeyes' zone compared to their man-to-man defense. At least, what the numbers would say against this Northwestern offense.

1st Half Defensive Possessions % Points Allowed % PPP Made FG % Missed FG % Turnover % Free Throws %
Man 23 85.19% 24 77.42% 1.04 10 83.33% 6 85.71% 7 100.00% 0 0.00%
Zone 3 11.11% 5 16.13% 1.67 2 16.67% 1 14.29% 0 0.00% 0 0.00%
N/A 1 3.70% 2 6.45% 2.00 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 1 100.00%
Total 27 100.00% 31 100.00% 1.15 12 100.00% 7 100.00% 7 100.00% 1 100.00%

In the first half, Iowa went man defense on 85% of their possessions. And, actually, most of their zone possessions this half were initially man, but the ball went out of bounds and Iowa played zone defense when Northwestern inbounded the ball from under their basket. That being said, the defenses were not very good in the first half. The man defense gave up 24 points on 23 possessions (1.04 PPP). However, they did force 7 turnovers, which is good for a 30% turnover rate while in man defense. This seems to fit with the downfall of Iowa's aggressive mentality lately: gamble for steals and get some, but also get burned by open shots.

2nd Half Defensive Possessions % Points Allowed % PPP Made FG % Missed FG % Turnover % Free Throws %
Man 14 43.75% 20 55.56% 1.43 8 72.73% 3 33.33% 3 50.00% 0 0.00%
Zone 12 37.50% 7 19.44% 0.58 2 18.18% 6 66.67% 3 50.00% 1 16.67%
N/A 6 18.75% 9 25.00% 1.50 1 9.09% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 5 83.33%
Total 32 100.00% 36 100.00% 1.13 11 100.00% 9 100.00% 6 100.00% 6 100.00%

In the second half, Iowa went with a lot more zone. McCaffery called the zone defense on the 8th defensive possession of the second half (35th possession of the game), and went with it for 12 straight defensive possessions, before finishing the game in man-to-man. And, holy crap what a difference we see in this half. Iowa's man-to-man defense got torched for 1.43 PPP, while Iowa's zone defense only gave up 0.58 PPP. The zone wasn't perfect, but it did what it was supposed to do: clog up the lane and force the opposing team to make threes. While the Hawkeyes were in zone, Northwestern had 8 shots attempts, and only made 2 of them. The zone took care of everything inside the three point line, as Iowa blocked two layup attempts and contested a third. On three pointers, however, Northwestern still made 2-5 (40%), and they also made a three against the zone in the first half. I mean, you break a zone by hitting your threes, so it's not surprising that McCaffery finished the game in man-to-man against a perimeter-oriented team that was hitting their three balls.

Total Defensive Possessions % Points Allowed % PPP Made FG % Missed FG % Turnover % Free Throws %
Man 37 62.71% 44 65.67% 1.19 18 78.26% 9 56.25% 10 76.92% 0 0.00%
Zone 15 25.42% 12 17.91% 0.80 4 17.39% 7 43.75% 3 23.08% 1 14.29%
N/A 7 11.86% 11 16.42% 1.57 1 4.35% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 6 85.71%
Total 59 100.00% 67 100.00% 1.14 23 100.00% 16 100.00% 13 100.00% 7 100.00%

In aggregate, Iowa played man-to-man defense on about 63% of their defensive possessions and allowed 1.19 points per possession. The zone looked better, only allowing 0.80 points per possession, but keep in mind that Northwestern went 3-7 (42.9%) from long range when Iowa was in the zone. It did what it was supposed to do, but a zone isn't the best fit against teams hitting three pointers. Of course, Iowa still has to be able to contest those three point attempts, too.

For an even more granular view of the defense, let's look at some actual screen shots.

Zone Defense

Like I said, Iowa's zone had the superior PPP, but it was far from perfect. The two plays I'm going to show you are extremely similar, and show how Northwestern was able to get open shots against Iowa's zone defense.

The first play comes with 13:30 left in the second half and Iowa trailing by three.


Northwestern was in the middle of one of their slow offensive possessions and with 16 seconds remaining on the shot clock, Tre Demps pulls the ball back out to the top of the key to reset the offense. He then passes the ball to Drew Crawford on the wing to start the play.


Sanjay Lumpkin comes over from the opposite wing and is going to set a screen on Josh Oglesby. Abrahamson will fill Lumpkin's spot on the opposite wing, while Demps will slide down a bit to give more spacing for Crawford coming off the screen.


As for Iowa's defense, I don't believe I really saw much communication on this play (damn you, Dakich). Oglesby's back is to the screener, so he's got to rely on his teammates to let him know a screen is coming so he can get through it. Instead, he gets picked and Marble has to decide whether or not to take Crawford coming off the screen or leave Demps open for a three.


He doesn't really choose either, and kind of stays in the middle of the two. But you can see how difficult Marble's decision was here because if he chooses Crawford, Demps is open. If he chooses Demps, Crawford is open. And that's not even mentioning that a few swing passes gets the ball to Abrahamson for a corner three. I'm not 100% sure, but I think this play was a communication breakdown.

The next play will be a bit of deja vu.


With 8:04 left in the game, Demps pulls the ball back out and resets the offense with 10 seconds left on the shot clock. Again, the ball finds Drew Crawford in the corner.


Instead of the opposite wing, this time the screen comes from Nikola Cerina on the opposite block.


You can see Olaseni is up and pointing, so I imagine that this time there is yelling to let Gesell know that a screen is coming. And, again, we can see that Marble has to make a similar decision to the one he made about five minutes ago.


He chooses not to leave Crawford open this time, and now we can see the domino effect of Iowa not being able to get through the screen again.


Crawford drops the ball off to the nearest open man and Tre Demps buries a trey with Aaron White trying to close out on him, but to no avail. This was one of the many, many, way too many shots that Northwestern made at the end of the shot clock, as they waited for Iowa's defense to suffer a breakdown.

Man-to-Man Defense

Now, while the zone gave up three pointers, that is kind of to be expected. You just want your opponent to miss them. With the man-to-man defense there is really not much good to say about it. It was pretty terrible the whole game, and got worse as the game went on (just like Iowa's defense seemingly has most of the year). I mean, Iowa is supposed to be the superior athletic team to Northwestern, but they couldn't fight through screens, they took terrible angles, and they seemed to just play out of control sometimes (I left those plays out for our collective sanity).

The first of two plays happens with 5:07 left on the game clock, and guess what? It also comes with only 7 seconds on the shot clock!


Demps again finds himself with the ball up top and is trying to run something to get an open shot before the shot clock expires. Alex Olah comes up and sets a screen on Marble, and Demps is going to attempt to turn the corner. Here's where you are going to want to pull your hair out.


Gabe? Really? Olaseni, one of the best defenders on the team, is in position to trap Demps along the sideline. There is no reason for him not to take away the sideline there. The sideline is the third defender for crying out loud. But, as you can see by my lines that kind of look like I'm trying to indicate a draft was leaking into the building from outside, Olaseni is parallel to the sideline. He should have his left foot something like on the sideline. Instead, he takes a horrible angle, the trap goes splodey, and Demps blows by forcing the other three defenders to collapse to the basket.


The other defenders make the prospect for a layup difficult for Demps, but he adjusts in midair and delivers a pass to the WIDE open Dave Sobolewski.


And Sobolewski hits the three.

Our last play comes with 2:28 left in the game and, yet again, with only 12 seconds on the shot clock.


Mr. Demps has the ball up top, and like so many other plays, begins by dropping the ball off on the wing to Mr. Crawford. This time, however, he's going to set the ball screen after giving it up.


This time, Iowa switches the screen, which means that Marble doesn't have to fight through the pick by Demps. That also means that Oglesby should not be as far right as he is. Oglesby struggled to keep Crawford in front of him when he was matched up on him in this game, and being out of position here only gives him the bigger disadvantage when you add in the fact that Crawford is the quicker of the two.

With that being said, I think this was another communication breakdown, because when you watch the Vine you will see Oglesby hesitate. He doesn't seem to know that he and Marble are switching right away. Crawford also didn't appear that he was going to drive initially until he saw Oglesby so far out of position.


Once he sees Oglesby, Crawford makes the decision to drive the lane and pulls three Iowa defenders with him. This leaves Dave freaking Sobolewski open in the corner.


Needless to say, Mr. Clutch struck again.

Not long after that play, Tre Demps would put a dagger in Iowa's heart with a turnaround jumper in the lane, which led to this tweet from John Gasaway:

That pretty much sums this defense up, I think.

Okay, that's enough. I think we all understand that Iowa's defense is hot garbage right now. This horse is way past dead (probably decaying by now), and I'm tired of beating it for at least a couple of more days. But I'm still trying to figure out how Iowa went from doing this against Michigan, to doing this against Illinois and then putting up this laughable performance against Northwestern. Sports are crazy, you guys.

Bonus: Team Shot Chart


Makes are outlined in black, while misses have no outline. First half is on the left, while second half is on the right.