It's now been over a month since Iowa's season ended at the hands of Tennessee. I bring up the the timeframe because I've had over a month to think about what the hell happened and I still have no clue. The season started out so promising, only to end in a fiery dumpster of disappointment. And whether you believe that Iowa was a little bit unlucky, didn't gel together cohesively as a team, or a little bit of both, I think that most people would agree that they played below their apparent talent level. I'm not going to go into too much detail here because I'm about to do so below, and I want to spare you from only having to recollect memories of the final two months of this season just once. But let's keep the bigger picture in mind here because the program is still on the right track. Iowa made it back to relevance last year and still has plenty of talent on the roster to keep them there next year. So, after this post, I am flushing all disappointment from this season, and I am looking forward to what looks like a pretty promising season in 2014-2015.
Season in Review
As we all know by now, the first three months of the season went pretty well. The Hawkeyes ended January 17-4 with their only losses coming to Villanova, Iowa State, Wisconsin, and Michigan. All of their losses had come away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena and all of their losses were by no more than 8 points. But then the calendar turned to February and the defense imploded. The offense was still very good, but they struggled to keep their opponents from torching the nets night in and night out. And when we thought things couldn't possibly get any worse, the entire team self-destructed in March.
The chart above plots Iowa's offensive and defensive efficiency (points scored and allowed per 100 possessions). Iowa dominated the cupcakes at the beginning of the year, but by the end of the year, they were turned on their heads. The defense began their descent (or ascent if we're talking about the line on the graph) right after their huge win at Michigan. The offense, on the other hand, held fairly steady until March, when they joined the cliff-jumping party. Breaking down the numbers by month, it gets real ugly.
|Offensive Rebounding Rate||38.39%||39.52%||36.17%||39.68%||12.63%|
|Opponent Offensive Rebounding Rate||32.87%||27.31%||27.13%||31.13%||34.59%|
|Opponent Turnover Rate||22.59%||15.29%||17.56%||17.49%||20.28%|
|Free Throw Rate||49.61%||48.60%||53.33%||38.14%||33.33%|
|Free Throw Rate||29.67%||29.84%||38.44%||42.24%||39.69%|
That's a lot of red in March, and red is not good. Once again, we see the offense go strong until March, but it was the defense that seemed to get worse every month. January was fine, but in February and March, the Hawkeyes' opponents were coming away with about 1.14 points per possession and averaging an eFG% of about 56%. The national average in those categories this season were 1.04 and 49.6%. Needless to say, two months of giving up WAY more than both of those makes it difficult to win games.
Another pattern that developed for the Hawkeyes was that Iowa seemed to have a knack for starting a game fast, but allowing their opponent to get back into it.
The chart above only shows Big Ten games in order to weed out any effect from the Hawkeyes blowing out cupcakes, emptying their bench, and then allowing the other team to score more points at the end of the game. But as you can see, Iowa's defense got worse and worse as the game went on. Not only that, they also allowed their opponents to make a run right after halftime, helping to erase the lead Iowa usually had heading into the locker room. These trends become more pronounced when we look at their losses.
In their 13 losses this season, Iowa was ahead at halftime by an average score of 37.23 to 35. In the second half, though, they were outscored by an average of 34.77 to 41.46. The second half was a mixture of the offense looking a little sluggish after the half and the defense doing little more than yelling "stop!" at the opposing team. All of this came together for an average loss that was by 4.46 points.
Now, it was these close losses to (mostly) good teams that made this such an interesting season. It was during their skid where we saw how much advanced statistics loved the Hawkeyes, even while most people's eyeballs didn't. By the time the season was over, Iowa was left being much higher ranked by the numbers than by the coaches or by the media. Kenpom and Sagarin both had Iowa finish the season ranked #28 in the nation, while THOR was much nicer to their defense and had them at #18 in the nation. You can click on the links for Kenpom and Sagarin, but here are the final top 25 for THOR:
|Rank||Team||Tempo||Off. Effic.||Off. Effic.+||Def. Effic.||Def. Effic.+||THOR||THOR+||Schedule|
|23||San Diego St.||95||103||105||113||115||108||110||102|
Note: Remember when reading these numbers, 100 is equal to the NCAA average, so anything above is better than average and anything below is worse than average. Any category with a "+" next to it has been adjusted for strength of schedule. For more on THOR read this.
As you can see, Iowa finished the season with an elite offense that was 15% better than the national average, according to THOR. The Hawkeyes finished with the 6th best offense in the country. On defense, though, THOR was probably too kind to the Hawkeyes, rating them at 8% above average and ranking them #51 in the nation after adjusting for their strength of schedule.
If we look at the Big Ten, we see Iowa finish fifth in the conference.
|Big Ten||Team||THOR Rank||Offense+||Defense+||Total+||Luck|
In addition, based on these numbers, Iowa was the 5th unluckiest team in the nation this season. Coincidentally, they were also the 5th unluckiest team in the nation according to Kenpom too. Based on their schedule, the numbers felt like they were closer to a 25-8 team rather than the 20-13 team we ended up seeing. Now, whether or not you believe this was total bad luck or not, it's not hard to come up with five games that this team could/should have won. Like I said previously, I think it's pretty reasonable to believe that Iowa underperformed versus their true talent level this season.
Even Basketball Reference's win shares thinks Iowa underperformed versus their true talent level this season. If you add up each player's win shares this season, you get an expected win total of 26.4 games. In other words, Basketball Reference's numbers thought Iowa should have gone something like 26-7. That fits with THOR estimating a record of 25-8 and Kenpom's numbers thinking the Hawkeyes should have finished about 24-9 if we extrapolate from his luck metric. In other words, the numbers felt that Iowa was a 24-26 win team this season based on their schedule. As the year went on, this season reminded me more and more of the 2010 Iowa football team. Both teams came into the season returning a bevy of experienced players and shouldering gigantic expectations only to start the season pretty much as expected and then epically collapse down the stretch. And just like this basketball team, advanced statistics had that 8-5 Hawkeye football team ranked #21 to finish the season. That's just how it goes sometimes, I guess.
In 2014-2015, Iowa returns a lot of talent, but does need to replace the production from Roy Devyn Marble, Melsahn Basabe, and Zach McCabe. Now, there's no way to know just how much Iowa is going to miss these guys next season, but one way to get an idea of how much value will need replacing next season is to look at win shares. I've come to really like win shares since the end of the season because it gives us a nice estimate of how important a player is to their team; and it does that by estimating how many wins a player was worth for that season. It's not gospel by any means, but it is pretty handy.
|Aaron White- F||28.12||3.0||1.7||4.7||0.202|
|Devyn Marble- G||30.21||3.0||1.6||4.6||0.187|
|Jarrod Uthoff- F||18.21||1.6||1.1||2.7||0.182|
|Gabe Olaseni- C||16.55||1.6||1.0||2.6||0.191|
|Adam Woodbury- C||17.06||1.0||1.0||2.0||0.142|
|Josh Oglesby- SG/SF||19.48||0.9||0.4||1.4||0.135|
|Peter Jok- SG/SF||9.44||0.6||0.3||0.9||0.144|
|Kyle Denning- G||4.25||0.1||0.0||0.2||0.140|
|Darius Stokes- F||3.07||-0.1||0.0||0.0||-0.042|
|Okey Ukah- F||2.89||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.022|
|Lost to Graduation||5.2||3.5||8.7|
Going into next year, Iowa loses about 9 wins of value between those three graduating seniors. Now, these numbers are influenced by how many games the Hawkeyes play, but let's just assume 32 regular season games next year for simplicity's sake. Also, we don't know if next year's team will have the same talent level as this year's team; Iowa loses a guy who is most likely a second round NBA draft pick, a very good sixth man, and a very nice role player off the bench. But if we do assume that next year's team is of a similar talent level (which it very well could be) then not all of those 9 wins need to be made up by incoming recruits. Trey Dickerson will get playing time, and will likely need to make up a decent portion of those wins. Considering he has yet to play a game at Iowa yet, it's hard to tell how well he will do in his first year of Big Ten play. On a positive note, though, he isn't exactly fresh out of high school and he is the #12 junior college recruit in the nation and the #1 point guard recruit, so I think we can safely assume he will be better than most true freshmen.
As for the actual true freshmen, Brady Ellingson will most likely redshirt and it looks like Dominique Uhl will not. In past years, Ellingson would have seen at least a little bit of time on the court because of his shooting abilities. But next year's backcourt looks packed and there aren't many minutes to go around. With Uhl, it looks like it's the exact opposite. Kyle Meyer transferring and Willie Atwood choosing Arizona State leaves open minutes to hand out in the frontcourt. However, with that being said, I'm not sure Uhl is going to get many of those minutes, as I'm not sure he is physically ready. If you thought Jarrod Uthoff was skinny this year, Uhl isn't even 200 lbs. Really, the Atwood news probably means that Uthoff will see his minutes really go up due to getting a lot of playing time at both forward positions. I'm unsure if Iowa had any backup options to Willie Atwood this late in the game (I doubt it), and any possible transfer candidates (like Cole Huff) will have to sit out a year. In other words, we basically have the roster set for next year.
So, armed with these assumptions, I put together my best (rough) estimate of how many minutes per game I think each player will get next year. Feel free to quibble with these, but just remember these are rough (as in, 60 grit sandpaper rough) projections of playing time next year.
|Minutes||Last Year||Next Year (My Rough Estimate)|
|Trey Dickerson- PG||N/A||23.00|
|Brady Ellingson- SG||N/A||N/A|
|Josh Oglesby- SG/SF||19.48||20.00|
|Peter Jok- SG/SF||9.44||19.00|
|Jarrod Uthoff- F||18.21||26.00|
|Aaron White- F||28.12||30.00|
|Dominique Uhl- F||N/A||5.00|
|Gabe Olaseni- C||16.55||20.00|
|Adam Woodbury- C||17.06||20.00|
|Okey Ukah- F||2.89||3.00|
|Kyle Denning- G||4.30||4.00|
Every season a team's minutes per game always averages out to about 200 between all players. It's usually slightly more than 200 due to overtime games, so I went with 205 minutes to simulate that. Anyway, with Atwood out of the picture, I think it's pretty clear that Aaron White will probably get as many minutes as last year, if not more. I also think the Atwood decision makes it very likely that Uthoff sees some heavily increased minutes this season, and I gave Uhl only 5 minutes per game due to him most likely needing a year of development. At the five spot, Fran seems to like to use Woodbury and Olaseni interchangeably, so I gave them both 20 minutes per game. That could change, but that would require him to have both guys on the court at the same time, which he was reluctant to do last season. In the back court, I also gave Oglesby and Jok similar minutes because I'm not sure who gets more out of the two (Oglesby has the experience, Jok has the potential). And last but not least, we have the point guard battle. I think Gesell starts, but he and Dickerson could easily be on the court at the same time every so often. Once again, that leaves Anthony Clemmons the odd man out. I gave him similar minutes to last season, but we'll have to wait and see.
Now that we have some estimates on playing time, let's extrapolate some win shares from that.
|Player||Projected Minutes/Game||Projected Win Shares/40||Projected Win Shares|
|Trey Dickerson- PG||23.00||0.120||2.21|
|Brady Ellingson- SG||N/A||0.000||0.00|
|Josh Oglesby- SG/SF||20.00||0.140||2.16|
|Peter Jok- SG/SF||19.00||0.144||2.19|
|Jarrod Uthoff- F||26.00||0.182||3.79|
|Aaron White- F||30.00||0.202||4.85|
|Dominique Uhl- F||5.00||0.064||0.14|
|Gabe Olaseni- C||20.00||0.191||3.06|
|Adam Woodbury- C||20.00||0.142||2.27|
|Okey Ukah- F||3.00||0.022||0.02|
|Kyle Denning- G||4.00||0.140||0.14|
I gave all returning players the same win shares per 40 minute totals to what they had this past season, and made Trey Dickerson about as valuable as Mike Gesell. I didn't really have a method to this, but I just wanted to see what this team would look like if they played at a similar level next year. And, really, they don't look that bad. Overall, since these are based on 32 games (except for Uhl, I gave him similar numbers to Olaseni's freshman year), these projections have them looking like a 24-8 team in talent level. Of course, the season won't play out like this; there will be injuries, slumps, breakouts, etc. But basically everybody on this roster is capable of playing at a high level, so 24-8 doesn't seem too far-fetched. And I can't stress how great it feels to type that. Considering that I started blogging about Iowa basketball when Fran was taking over a team full of Lickliter recruits, it's amazing to see just how far things have come.
So there we have it. In my opinion (and it can vary depending on how talented you think each player is and how much playing time you think they will get), next year's team still looks about as good as this past year's team was. This team should be expected to make the NCAA Tournament again, and I think they will be better than a bubble team. I'm actually very curious to see how next season plays out, as this team will have fewer expectations attached to it than this past year's squad. Last year's team was deep and next year's team looks to have 8 to 9 main players in the rotation (depending on Clemmons' playing time), which may actually be a good thing. Depth is a good thing, but I think trying to find playing time for everybody and getting the right lineups on the court isn't always the easiest thing in practice. Basically, what I'm saying is that the Atwood decision isn't the end of the world and not having Kyle Meyer probably won't make or break this team in 2014-2015. A shorter bench (barring injury, of course) and more fluid lineups are not a bad thing. Fran has never been one for traditional position definitions anyway and there are still plenty of options for Iowa throw on the court next year. Hell, look at this past year's Iowa State team. They had a short bench, too, but they had a bunch of guys who could play all over the court and create mismatches, and it worked just fine.
Overall, this season was a bit of a letdown because I think this team had so much potential before it imploded in the final two months. But don't let that take away from the macro picture here. This program is relevant again and Fran has stocked it with some very good players for the foreseeable future. Last year's team was fun to watch, and next year's team should be fun too. While the 2014-2015 team may not have quite the same talent level, they could easily finish with the better record. And who knows? Maybe the Hawkeyes can make a run come next March. Either way, it does feel good to be Mad again. Wouldn't you agree?