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PRE-GAME FRANALYSIS: IOWA VS. MINNESOTA

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The Hawkeyes look to keep the good vibes going Thursday night, as Minnesota comes to town. Let’s take a look at what we should expect from these two teams.

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After back-to-back double-digit wins, the Hawkeyes look to follow up a distant three-game losing streak with a more positive three-game winning streak. The Gophers come into this game winners of 4 of their last 6 since first playing the Hawkeyes. If you remember back that far, Minnesota's loss to Iowa actually capped off an 0-5 start to conference play for the filthy varmints. To be fair, those first five games were against Purdue, Maryland, Ohio State, a healthy Michigan, and Iowa. Also to be fair, their last 4 wins have come against Rutgers, Illinois, Nebraska, and in a rematch with Purdue. So what do we know about Minnesota? Well, they appear to be right in the middle of the conference when it comes to true talent.

That doesn't mean Iowa is guaranteed to beat them, however. This Minnesota team lost 4 of those first 5 games by 5 points or less. They also took Ohio State to overtime and they damn near stormed back and beat Iowa. So it's not like they don't have any talent whatsoever. Their defense will most likely struggle to stop Iowa's offense, but Iowa's defense could easily struggle to stop their offense too. They have guys who can penetrate and break down a defense; they have three point shooters; and they have a legitimate big man in Maurice Walker -- all of which could give Iowa problems.

The numbers favor Iowa in this one, and I'm hoping they can put a beatdown on our rodent neighbors from the north. With that being said, though, don't be all that surprised if it's another close, competitive game.

When Iowa has the Ball

offense

Note: All Kenpom rankings are from Wednesday (when I was writing this), so if they are slightly different at the time you are reading this, that is why. Also, all numbers in the charts in this post are conference-only statistics. Finally, a reminder on how to read this chart: 100 = Division 1 average. Anything above 100 is above average, while anything below 100 is below average. The bigger the number, the better.

When you adjust for Big Ten strength of schedule thus far, the matchup on this side of the ball is between the second best offense and the seventh best defense in the conference. The chart shows Iowa as having the advantage on this side of the ball, and each category they are favored in, are the same categories they won the last time they played Minnesota in January.

The Hawkeyes are shooting very well from the field as of late, and most of that has to do with the fact that they are hitting 52.7% of their two point field goal attempts. Although, the fact that Iowa is now shooting 35% from downtown isn't hurting things either. Besides just shooting the ball well, the Hawkeyes currently lead the Big Ten in offensive rebounding and getting to the free throw line.

All of that spells bad news for a Minnesota defense that has struggled to do much of anything outside of stealing the ball. These Gophers put an extreme emphasis on pressure defense, and will throw full-court pressure at you. They also really like to jump the passing lanes, so Iowa cannot afford to be careless with the ball.

Similar to last time, though, Iowa will look to exploit Minnesota's defense with their two best players: Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff. In regards to both, Minnesota is probably hoping they have some guys who can effectively guard both men this time around. In their previous match up, neither Joey King nor Charles Buggs could guard Aaron White in the post without fouling. And with Jarrod Uthoff, Minnesota simply had nobody long enough to bother the 6'9" "small" forward's shot. Uthoff drove the baskethit threes, and even posted up smaller guys and knocked down turnaround jumpers. But Minnesota's complete inability to guard Uthoff was no more obvious than when Uthoff hit the game-winning jumper with just seconds left.

Outside of White and Uthoff, Jok and Woodbury also had good games in the last outing against the Gophers. If Mike Gesell continues his good play, and continues to help facilitate great ball movement, both guys could benefit from inside and outside the post.

Basically, if the Hawkeyes can avoid turnovers - something they struggled with against Maryland - they should be fine at home against a mediocre Minnesota defense.

Advantage: Iowa

When Minnesota has the Ball

defense

When the rodents have the rock, here is where the game could be a little more competitive. Despite holding Maryland to 0.85 points per possession (PPP) - a final total that was majorly assisted by a first half in which the Terps only scored 0.50 PPP - Iowa's defense is still 12th in the conference when you adjust for their opponents. Minnesota, meanwhile, hasn't been great on offense, but they have been the 8th best team in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency.

Still, though, 8th is not very good in a conference of 14 teams, and the Gophers haven't really excelled in anything since they started playing Big Ten competition. They are mediocre when it comes to shooting, holding onto the ball, and pulling down offensive rebounds. And they are absolutely awful when it comes to drawing fouls, visiting the free throw line, and making their free ones. That doesn't necessarily mean Iowa is going to have an easy time with them, however.

The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, have definitely played a tough conference schedule to this point, but even adjusting for the numbers, they still haven't played very well on this side of the ball. Other teams are shooting really well, grabbing offensive rebounds, and, outside of the first half against Maryland, the Hawks aren't really forcing turnovers. Granted, some of the reason Big Ten opponents have put up a 50% eFG% against the Hawkeyes is because they have played Wisconsin and Ohio State twice, and some of the reason for the lack of turnovers is because they have played Wisconsin and Michigan, two teams who rarely ever lose the ball. Still, you would like to see a slightly better defensive performance from this team even with the tough schedule. On the other hand, with the back end of the schedule looking easier, this team could slide back toward mediocre, defensively. We're still not talking about an elite defense, though.

Now what can Minnesota do to give Iowa trouble on this end of the floor? Well, first and foremost, they can attack the basket. Guys like Nate Mason, DeAndre Mathieu, and Carlos Morris are all at their best when they are slashing and attacking the rim. The Hawkeyes played a boatload of zone against this Gopher offense last time, and it worked for the first 25 minutes of play. But let me remind you of the ridiculousness that ensued in the final 15 minutes of that game:

In the first 38 possessions of the game, Iowa's defense heled Minnesota to just 34 points. That's good. However, in the final 24 possessions of the game, Nate Mason and Carlos Morris started finding ways to squeeze their way into the middle of Iowa's defense. That's been a bit of a problem all year. We've seen it with Nebraska's Shavon Shields and we even saw it last game with Melo Trimble and Dez Wells. If Minnesota can penetrate the defense at will, then it will open up their entire offense. It won't just lead to high-percentage looks at the basket, but it could lead to open looks from three. And, if you remember, Joey King suddenly made it rain threes when Minnesota came storming back last time.

One thing that may help Iowa if Minnesota's speedy guards penetrate the defense is the fact that the Hawks have an extremely long front line. The Gophers have had 15% of their shots blocked in conference play, which is easily the worst total in the Big Ten right now. For reference, the Division I average is 9.6%. Iowa's length has been able to block 10.9% of their opponent's shots during conference play. So, if we have to regress some of the bad raw numbers more toward mediocrity, we also need to regress the positive numbers to something more toward great. That means being 5th in the conference in blocked shots against this tough of a schedule means Iowa is quite possibly one of the top three shot-blocking teams in the conference.

The Hawkeyes blocked nine Gopher field goal attempts in The Barn in January. Jarrod Uthoff had 4 all by himself, as his length bothered Minnesota all over the court -- he blocked 2 shots in the paint and 2 long jumpers. Additionally, Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni also had 2 blocks apiece. Minnesota is shooting only 45.3% on shots inside the arc against Big Ten teams, and this is where I think Iowa has a big advantage on defense.

Of course, Minnesota is making 35.6% of their three point attempts and they are taking a slightly above average amount of them. So, per usual, Iowa could be at a severe disadvantage if the opposing team is hitting their threes all game long. Minnesota wasn't able to do that for more than 15 minutes in the previous match up, so let's hope that's the case again tonight.

Advantage: Push

Team Shooting Tendencies

iowa

(Shot charts courtesy of Shot Analytics.)

Don't look now, but Iowa's shooting 40.9% from distance in February and has made at least 36% of their threes in the last three games. Thanks to this, Iowa's chart is suddenly looking less blue from the left side.

minnesota

Minnesota's shot chart isn't quite as red as the last Pre-Game Franalysis, but they are connecting from three point range at a better clip.

shooting

Since Big Ten play tipped, Iowa has outshot the Gophers from the floor and from the free throw line. Minnesota has a microscopic advantage from long range, but the teams are essentially equal from out there currently. Iowa, meanwhile, has a pretty large advantage inside the three point line and from the stripe.

Defense-wise, both teams have been a bit iffy. That's probably an advantage for Iowa, considering their offense has been playing at a higher rate.

shots

As far as the types of shots each team takes, the Hawkeyes favor two pointers about 6 percentage points more than the average Division I team, while the Gophers are about 2 percentage points more likely to shoot a three pointer.

On defense, Big Ten opponents have had a pretty normal shot distribution against Minnesota. Iowa, on the other hand, has seen some three-point happy opponents as of late.

scoring

Finally, when it comes to points, Iowa relies heavily on scoring inside and at the charity stripe, while Minnesota's struggles from those places has caused them to be a bit more dependent on outside shooting.

Opposing Players to Know

Maurice Walker can be an absolute game-changer for the Gophers when he's on. The 6'10" 250 lb. senior uses the most possessions on the team and he takes the third most number of shots when he is on the court. He finishes well around the rim and is a decent threat to grab an offensive rebound or draw a foul.

walker

And even if he's not having the best offensive performance, he can affect the game on defense. He's one of the best defensive rebounders and shot-blockers in the nation. He also does a great job of stripping his opponent of the ball without getting called for fouls. Of course, Adam Woodbury was able to hold Walker in check last time with some great defense.

Let's hope that he can do that again this time around.

After Walker, Minnesota's main threats are guards/small forwards. Carlos Morris is a guy who takes a lot of shots, but is just okay when it comes to making them. He thrives when he can drive the basket, so Iowa needs to keep him in front of them and force him to shoot the ball from distance.

morris

He's one of the best guys on the team in creating turnovers, but he struggled to do much to shut down Uthoff last time. He may be 6'5", but that's nothing when we are talking about guarding a 6'9" wing player.

Andre Hollins has gone through some rough stretches during his senior season (including his last game against Iowa), but he is more than capable of going off for 20 points on any given night.

hollins

He shoots from all over the court, but his 42.4% shooting from outside is the big thing for Iowa to watch.

After Hollins and Morris, Minnesota has a couple of speedy point guards in Nate Mason and DeAndre Mathieu. The freshman Mason is decent assist man, but is the better shooter from long range. Mathieu, on the other hand, is more of a classic point guard in the way he penetrates defenses, finds the open man or finishes at the rim. Both guys are also very good at defensively pressuring their men into losing the ball.

Finally, Minnesota has a number of players who can do limited things to help them win. Joey King is an offense-only guy at power forward, who loves him some three pointers. Charles Buggs doesn't really do much of anything, but we all remember him going off on Iowa in last year's firebombing in The Barn. And then there is Elliot Eliason, who I only mention because I think this vine of him trying to run with Olaseni down the court is hilarious:

What Kenpom Thinks

Kenpom Ranking: Iowa #28, Minnesota #46

Projected Score: Iowa 73 (73%), Minnesota 67 (27%)

Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.09, Minnesota 1.00

Projected Possessions: 67

Kenpom really likes Iowa as of late, and it's hard to not feel pretty confident going into this game. The Hawkeyes already proved they could beat this Minnesota team on the road, and now they get a chance to go for the sweep playing in Carver.

The Hawkeyes have the better team, and the only way in which I can see Iowa losing this game is if Minnesota is just hitting all of their threes and Iowa's defense is so atrocious that their offense can't keep up with Minnesota's hot shooting.

But, more likely, I'm thinking Iowa slows down the game and forces Minnesota to run their half court offense. This Gopher team is really reliant upon forcing turnovers in order to get easy baskets in transition. Iowa turned the ball over a bit in the game in the Twin Cities, but they also only gave up 7 fast break points. The Gophers would like a few more than that. Minnesota's half court offense isn't completely bad, per se; they can run some pick and roll with big Mo Walker, and they have some speedy guards that can break the defense down off the dribble. However, if their defense continues to struggle with guys like White and Uthoff, it will be hard for Minnesota to stay afloat relying mainly on executing their half court sets to perfection.

Iowa's transition defense was up to the task last time, and I think they will be up to the task this time at home. Minnesota could beat Iowa, and it wouldn't be total surprise. But I really like Iowa to get another solid win for their NCAA Tournament resume here.