The loss at Northwestern back on February 15th was certainly frustrating. Not only had Iowa just lost to a team that had not won in their last ten games played, but the offense was off and the defense looked about as porous as it had at end of last season. With back-to-back losses to Minnesota and Northwestern -- during a portion of the schedule that was supposed to be "easier" -- it looked Iowa might be in line for another disappointing February and March.
Yet, here we are today. The Hawkeyes are winners of six straight, and not only is the offense looking good, but the defense is looking much better, too. This team looks about as cohesive as it has looked all year, and that trend continued at home against the Wildcats on Saturday. Aaron White threw a dunk party in his last game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Jarrod Uthoff also got in on the festivities, while tossing in 3 three-pointers to boot. And Adam Woodbury came out of his recent funk, racking up second chance points and playing great defense on Alex Olah.
Those three guys were the stars of the show on offense. But with the way this squad played defense on Saturday, this 17-point victory was a complete team effort. The Hawkeyes are really firing on all cylinders right now. I don't think any team wants to play them right now.
Four Factors in Review
First Half Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.01, Northwestern 0.82
First Half Possessions: 33
Second Half Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.27, Northwestern 0.88
Second Half Possessions: 28
Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.13, Northwestern 0.85
Needless to say, Iowa's offense looked much better against Northwestern's 2-3 zone this time around. The threes were flying and falling at a similar rate to the last time, but the Hawkeyes looked a lot better finishing at the rim.
(Shot charts courtesy of Shot Analytics.)
|Iowa||2pt Near Rim||2pt Jumper||3Pt FG|
This time around, Iowa shot doubly as well as they did near the basket in Evanston. Rather than having 12 of their shots blocked, the Hawkeyes only saw 3 of them redirected. Aaron White and Adam Woodbury both finished much better in traffic this time around, but Iowa's offense didn't always have much traffic to finish in either. Rather, the Hawkeyes had 5 alley-oops on the day (3 by White and 2 by Jarrod Uthoff) and Aaron White's 2 other dunks weren't contested either. The Hawkeyes got out in transition quite a few times in this game. Not necessarily out on the fast break, but they were looking to get down the court before the zone defense could get set up. This materialized in the first alley-oop to Aaron White that Mike Gesell threw from mid-court after a Northwestern make. And some of Iowa's threes were also in this manner, before the defense could get set and contest the shot.
When they did run their half court offense, Iowa's ball movement looked much better against the Wildcat zone this time around. Unlike last time, they didn't just pass it around the perimeter, but guys flashed to the middle and Mike Gesell frequently penetrated the interior and found his teammates for open looks. Iowa also found open looks from three on the wings and in the corners due to spacing and smart passing. Aaron White opened the game with a three from the corner on an extra pass from the wing, and for the remainder of the game, all it took was the fake of making that pass to the corner to get the wing-defender in the zone to jump to the corner and leave an Iowa shooter open from the wing (I forgot to Vine those plays).
|Northwestern||2pt Near Rim||2pt Jumper||3Pt FG|
Northwestern, meanwhile, didn't shoot the ball all that terribly. They were pretty even with Iowa all game long, and they even had a good number of their threes fall on the day. Instead, what really killed them was the disparity in scoring attempts. Thanks to turnover issues and only grabbing one offensive rebound on the day (LOL, we will get to that soon), Iowa had a season-best 19 more scoring opportunities than Northwestern did. When you take free throw possessions (free throw attempts multiplied by 0.475) and add them to the number of field goals that Iowa had, the Hawkeyes finished the day with 68 scoring opportunities, while the Wildcats had a measly 49.
Iowa had a slightly better eFG% on the day, but if we look at true shooting percentage (TS%, adds in free throw shooting), Northwestern shot slightly better. Again, though, 53% on 49 scoring opportunities is nothing when the other team 51% on 68.
Northwestern has actually been pretty good this year about not turning the ball over. But, for whatever reason, that seems to change when they have played Iowa this year. Even in the first match up in Evanston, turnovers almost cost Northwestern the game. This time it did.
Iowa's length on defense really bothered the Wildcats and that directly led to 15 turnovers, 8 of which were steals. Against Northwestern's half court offense, Iowa jumped the passing lane, trapped and knocked passes down, and forced Alex Olah into a few traveling violations. And, also similar to last time, the Wildcats struggled pretty hard with Iowa's use of pressure coming up the court. McCaffery not only threw his usual 1-2-2 three-quarter court press at them, but he also used some full court pressure too. I don't have the exact total, but the pressure up the court was responsible for at least 3 of Iowa's 15 forced turnovers.
As for Iowa, the Hawkeyes had just 6 turnovers on the day and Northwestern managed 9 points off of them. But, again, the disparity in this category killed Northwestern, as Iowa scored 19 points after Wildcat turnovers on the day.
This is probably my favorite category of the game. Northwestern managed 1, yes 1, offensive rebound for the entire 40 minutes of play. How in the hell is that possible, you ask? I'm not really sure. I mean, it's not like Iowa's a great defensive rebounding team or anything. Once you adjust for strength of schedule, they are probably an average squad on the defensive glass. But Northwestern is not a great offensive rebounding team, and sometimes when two weaknesses go up against each other, one emerges as an overwhelming strength. And I guess that's what Iowa's defensive rebounding did on Saturday.
As for when Iowa had the ball, they came away with an offensive rebounding rate that was right around their very good season average. Northwestern's zone, for as much as it has been praised for turning around the end of their season, looked like a negative when it came to defensive rebounding against Iowa. Every time a shot went up, Northwestern struggled to get a body on an Iowa player. The poor play defensively on the wings by Northwestern hurt Alex Olah a little bit too. He may have had 10 defensive rebounds on the day, but he was frequently getting pulled away from the basket on rotations and unable to block out Adam Woodbury. Woody had 5 offensive rebounds on the day, and a lot of times it was because Olah was nowhere near him and there was a smaller Northwestern player doing their best to box him out, but to no avail.
The real big difference between the last time these two teams played, is that Iowa actually finished on their second chance attempts this time. Not only did they haul in 13 more offensive boards than Northwestern, Iowa also outscored them 16-0 in second chance points. That is complete and utter domination, my friends.
Free Throw Rate
This was the lone category that Northwestern won. Iowa actually finished the day with 2 more free throw attempts than the Wildcats, but the Hawkeyes had 18 more field goal attempts to create that extra trip to the line. The Wildcats also shot much better than Iowa did from the charity stripe on the day (86% compared to 69%).
I thought this would be a much bigger category after the previous game between these two teams, but it ended up not really mattering.
Overall: Iowa won 3 of 4 Factors
For the fifth straight game, the best player on the court (according to adjusted game score per minute) was none other than the ginger ninja himself, Aaron White. In his final game in Carver-Hawkeye arena, White scored 25 points on 10-18 shooting from the field and 2-4 shooting from the line.
White wasn't his usual foul-drawing self, but it didn't matter at all. Instead, he continued to add the tree-point shot to his arsenal, sinking 3 of his 5 attempts from downtown on the day. And after struggling from long range for like 90% of his college career, it's pretty fitting that his final bucket in Carver was a three.
But for as good as his shooting from distance was, the most memorable aspect of his game was above the rim on the afternoon. White was seriously a human highlight reel on Saturday, soaring above Northwestern's zone and slamming it down on their heads time and time again. The back line of the zone defense employed by the Wildcats either didn't get set up, or just plain fell asleep on Aaron White and suffered the consequences. I said it during the Syracuse game back in November, but this game was the quintessential example of what I meant when I said that Aaron White was the perfect player to have against a zone defense.
Adam Woodbury actually finished with the same 0.66 adjusted game score per minute that Aaron White did, only he did it in 24 minutes on the hardwood and not 33. That's not to take anything away from his performance, though, because he busted out of his recent slump in a real big way. He only grabbed 5 rebounds on the day, but all 5 of them were on offense. And making that statistic even better is the fact that he scored on all but one of those attempts. Of Woodbury's 13 points on the day, 8 of them came on second chance opportunities.
These are the types of games where we see how dominant and imposing of a force Woodbury can be. Let's hope we see this more consistently next year.
As for the final real standout for Iowa, Jarrod Uthoff had himself a game too. He scored 16 points on 6-12 shooting from the floor (3-7 from long range) and went 1-2 at the free throw line.
Uthoff was his usual fairly automatic self from three-point range, but he was also as aggressive with the basketball as I've seen him before. He's shown flashes of athleticism in the past, but it seems like it comes and goes and he's been labeled as more of a jump-shooter because of it. Well, he showed off that athleticism against Northwestern, throwing down 2 alley-oops and laying in a very smooth finger roll in traffic. And, of course, Uthoff did his usual box score-stuffing, grabbing 8 rebounds (2 offensive), stealing 3 balls, blocking 2 shots, and handing out an assist.
Finally, bullet points.
- Back to Jarrod Uthoff for a moment. The athleticism and aggressiveness he showed against Northwestern is the one thing that has been missing from his game this year. He's had a great season, and I'm not taking anything away from him. But I think that is the next step if he wants to become the nationally-acclaimed player that he's capable of becoming. He's the best mid-range shooter on the team and I don't have a problem with him taking open shots from there. However, his efficiency would go through the roof if he attacked the basket more. Last year he was afraid to shoot at times, but he's become a fearless shooter this year. The next step is to attack the rim fearlessly too.
- This was a game in which Adam Woodbury was briefly a point guard out on the break. Never forget.
- Senior Day was definitely special for Aaron White, but I think it was also pretty good for Josh Oglesby and Gabe Olaseni. Josh's shot wasn't falling, but he did hit a three in his final game in Carver and he also played some very good defense. Olaseni only scored 2 points in 15 minutes, but he also collected 3 rebounds and a blocked shot. Even with the limited box score stats for him in this one, Olaseni is easily my vote for the Sixth Man of the Year.
- Speaking of postseason awards, Aaron White should be on the First-Team All-Big Ten roster. No doubt about it. If you look at his Kenpom numbers, you will see he is 25th in the nation in offensive rating, 51st in TS%, 487th in offensive rebounding, 287th in defensive rebounding, 81st in turnovers, 428th in steals, 31st in free throw rate, 41st in fouls drawn per minute, and 31st in fouls called per minute. He's always been nationally ranked in a lot of categories by Kenpom, but most of those are career-highs for him. And that 25th in the nation ranking for offensive rating is second in the Big Ten only to Frank Kaminsky. And to make it even more interesting, Kaminsky's offensive rating is 126.7, while White's is 126.6. There is little doubt in my mind that he belongs on the First-Team All-Big Ten. I'm hoping the voters think so too after his excellent finish to the season.
- Keeping with Aaron White, let's talk about dunks. Somehow, White's 5 dunks on the day only tied for the second best performance in his career. Two seasons ago, he had 6 dunks on Coppin State and 5 on Virginia Tech. That sparked a question from Twitter user @foojenkins, asking which team White has the most career dunks against. I crunched the numbers from my spreadsheets and Northwestern came out on top. In 10 career games against the Wildcats, Aaron White has 19 dunks or 1.9 per game. Here's a chart that plots the number of dunks and the number of games against each Big Ten team.
- I also tallied dunks against in-state teams because Iowa plays them just about every year. White has 5 dunks in 4 games against Iowa State (1.25 per game) and 3 in 2 vs. Drake (1.5 per game). Somehow, though, White has never slammed it home on UNI in his 3 games against them. Crazy.
- White pushed his season total to 57 dunks, and ended the regular season conference schedule with at least 1 dunk in each game. He currently has a dunk in 19 straight games. Here is the updated table:
|Aaron White Dunk-O-Meter||Freshman||Sophomore||Junior||Senior||Career|
|Field Goals Made||136||140||143||148||567|
The final game of the regular season went about as smooth as it possibly could have gone. Iowa was looking for revenge, and they certainly exacted it. Now it's time for tournament season. Hopefully this end-of-season momentum will carry on into March Madness.