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MARYLAND 93, IOWA 88: ALMOST GOT 'EM

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Iowa engages in another fast-paced, high-scoring shootout -- but comes out on the wrong end this time.

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa headed to College Park, MD on Sunday for their first-ever Big Ten match-up with the #5 Terrapins -- and also battled for a share of first place in the Big Ten.  They came up short in that effort -- but not by much.  For the most part, Iowa's blistering shooting against Northwestern last Thursday carried over to their game against Maryland yesterday afternoon.  Iowa opened the game on an 8-0 run and made five 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes and though they cooled off after that, they still shot very well for the game: 53% (31/59) from the floor, 53% (8/15) from deep, and 82% (18/22) from the free throw line.  That offensive display was even more impressive when you factor in that Maryland boasted the Big Ten's best scoring defense and had been holding opponents to 24% shooting from 3-point range. Offense certainly wasn't the problem for the Hawkeyes.

Defense, on the other hand, was definitely an issue.  After giving up 99 points to Northwestern on Thursday night, Iowa gave up 93 points to the Terps.  It's, uh, tough to win ballgames when you let the other team score 90+.  One of the reasons behind the incredible points explosion in Iowa's last two games is pace: there were 72.5 possessions in the Iowa-Northwestern game and 75.6 possessions in the Iowa-Maryland game.  For comparison's sake, the fastest-paced team in men's basketball is VMI, who runs 79.5 possessions per game.  The Iowa men have only topped 70 possessions in six games this year (half of which were cupcake beatings) and hasn't come close to that mark in Big Ten play.

But it's not just an increased number of possessions that's led to teams scoring more points against Iowa, either -- they're also efficiently using those possessions.  Northwestern averaged 1.28 points per possession versus Iowa, while Maryland averaged 1.23.  Northwestern shot 54% against Iowa and while Maryland didn't shoot that well (46%), they were able to exploit another advantage: offensive rebounds.  The Terps had 18 offense rebounds, while Iowa had just 8 offensive rebounds.  Those led to additional field goal attempts (Maryland had 65, versus 59 for Iowa) and free throw attempts (Maryland had 35, versus 22 for Iowa), which helped the Terps overcome better shooting from Iowa.  (Maryland had a 28-6 advantage in second-chance points, which... yeah, that's enormous.)

Iowa's defense hasn't really been particularly great all season (Iowa ranks 9th in the Big Ten in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense), but it's been worse than usual the past two games.  It's been off-set to an extent by Iowa's amazingly good shooting and while Iowa does have a very good offense with a host of good shooters, I doubt they can rely on shooting better than 50% on a nightly basis.  It would be very nice to see the defense sharpen up over the next few games.

* * *

Despite the loss, Iowa actually moved up in this week's AP poll, moving from #20 last week to #16 this week. Winning two of three games last week -- one of them over previously #15 Nebraska -- no doubt helped.  Playing Maryland so close on the road likely didn't hurt matters, either.  Iowa is the second-highest ranked team in the Big Ten, behind only #5 Maryland.

Bracketology-wise, Iowa holds firm at 3-seed.

Iowa has two games this week, a Thursday home game against Ohio State (7 PM CT, BTN Plus) and a Sunday road game against Wisconsin (2 PM CT, BTN Plus).  The Buckeyes are part of a trio of teams tied for 3rd place in the league at 7-3.  The Buckeyes have been a longtime nemesis for the Hawkeyes, so there should be a little added fire for Iowa in that game.  Ohio State also boasts one of the league's most potent offenses (81.4 ppg in Big Ten play), so we could see another shootout in their game with Iowa (if the Hawkeyes don't get tripped up by Ohio State's 38% field goal defense, that is).  Wisconsin is just 4-7 in Big Ten play and 8-13 overall.  Iowa can ill afford to overlook them, though.  Prior to their loss to Maryland on Sunday, Iowa's only Big Ten loss all season had come in a road game against a bad Illinois team (2-8 in Big Ten, 11-11 overall).  If Iowa gets complacent or isn't hitting their shots, they could easily be upset by the Badgers.