Iowa From 1000 Feet

Submitted by Brian on January 22nd, 2014 at 12:54 PM


via BHGP, obviously

Ace will have your official preview in a bit, but Iowa's such an interesting team and important game that I thought I would go over some high-level stuff. Iowa goes 11 deep—seriously—so Ace might need a bit of a breather anyway.

They're fast. This is a major contrast in styles, as Iowa is 12th in adjusted tempo while Michigan is 307th. This is because Iowa gets shots off faster than anyone in the country save BYU and Northwestern State.

Opponents tend to take a lot of time to get their shots off, in contrast. Iowa's defensive possession length for Iowa is actually identical to Michigan's.


fee fi fo fum

They're huge. The starting lineup is a seven-footer, two 6-9, guys, a 6-6 shooting guard, and a regular ol' point guard. While that lineup doesn't stay on the floor together that much because Iowa's got 'em working in shifts, they bring a 6-10 guy and a 6-9 guy off the bench. The overall largeness has them in the top ten in Kenpom's effective height stat, and this shows up in the places you'd expect it to: offensive rebounding, blocking shots, and two point defense.

Their defense may be more questionable than it appears on paper. Iowa is benefiting from a weird combination right now: opponents are taking a ton of threes (37% of FGAs) and making a horrible percentage (28%). Kenpom posted about this for much of the last couple years, finding that with certain limited exceptions basketball teams are better off preventing threes from being launched than relying on their ability to defend them, because it appears that teams have about as much control over three-point makes as they do free throw makes.

Now, it is possible that the aforementioned hugeness prevents teams from getting good looks from inside the line and results in a lot of late shot clock jacks, but against reasonable competition that doesn't appear to be the case. Two point shooting by major conference opponents against Iowa this year:

  • vs Xavier: 48% (Iowa W 77-74 in OT)
  • vs Villanova: 52% (Iowa L 88-83 in OT)
  • Notre Dame: 53% (W 98-93)
  • @ Iowa State: 52% (L 85-82)
  • Nebraska: 31% (W 67-57)
  • @ Wisconsin 32% (L 75-71)
  • Northwestern: 51% (W 93-67)
  • @ Ohio State: 51% (W 84-74)
  • Minnesota: 50% (W 94-73)

The Nebraska and Wisconsin games seem like outliers amongst a general trend of Iowa giving up a lot of good shots from within the line. Meanwhile, Wisconsin was 10/22 from three and Nebraska 5 of 18. Conclusion: Iowa is benefiting from a healthy dose of luck when it comes to opponent three point shooting. Also, despite the height this defense looks like it can be had by Michigan's eviscerating pick and roll game.

Obvious statement of the week: stay out of transition. This is a game in which clichéd color commentator bloviating will actually be right on. Michigan's transition defense is weak. So weak as to be nearly nonexistent:

The Wolverines are allowing a 66.1% eFG% in transition situations, the second worst in the country. Michigan’s half-court eFG% allowed is a more impressive 43.7%, but that leaves a 22.5% gap between Michigan’s halfcourt and transition defenses. That transition defense drop-off is the largest in the country.

Michigan has responded by abandoning the offensive glass; that combined with their inherent Michigan-ness (lot of makes, vanishingly few turnovers) has prevented that weakness from crushing their overall defensive numbers.

Iowa, meanwhile, is fast. Almost 40% of Iowa's shots come in the first ten seconds of the shot clock and their eFG% on those shots is 61%. Those numbers are sixth nationally and in the top 50. That's crazy impressive.

Michigan's transition offense is even more efficient, just used a lot less; meanwhile, Iowa's extensive experience with open-court basketball sees them check in with an impressive 50% transition eFG% on defense. Discretion may be the better part of valor on two on two breaks and the like. Also, you might want to be a little more cautious in that department because…


Michigan needs to do a better job on the defensive boards than they did against Arizona [Fuller]

You're probably going to want to fling everyone at the defensive boards. Iowa crushes the offensive boards and gets putbacks and fouls off of their rebounds. They've got 88 putback attempts on the year to Michigan's 51 and are much, much better at converting them; this is also where big chunks of the White/Olaseni/Basabe free throw parade comes from. Everyone who's not contesting the shooter should head right for the defensive glass.

HORSE don't fail me now. Michigan wins this game by imposing their HORSE style of play—I get a shot, you get a shot, no fouls, no possession advantage, no transition—on Iowa. This is obviously easier said than done against this Iowa.

FWIW, last year's single meeting was

  • a 67-possession affair (draw)
  • in which Iowa shot ten FTs (M win)
  • and got crushed on the boards (M win)
  • and allowed Michigan to shoot 65%/46% (M win).

That was the game when undefeated Michigan looked their very best in a 95-67 throttling. This Iowa team is much better in all departments and will not go down so meekly, but in general the last couple years when Michigan has come up against teams that draw a lot of FTs and force a lot of TOs, they have imposed their style on the opponent.

Against a team that gives up a lot of threes and healthy two point percentages (for the most part) Michigan just needs to hit shots. Hitting shots both gives you points and slows down the opponent. Make this Adam Jacobi's worst game ever.



January 22nd, 2014 at 2:22 PM ^

i can't put a finger on exactly how it happened -- it's a meme from twitter that took on a life of its own. jacobi said something like "horses can't play football" one day, and then people kept hounding him about how horses could be good at playing football. he hates horses.  like, really hates them.


January 22nd, 2014 at 1:48 PM ^

I just cannot help but think that something doesn't add up. I looked at Pomeroy's scatterplot, and I just cannot help but think he's looking at this in a way that's just too macro(involving too many uncontrolled variables) to be useful. Has anyone done a study of 3pt percentage vs openness? Because that would be convincing(although necissarily subjective). You watch Stauskas in shoot around...What is his record? 40 something in a row? Standing by himself wide open. I have to believe that 3pt defense matters. Or he'd be approaching that percentage in games.


January 22nd, 2014 at 2:02 PM ^

Kenpom isn't suggesting that 3 point defense doesn't matter, just 3pt FG% allowed doesn't capture any of that.  Unless you are late in the shot clock or Brandon Jennings you aren't taking too many contested 3 pointers, nor should you.  Teams that are very good at defending the perimeter cause the other team to not shoot, not shoot and miss.


January 22nd, 2014 at 3:24 PM ^

is that teams generally don't take contested 3 pointers.  If you have a hand in someone's face, he's not going to end up taking a 3.  Thus, 3 point field goal percentage is mostly measuring how well teams shoot in situations where they had a good enough look to actually pull the trigger, and most of the variance in that is random chance.  


January 22nd, 2014 at 3:56 PM ^

rather than by % allowed is that teams tend to shoot threes when they are open, and dont when they arent... thus most teams have a roughly similar distribution of the opennesss of attempts agaisnt them.  Thus measuring attempts would imply a certain amount of each type... open, semi contested and heavily contested.  And that % allowed is highly variant and that most teams havent played enough games for that to normalize, and likely wont by the end of the year.


January 22nd, 2014 at 1:48 PM ^

Let Stauskas shoot a lot of 3's, watch him hold up 3 fingers after the made 3's, induce the swag factor x10, and then win the the game on an thunderous GRIII dunk


January 22nd, 2014 at 2:01 PM ^

equals victory. Works for me. 

It's kind of interesting that Iowa uses its uptempo offense to offset any defensive limitations and force the other team to either match possessions  or scoring punch. Michigan doesn't mind playing that kind of game. 

The trouble is, this kind of game lends itself to a lot streaky basketball and not to many easy baskets. 

Wolverine In Iowa

January 22nd, 2014 at 3:28 PM ^

Iowa annoys the fuck out of me, and my wife is a big Hawkeye fan.  We will be communicating via Facebook only tonight, despite sitting next to each other.  I may be communicating with the TV with a mild case of Tourette's, as well.