When? Monday, December 4 at 8:00pm EST - BTN
Where? Assembly Hall, Bloomington, IN
Vegas? -4.5 Indiana, O/U 152.5
Pomeroy? Indiana 76-74, 59% chance of victory
At 4-4, there’s very little doubt as to who this Hoosiers team will be in 2018: A young, promising club that will struggle with consistency—rising to big, “circle-the-date” games, while often struggling to win the games without an appropriate level of hullabaloo.
A strong performance against Duke last week was quickly followed by a [predictable] letdown game in Ann Arbor, and as the team tries to find its groove in Archie Miller’s new system… it’s safe to assume we’ll see quite a bit more of both. It’s the nature of these types of transition seasons—and few Indiana fans would have predicted a great deal more heading into this season.
And yet despite a similar start, the same can’t be said for Iowa. The Hawkeyes entered this season fresh off a 2016-2017 season that, though it finished with a 19-15 record, showcased a handful of talented freshman and promised big things for Iowa in 2018—even with the loss of star Peter Jok.
But thus far the Hawkeyes are 4-4, with losses to Louisiana-Lafayette and South Dakota State, and it appears that Jok’s absence—along with the inconsistency of a team led by underclassmen—has hindered Iowa more than expected.
Ah yes, I DO have some factors...
|INDIANA (#47 adj. offense)||54.4 (68th)||17.9 (105th)||65.2 (288th)||33.1 (224th)|
|IOWA (#132 adj. defense)||48.9 (122nd)||18.4 (223rd)||-||34.7 (173rd)|
|IOWA (#60 adj. offense)||55.1 (57th)||19.6 (188th)||66.4 (281st)||39.7 (46th)|
|INDIANA (#203 adj. defense)||54.4 (276th)||18.8 (188th)||-||40.7 (327th)|
First, some good news for the Iowa Hawkeyes: Tyler Cook exists, and is awesome. Cook is leading the Hawkeyes in points per game, PER, and is second on the team in offensive rating (122.5). Plus, he did this to Penn State’s Shep Garner on Saturday…
Tyler Cook dunks over defender in transition! pic.twitter.com/WlmG7YFecq— Courtside Films (@CourtsideFilms) December 3, 2017
In the backcourt, Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss have both been solid this season, notching 59.7% and 54.1% eFG%, respectively—while taking care of the ball at a relatively efficient rate. Meanwhile, solid contributions from freshmen Luka Garza and Jack Nunge down low have opened things up for Cook, and, on paper, Iowa looks as though they’ve had a satisfying start to the season.
But when you dig into the game logs, you’ll find that this team has struggled mightily to keep their effort consistent game-to-game, especially on the offensive end.
Despite their 55.1% eFG on the season, there have been three games thus far in which in the Hawkeyes have hit less than 50% from the field—two of which ended with a sub-40% FG mark on the day. They’re getting to the line at a great clip, with an FTA/FGA that ranks 14th in the country, but are only hitting a little over 60% of their free throws thus far.
And though Cook’s progression has no doubt been a fantastic silver lining for the Hawkeyes, it’s also forced Fran McCaffery’s club to shift its traditionally perimeter-oriented offense to one focused on getting Cook the ball down low. Though they’re shooting nearly 40% from the perimeter, it’s the first time since 2015 that Iowa’s 3-pt distribution is below the country’s average (29.2% of their points are coming from beyond the arc).
Defensively, they’ve been all over the place on the perimeter—marked by two losses (Penn State and South Dakota State), in which they gave up a 3-pt rate higher than 50% on the day. Meanwhile, despite the offense production of Cook, Garza, and Nunge… the low-post trio is also giving up a 31% offensive rebounding rate that lands them 237th in the country.
All that said, a lot of the huffing and puffing about the Hawkeyes’ issues feels a bit overblown—they’re a young team, and they’re making a lot of young team mistakes. They’ll no doubt figure out their issues by the end of the 2018 campaign (as will our Indiana Hoosiers, I predict… so circle February 17 on those calendars, gang). There’s simply too much athleticism and talent on this roster, and McCaffery’s too good a coach.
But as of now, they’re a team searching for a foothold on which to build their season, so here’s what to watch for tonight at Assembly Hall...
1. De’Ron Davis vs. Tyler Cook. This is the match-up we should all be glued to our TVs for—as two of the conference’s most promising young big men, and the centerpieces for each of their respective teams, go head-to-head tonight. Cook will no doubt try to use his athleticism to draw fouls from Davis—he’s drawing 8 fouls per 40 minutes thus far this season, while Davis seems to be in foul trouble as soon as he arrives in the building. Still, Davis played excellently against Marvin Bagley III last week (save for a few questionable low-post fouls), and as long as he can play smart defense, he has a great chance to limit Cook’s production.
Of course, Juwan Morgan is coming off his best game of the season against Michigan, and if Davis gets into foul trouble early, Morgan will no doubt step in to take on Cook. But this could be a statement game for Davis, and with Garza and Nunge both playing well, I like putting the smaller and more seasoned Morgan on Iowa’s two freshman—while allowing Davis to use his athleticism and physicality against Cook.
2. Indiana’s backcourt vs. Bohannon and Moss. Despite a relatively benign turnover rate of 19.6% for Iowa, teams are finding success by pressuring these young guards early on in possessions. Without Jok drawing defenses away, Bohannon, in particular, has struggled to get things set up for the Hawkeyes—leading to an abysmal 10.5% steal rate offensively for Iowa.
Despite the box scores, I believe Indiana’s guards have improved their defensive effort over the last few games, and have done a better job in Miller’s complicated pack-line man-to-man defense. But it will be imperative for the Hoosiers backcourt to play with active hands tonight, and get into passing lanes early and often to disrupt a Hawkeyes team getting 64% of its field goals off of assists this season.
Look for Devonte Green, who is leading the team with just over a steal per game, to get up into these young Hawkeyes guards, and for Indiana to look for quick scores off of turnovers throughout the day.
3. Can Assembly Hall stay intimidating? Bloomington rocked Assembly Hall last week against Duke. But on a Monday night, following an uninspiring loss, with significantly less hype around this conference home opener… it’ll be interesting to see how raucous the environment is. Against these Hawkeyes, who struggled mightily down the stretch in their first true road environment against Virginia Tech, the answer to that question could have a huge impact on the final score in Bloomington tonight.
To me, this is a match-up that favors the Hoosiers.
True, the 3-pt shooting from Iowa should be a concern, and yes, Iowa’s ability to get to the free throw line is worrisome—especially down low. But the Hawkeyes seem to be in complete reset mode with their offensive sets, and defensively there’s no indication that the pressure they’ll bring to the table will be too much for Indiana to handle—they’re not forcing an absurd amount of turnovers, nor are they logging steals at an above average rate.
Plus, against the Hoosiers’ patient gameplan, Iowa may try to step outside its comfort zone and push the pace, which I predict will end badly for the Hawkeyes.
So long as the Hoosiers can handle some early punches from Cook, Bohannon, and company, I think they’ll pull away in the second half for their first conference win of the season. Indiana 82 Iowa 68