Pre-Game Franalysis: Iowa vs. Virginia

By Matthew Lundeen on November 23, 2016 at 11:30a
Iowa takes on Virginia and their stingy defense in the Emerald Coast Classic.

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

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In a rematch from the 2013 NIT, Iowa takes on Virginia in the Emerald Coast Classic on Friday.

Iowa (3-1) vs. Virginia (4-0)
Time: 6:00 PM CT on Friday, November 25th
Location: The Arena at Northwest Florida State
Tickets: Emerald Coast Classic
TV/Streaming: CBS Sports Network

Note: All numbers are scaled so that zero is equal to the Division I average in each category. Anything higher than zero means that a team is better than average in that category. Meanwhile, anything less than zero means that a team is below average in that category.

While Seton Hall was the best defense that Iowa has played to date, that distinction for the Pirates will be shortlived because Virginia is on another level. This Cavalier defense is currently ranked #1 in the country by Kenpom, allowing just 0.87 adjusted points per possession. Over their last three games, opponents have scored the following point totals: 32, 38, and 34. Yes, it's true that they have yet to play an opponent ranked better than 120th in the country, but those point totals are still insane no matter who you are playing.

So how is Virginia so good at defense? I mean, besides the obvious fact that Tony Bennett is a wizard? It all comes down to defensive strategy. And Bennett runs the defense his father made famous: the pack line

Essentially, the Cavalier defense forces everything to the middle of the floor by taking away the corners/baseline. The man defending the ball is the only one who will stray further out than the invisible line that lies just inside the three-point line. With the other four men staying inside that invisible line (think of it as a smaller three-point line), this allows the defense to deny easy passes into the post (and if the ball gets in there, they automatically send a double-team) and to always be in position to help on potential cutters and drivers. What that leaves for the other team, is mainly jump shots -- and contested ones, if all goes according to plan. 

So how can Iowa beat this? Well, Peter Jok will have to be on his game. And, really, it would help if all of Iowa's shooters showed up for this one. Because of the way Virginia's defense is designed, they allow a ton of three-point attempts, and if Iowa makes them, they can win this game. But beyond Peter Jok and others making their jumpers, Iowa will need to run, run, and run some more. This young Hawkeye team trying to play a half-court, grind it out game against this Virginia defense probably isn't going to lead to great things for McCaffery's team. So, if they can run after misses, run after makes, and run off of turnovers it would allow Iowa to cash in on those easy points before the Virginia defense is able to get set. 

The bad news, though, is that Virginia is really hard to run on. If you go to Hoop-Math.com and check the transition defense leaderboards for any year, you will see Virginia ranked among the best teams in the country in limiting the amount of shot attempts their foes take in the first 10 seconds of a possession. Last year they were #6 in the nation, and so far this season they are #4. 

And to just pour it on, they also block shots, force turnovers, limit offensive rebounds, and abstain from fouling. Iowa is going to need to take Virginia out of their element by running, knocking down threes, and taking care of the ball. Unfortunately, I'm not sure they can do that.

Advantage: Virginia

For as much talk as their is about Virginia's well-oiled machine of a defense, their offense has been almost as consistently good under Tony Bennett. This year's team is without their two leading scorers from last season in Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, but senior London Perrantes is back, and there are some other good pieces surrounding him. 

Now, as I'm sure most of you are aware of, Virginia is slow -- they are all about ball-control and limiting possessions. But, unlike most slow-it-down teams, Virginia isn't an all-triples type of offense. In fact, historically, Tony Bennett-coached teams, more often than not, shoot a lot more two-pointers than the average Division I team. This season could be different, however, as they are currently hovering around the Division I mean through four games. But is that a sign of this year's team having more shooters (Perrantes, Guy, and Thompson can all bury them) or a symptom of playing four games against bad competition? 

Whatever the case, Virginia is going to run their mover-blocker version of a motion offense and they essentially take whatever the defense gives them off out of it. In essence, the offense designates three players as "movers" (guys who run off screens), and two players as "blockers" (the guys who set the screens). This allows for a lot of possibilities, as they can: play the pick-and-roll game off of ball screens; they can find movers cutting for easy baskets at the rim; they can find movers spotting up for easy three-point attempts; or they can simply find the blockers posting up at the basket for an easy layup or open for a mid-range jumper.

No matter what option they go with on a particular offensive possession, the offense has done well in just about every area against cupcake defenses this season. They have shot the ball well (much better from two-point range than three), limited turnovers, and rebounded their misses. The only thing they haven't done, is get to the free throw line. However, that's more of a stylistic thing than a deficiency. 

Meanwhile, Iowa's defense has been a roller coaster ride so far this year. Leaving aside the last game against UTRGV, the Hawkeyes have played very good defense in the first half of games, while letting things slip away in the second half. Through their four game sample, the only real things that have stood out have been their ability to take the ball away from other teams and keep their opponent off the foul line. The latter should hold up against Virginia, but I think the turnover battle is going to be a big key to this game. Forcing turnovers would not only keep points off the board for the Cavaliers, but it would also give Iowa more opportunities to cash in on easy transition buckets. But, considering Virginia is all about taking care of the rock, that's easier said then done. 

Advantage: Virginia

Team Shooting Tendencies

shooting

Note: In the following charts, negative is actually good for a defense. It means that team's opponents are below average shooting in that category or that the defense suppresses those types of shots.

Both teams have shot the ball well from the floor this season. The difference comes at the free throw line, where Iowa's main foul-drawing players (all big men) are struggling to connect on their free ones. Meanwhile, when Virginia does get to the line, they regularly get the job done.

On defense, Virginia has absolutely stymied everyone so far. Iowa, on the other hand, has defended inside the three-point line well, but have been bad/unlucky when it comes to defending the perimeter. It's only four games, but I will remind you that three-point shooting (especially, in small samples) is very luck-dependent, and that a defense has more control over the amount of three-pointers they allow. Iowa is allowing fewer three-point attempts than the D-1 average right now, so that's good. But, again, it is only four games. 

shots

Attempts-wise, Iowa has been very reliant on the three-point shot this season. Last season's percentage of field goal attempts that were threes was the highest of any Iowa team under Fran, and this year's team is on pace to crush that. It's only four games, of course, but we are getting into Todd Lickliter-Iowa territory right now (with better results, obviously), and I wouldn't expect that to change against a Cavalier defense that forces long jump shots.

The Cavaliers are also shooting a lot more threes than normal early on this season. However, Iowa's defense has limited/played some teams that don't shoot a ton of threes so far, so Virginia may not take a bunch of shots from outside. 

points

As for points, Iowa is getting the bulk of their points from downtown, thanks to their many attempts and their team conversion rate of 38% from out their. And Virginia gets most of their points via two-pointers because they are making 61% of them this season -- a number that's good for #12 in the nation. 

Players to Know

Note: The horizontal axis represents a player's usage rate, while the vertical axis represents a player's offensive rating. The logo size represents playing time (bigger means more time on the court). This chart should tell us how involved in the offense the player is, how efficient they are in doing so, and in how many minutes per game they accomplish all of this.

London Perrantes PG -- At 6'2", the senior Perrantes is more of a shooting guard in a point guard's body. Iowa does need to respect his ability to penetrate the defense and find the open man once the defense collapses, but Perrantes best skill on offense is his his shooting. Because Perrantes is the catalyst of this offense, he is not only the best assist man on the team, but he's also one of the most dangerous shooters. Bennett's mover-blocker offense uses his skillset by setting setting ball screens for him, allowing him to get open looks from three or to play the pick-and-roll game with the screening big. On top of that, he can run off of screens or spot up on the perimeter while the ball is moving around. He's a 41% career three-point shooter and he takes a little more than half of his attempts from outside. So yeah, he's pretty dangerous. 

He's also very good on defense. Virginia's system encourages the on-ball defender to get up in the face of their man and play pressure defense, and Perrantes excels at that. He was 22nd in the country in steals last season, and his rate is actually higher through four games this season. And, despite all the pressure he applies, he rarely gets whistled for fouls. That means Iowa's young point guards are going to need to be very careful with the ball. 

Marial Shayok SG/SF -- Shayok is a long and athletic wing, who is probably one of (if not the) best slashers on the team. While Perrantes is the guy who makes this offense go, Shayok actually leads the team in scoring through four games (12.5 per contest), and has done so off the bench. He can and will shoot the three if you leave him open on the perimeter (he's a 39% shooter for his career), but two-thirds of his shots come inside the three-point line -- and many of those are in the lane or at the rim. Like Perrentes, Shayok is also very good on the defensive end. He's currently first on the team in steals and 87th in the country, but he also uses his athleticism and length to block shots. Fortunately, Peter Jok has a quick release, so hopefully Shayok won't be swatting too many of Iowa's threes in this one. 

Darius Thompson SG -- Like Shayok, Thompson is a junior wing player. He plays pretty good defense and gets a few steals here and there, but really, he is a scorer for this team. He's scoring just shy of 10 points per game so far, and he's doing it by getting to the rim and by knocking down threes. Over his career, Thompson has been close to 60/40 in favor of two-pointers and that doesn't seem much different this season. But the big difference is that he's making everything so far this year. It's only four games against questionable competition, of course, but a 72% eFG% is nothing to sneeze at. On the other hand, he has had some legitimate turnover concerns over his career and this year has not been any different. Hopefully Iowa can find a way to pick his pocket a handful of times. 

Kyle Guy SG -- Guy is a true freshman who was busy being named Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana last season. The highly-rated recruit has been an instant impact player for this team so far, scoring 11 points per game this season and doing so by being a lights out shooter. He's made eight of his 10 three-point attempts and six of his 10 two-point attempts this season. Essentially, you should be worried that he could do what Seton Hall's Myles Powell did to the Hawkeyes. 

Devon Hall SF -- What he lacks in offense, he makes up for in defense -- there's a reason he's starting at the three position over Marial Shayok, after all. Hall is the classic high steal, low foul player that Virginia is good at producing, and he will likely get first dibs at taking on Peter Jok. Don't expect much out of him offensively, though. 

The Bigs -- With the dismissal of Austin Nichols, this team is especially reliant on the back court for offense, but their four and five spots shouldn't be overlooked. The starters are Isaiah Wilkins at the four spot and Jack Salt at the five, but Jarred Reuter is a key bench player who gives the team plenty of minutes at both spots. Meanwhile, true freshman, Mamadi Diakite is proving to be so talented that it seems hard to keep him out of the rotation in both of those spots. 

None of these guys are threats to stretch the defense from outside, and all of these guys are operating within that mover-blocker offense, as blockers (i.e. screeners). That designation means that a lot of their scoring comes in pick-and-roll situations, turning and posting up on the block, knocking down the mid-range jumper, or on putback attempts from offensive rebounds. But offense isn't mainly what they provide. Instead, all three are excellent rebounders. All four are great on the offensive boards, and three of the four (excluding Salt) are cleaning up on the defensive glass so far this year. And in addition to that, everyone sans Reuter, is capable of blocking shots -- Diakite and his ridiculous athleticism, being especially nasty at this. Most importantly for Tony Bennett's tough interior defense, though, is that these guys don't foul. (Diakite does appear to struggle with not getting whistled for contact.)

What Kenpom Thinks

Rankings: Iowa #58, Virginia #5
Projected Outcome: Iowa 66 (17%), Virginia 76 (83%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 0.96, Virginia 1.10
Possessions: 69

This is a clash of civilizations of sorts, as the 12th quickest team in terms of adjusted possessions and sixth quickest in terms of average length of possession, takes on the team that is 350th (out of 351) in the nation in adjusted possessions per game and 316th in terms of possession length. 

I think Peter Jok has the chance for a big night, considering that Virginia's defense forces the other team to take and make jump shots. That's Jok's game, and so long as he isn't absolutely off of it, the potential for 30 points is there. Outside of him, though, I'm not sure Iowa has enough to beat this Cavalier squad.

I am really anxious to see how Tyler Cook looks in this game. He looked great against Angel Delgado and Seton Hall, but this Virginia defense is a much different beast. Not only will they make it difficult for Cook to catch the ball in the post, but they will automatically send a double-team any time he does happen to catch the ball down there. And if there is one big weakness in Cook's offensive game right now, it's turnovers and trying to do too much when he gets the ball. Cook's decision-making, on when to shoot and when to pass are going to have to be a lot quicker and a lot more sound if he wants to avoid turning the ball over or getting his shot blocked. And, really, that goes for all of Iowa's big men in this one. 

I don't think anyone is expecting a win here, and frankly, I'm just hoping that Iowa doesn't get blown out of the building. A young team against this Virginia defense has the potential for things to spiral out of control quickly. So here's to hoping that doesn't happen, and that Iowa can actually put together a respectable performance in this one. 

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