Iowa has a chance to bounce back from a tough loss at Nebraska, as Rutgers pays a visit to Iowa City on Sunday.
Iowa (9-7, 1-2) vs. Rutgers (11-5, 0-3)
Time: Sunday, January 8th at 3:30 PM CT
Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Tickets: University of Iowa
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.
Rutgers isn't as historically bad as they were last season, but new head coach Steve Pikiell still has a long uphill climb in front of him. The Scarlet Knights have a better record than Iowa, but their statistics for most of the season are effectively worthless without adjusting for the abysmal level of competition they have played. This team started the season 11-1, but is 0-3 since Big Ten play tipped. Their best win to date is over 181st ranked DePaul, and after that it's 235th ranked Drexel. Essentially, they have yet to beat an above average team.
If you are looking for something they might be good at, it does appear that they may be decent on defense. I stress the word "may" here because Kenpom currently ranks the collection of offenses they have played to date as the 261st most potent cocktail of offenses in college basketball. You can adjust for competition all you want, but sometimes it's just not enough. And even with Kenpom adjusting for competition, I'm still a little skeptical that Rutgers' defense should be ranked within the Top 100. Their best defensive performance of the year came at Seton Hall, where they held the Pirates to 72 points in 76 possessions, thanks to a cold first half from Iowa's shared opponent. Other than that, their next best performance was holding the 171st ranked Penn State offense to 60 points on 72 possessions. Miami (Florida), Wisconsin, and Michigan State haven't had any trouble scoring points on this defense, though.
Looking at what their actual defense does -- when you don't adjust for difficulty of competition, anyway -- they are above average in three of four factors. Their biggest strength this year has been contesting shots, where they have only allowed opponents to shoot 42% inside the three-point line, thanks to being 25th in the country in blocked shots. That being said, through three conference games, Big Ten teams are making 51% of their two-point shots and shooting a 53% eFG%, overall. The only factor in which they have performed better than the national average in through three Big Ten games is offensive rebounding. Since Kenpom's efficiency numbers for conference games aren't adjusted for opponent, this is the time of year I like to visit Bart Torvik's site because he does adjust for conference strength of schedule. And when you do that, you get a Rutgers team that is only better than Illinois and (*sigh*) Iowa on defense so far.
Iowa is currently #10 in the Big Ten in adjusted offense through three games, but they are still averaging 1.13 adjusted points per possession (PPP). (There appears to be no shortage of good offenses in the Big Ten this season.) Iowa's biggest strength is shooting, and I have very few doubts that Peter Jok, and Iowa's nucleus of very talented youngsters should be able to put up points against this team at home. Steve Pikiell has a track record of being a defensive-minded coach, but it's really hard to turn things around over night. I think Iowa has the big advantage here.
This is Rutgers' worst side of the ball, by far. They have yet to score more than a point per possession on a team ranked higher than 181st DePaul. The collection of defenses they've played this year ranks 293rd in the country, according to Kenpom, and they are still way below average in two of four factors. So far in Big Ten play, they have easily the worst offense in the conference, averaging a schedule adjusted total of 0.89 PPP.
Their biggest issue (but not only issue) is that they can't shoot the ball. They currently rank 248th in the nation in two-point field goal percentage, 323rd in three-point field goal percentage, and 279th in free throw percentage. They also don't shoot very many threes -- they are 323rd in the country in that statistic -- which is good news for an Iowa team that has been hurt more by threes than twos on defense this season. Moreover, they have a turnover problem, and it has only gotten worse since they started playing Big Ten teams.
The one thing they are good at -- and the one thing that could be a legitimate issue for Iowa -- is crashing the offensive glass. They are currently ninth in the country in offensive rebounding, and while that number has definitely gone down in Big Ten play, they are still an above average offensive rebounding team. Iowa did a great job of keeping Nebraska from getting offensive rebounds, but more often than not, defensive rebounding has not been a strength for the Hawkeyes this year. Rutgers is such a bad shooting team that gives too many possessions away via turnover that even if Iowa does lose this factor, it really shouldn't keep Rutgers in this game unless Iowa's offense is absolutely frigid. Sure, that could happen. But the odds aren't great.
There aren't many offenses that you can look at and say "Yeah, this Iowa defense can definitely stop them." But this Rutgers offense looks to be one of them. They have some good players, and Corey Sanders' ability to penetrate the defense is a little worrisome, but the lack of shooters and skilled big men make it a lot more manageable than it would otherwise be. It's not often I can give Iowa the advantage on this side of the ball in Big Ten play, but today I can.
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.
Corey Sanders G -- You may remember Sanders from last year as the talented freshman on a truly awful team that had you thinking "How in the hell did he end up at Rutgers?" Well, the 6'2" combo guard is back for his sophomore year, but he's had his share of struggles this year. His 10.9 points per game overall and 12 in three conference games is down from last year's totals of 15.9 and 18, respectively. Part of that is due to not having to play 34 minutes per game on a horrific team, but part of that is also due to shooting struggles. Sanders has yet to show that he's much of a three-point shooter over his career, but his 31% from last year has dropped to 20% this year, and his two-point field goal percentage has dropped from 48% to just 40%. For a guy who plays the most minutes on your team and is one of the most involved players on offense, a 41% eFG% is a disaster. The biggest thing for Iowa will be keeping him out of the lane, as he's the most dangerous when attacking the basket. He takes 57% of his shots at the rim (Hoop-Math), and the 52% he shoots on those is easily his best percentage from anywhere on the court. Aside from scoring, he's also Rutgers' best distributor, so when his teammates actually are making their shots, he can rack up some assists. He also adds value on the defensive side of the ball, where he ranks 179th in the country in steals and rarely gets called for a foul. Iowa struggled with steals this season (even before the Nebraska game), so this is something to watch for. Iowa will probably throw a combination of Moss, Jok, Williams, etc. at him to slow him down. I think Moss probably gets the most playing time on him because he seems to be McCaffery's preferred choice on slashers since the debacle that was Nebraska Omaha.
Mike Williams G -- Williams is probably the most improved player from last year's team and he's probably been their most valuable player with Sanders struggling this year. Oddly enough, he has come off the bench most of the season (though he did start the first two Big Ten games), and has scored 11.5 points per game and 12 in the Big Ten, in about 25 minutes of play. Like Sanders, Williams also stands 6'2", but has been a better shooter this year. He's taken a little more than half of his field goal attempts from long distance this season and connected on 35% of them, which is easily the best on the team. His biggest improvement this season, however, is inside the arc, where he's making 57% compared to last year's 43%. The reason he seems to be easily the most efficient player on the team this season is because only 13% of his shots have been two-point jumpers this season, meaning 87% of his shots are coming from the most efficient places on the court. Outside of scoring, he doesn't really provide much else. He's decent at taking the ball from his opponents (Pikiell seems to like pressure from his guards), but he's not quite as good Sanders or Nigel Johnson. When he's in the game, he's either at the two or three spot, depending on if one or two of the aforementioned Sanders and Johnson are also on the court. When he's at the three, that will likely force Fran to decide which scorer he wants Bohannon to guard. When he's at the two, he will likely see Moss, Jok, or Williams on him.
Nigel Johnson PG -- At 6'1", the former Kansas State Wildcat has been the starting point guard for Rutgers since midway through December. He's not the most efficient player on offense, and his efficiency numbers have gotten much worse since being forced to play better competition. However, he is still averaging 12 points per game this season and nine in conference play. He has taken about a third of his shots at the rim, from mid-range, and from three-point range this year. He's making a respectable 37% of his two-point jumpers, but when he gets to the rim he has only converted 35% of his shots this season. He's also only a 30% shooter from deep. Like Sanders, he is the other distributor on this offense, and on defense, he is 159th in the country in steals, while being called for the seventh fewest number of fouls per 40 minutes. When it's just him and Sanders or him and Williams on the court, Johnson should see one of Moss, Jok, or Williams on him. When he's one of three guards on the court, that leaves the opportunity of Bohannon guarding him. And, honestly, out of the three guards, I think Johnson and his struggles to finish at the rim may be the match up I like the most for Bohannon.
Deshawn Freeman PF -- Freeman is a 6'7" junior, who was scoring 11 points per game during the non-conference schedule, but has only averaged seven through three Big Ten games. He's not a stretch four by any means, so Iowa only needs to worry about him around the rim, where he takes 80% of his shots. Keeping him off the offensive glass will be important, since he is 51st in the nation in offensive rebounding, and since Hoop-Math has him credited with 32 putbacks this season. He's also pretty good at drawing fouls, so Tyler Cook is going to have to play smart to not find him self in foul trouble. On defense, Freeman ranks 195th in defensive rebounds and 290th in blocked shots. His biggest weakness, though, is turning the ball over. His turnover rate was already pretty bad, sitting at 23% in the non-conference, but that number has jumped to worse than sophomore year Anthony Clemmons levels at 38%. Hopefully he'll have more turnovers than points against Iowa.
C.J. Gettys C -- Gettys is Rutgers' 7'0" 280 lb. starting center, who played at UNC-Wilmington the last three years. He's averaging eight points per game this season, and seven through three conference games. Unsurprisingly, just a little under 80% of his shots have come at the rim this year, where he's making 73% of them. He's not a huge part of their offense the way Isaac Haas is for Purdue, but expect Iowa to front the post and double-team him when he does catch the ball -- especially since Rutgers has very few three-point shooters. Like Freeman, Iowa will need to limit his offensive rebounds (he's 353rd in the country), and watch out for his shot-blocking abilities on defense (160th in the nation). However, he also has his deficiencies that help limit his value. For one, he's not a great defensive rebounder -- although, that could be the product of him playing with other good rebounders. He also doesn't draw a ton of fouls, so that should hopefully help keep Pemsl in the ball game. And, last but not least, he turns the ball over too much for a guy who isn't new to the college game. Gettys isn't a bad player, but he shouldn't give Iowa nearly the same troubles that Isaac Haas did.
Candido Sa PF/C -- Sa is a 6'9" 227 lb. JUCO transfer by way of Texas from Portugal. His strength isn't so much scoring the ball -- he's averaging just five points per game this year -- as it is grabbing offensive rebounds and blocking shots. In the former category, he ranks 195th in the country this year. In the latter category he ranks 68th country and number one on the team. He plays 19 minutes per game, mostly at the power forward spot, but he does play the five occasionally. When he is in the game, it will be interesting to see how Tyler Cook does against such a shot-blocker.
What Kenpom Thinks
Rankings: Iowa #79, Rutgers #140
Projected Outcome: Iowa 78 (78%), Rutgers 70 (22%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.10, Rutgers 0.99
Overall, Kenpom doesn't give Rutgers much of a shot in this one. Eight points seems a little close to me, since this game is being played at Carver-Hawkeye. However, he is calling for a little slower game than usual because Rutgers does play at a slower pace. That being said, the chance for a double-digit victory for Iowa here is definitely real. I still think Rutgers' defensive numbers will get worse as the season goes on and they play enough competition, and I think their offense is bad enough that even Iowa's young defense can get enough stops to make this a pretty comfortable win.
I expect Rutgers may be able to keep it close for a while, but I'm hoping Iowa can pull away sometime in the second half. For one, it would be good to see Iowa take care of business after the close loss at Nebraska. Mostly though, I just want to see Maishe Dailey get some decent playing time against the school he almost went to.