After a week off, it's time to return to action and a trip to Des Moines to face Drake in the Big 4...er, Hy-Vee Classic. The Bulldogs have a (slightly) better record than Iowa at 5-5, but a KenPom ranking of just #181. Four of their five wins have come against teams ranked #220 or lower (or not ranked at all) in the KenPom rankings. That said, they beat Wake Forest (#63 KenPom) 77-74 on a neutral court at the start of the season and they're fresh off a game against Minnesota where they gave the Gophers all they could handle in Minneapolis, dropping a narrow 68-67 loss. They definitely have the personnel to give Iowa some problems too, as we'll discuss in a minute. Between UNI and Drake, Iowa got the easier draw -- but that doesn't mean the Bulldogs won't be a challenge.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT DRAKE
Drake is just 5-5, but that record is a little deceiving; in addition to that close loss against Minnesota earlier this week, they also lost by just five to Colorado earlier this year, by two to Nebraska Omaha, and came out on the wrong end of a double overtime thriller against Wyoming. It wouldn't take much for them to have a better record than 5-5. Drake's biggest problems have been on the defensive end, where they rank just 258th in defensive efficiency. Teams are shooting really well against them, with an eFG of 55% (296th) and 56.1 2FG% (311th), although just 35.5 3FG% (190th). They're also not good at forcing turnovers (just 16.5% of opponent possessions, 302nd) or blocking shots (6.1%, 292nd). They are good at denying offensive rebounds (only allowing opponents to grab 27% of their misses, 109th best in the nation) and preventing opponents from getting to the free throw line (free throw rate of 28.1%, 60th best nationally).
The Bulldogs do boast a pretty solid offense under new coach Niko Medved, ranking 121st in offensive efficiency. They have just an average eFG (51.4%, 157th), but that's only because they've been lousy on 2-point shots this year (45.5% 2FG, 291st). They've actually been very good from deep this year (40.5% 3FG, 31st). Unsurprisingly, they attempt quite a few threes -- 38.8% of their shots are from beyond the arc. For an Iowa team that's struggled to defend the three for much of this year, that's certainly a cause for concern. Drake also takes care of the ball well, with turnovers on just 16.9% of their offensive possessions (61st) and does well when they get to the free throw line (78.9% FT), although they don't get there much (they have a free throw rate of just 29.3%, 280th nationally). And they have a propensity to get their shots blocked -- opponents have swatted 12.1% of their attempts, 304th worst in the nation.
Reed Timmer is the man to watch for Drake on offense; the 6-1, 185 lb senior shooting guard is leading the team with 20.7 ppg with an eFG of 59.4%, including a blistering 53.2% from 3-point range. Timmer is also averaging 4.2 rpg, 2.9 apg, and 0.7 spg. Timmer's fellow senior in the backcourt, 6-0, 182 lb point guard Graham Woodward, is averaging 11.7 ppg on 51.2% eFG, including 44.8% from long range. Woodward and Timmer are both shooting over 93% from the free throw line, too, so if it's a close game... maybe don't foul them?
De'Antae McMurray, a 6-2, 170 lb senior wing, is averaging 11.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, and 2.7 apg, while Nick McGlynn, a 6-8, 223 lb junior center, rounds out their double digit scorers. He's averaging 10.3 ppg and 5.6 rpg, while making 51% of his 2-point field goals. Ore Arogundade, a 6-3, 185 senior forward and their fifth starter, is averaging 7.7 ppg and 3.5 rpg, but the guy to note in their frontcourt may be 6-2, 187 lb senior C.J. Rivers, who's playing 27 minutes off the bench and leading the team in rebounds (5.7 rpg) and assists (3.4 apg), while chipping in 5.5 ppg on 53% shooting.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
This is definitely a match-up of contrasts; in terms of experience, Drake is likely to start a lineup with four seniors and a junior, while Iowa is likely to start a lineup with at least four freshmen or sophomores and just one junior. Similarly, Drake doesn't boast much height -- they rank just 344th in average height, per KenPom, and McGlynn is the only guy in their top six that's taller than 6-3. Meanwhile, Iowa ranks seventh in average height, per KenPom, and should play several lineups where they have only one guy shorter than 6-5 (Bohannon). Nunge, Garza, and Cook, in particular, seem like matchup nightmares for Drake down low -- the Bulldogs will have their hands full against a pair of 6-11 guys like Nunge and Garza and while Cook is "only" 6-9, he often plays bigger than his size. Outside of Bohannon, Iowa will have a noted size advantage in the backcourt, too -- Moss and McCaffery are 6-5, Ellingson is 6-4, and Dailey is 6-7. They could have success posting up Drake's smaller guards.
But can Iowa effectively use its height advantage? They've struggled to do so at times this year. Drake lacks size, but they don't lack quickness or experience, which could be disastrous for Iowa on defense. It's not hard to imagine Iowa's defense getting discombobulated or out of shape against a smart, well-drilled Drake offense, particularly one that can stretch the floor with its strong outside shooting. Iowa is going to need to be very disciplined on defense, which has definitely been a problem this year.
If Iowa plays sound defense, limiting Drake's attempts from deep, takes care of the ball on offense, and exploits their significant size advantage, they should do well in this game. Those are, unfortunately, a lot of ifs, especially given what we've seen from Iowa so often this year. Let's hope the week off has enabled them to pull things together.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
G: Jordan Bohannon
G: Isaiah Moss
G: Brady Ellingson
F: Tyler Cook
F: Jack Nunge
This was the starting lineup for Iowa's game against Southern last weekend... if it ain't broke, don't fix it? Who knows.
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