IOWA (9-2) VS. SAVANNAH STATE (3-10)
DATE: December 22, 2018
TIME: Noon CT
LOCATION: Carver Hawkeye Arena
TV: BTN Plus
RADIO: Learfield Sports
STREAMING: Fox Sports Go/BTN2Go
LINE: Iowa -30
KENPOM: Iowa -33 (Iowa 99.9% win probability. Seriously.)
If you're not familiar with Savannah State basketball, you should be. Because while Iowa is almost guaranteed a giant win Saturday afternoon against the visiting Tigers, that giant win might be the most interesting cupcake game of the season.
Savannah State is coached by Horace Broadnax, a veteran coach in his fourteenth season with the program. In only two of those fourteen seasons has Broadnax posted a winning record, mind you, but that's not really what Broadnax is there for. He's there to barnstorm and collect checks, and he's quite good at that.
Four years ago, Savannah State looked a lot like most of the cupcakes that Iowa fans would be familiar with. They played at a plodding tempo, averaging well under 70 possessions per game. They were inefficient on offense and generally horrible at shooting; just once in the six previous years did Savannah State rank above 300th in effective field goal rate. Their defensive metrics were decent, but they were rarely enough to overcome the horrendous shooting and turnover rate, and Savannah State generally plodded to something like a 13-19 record with something like ten blowout losses to Power Five programs.
So what do you do? If you're Horace Broadnax, you turn everything up to eleven. Starting in 2016-17, Savannah State abandoned its conservative style and decided instead to play as fast as possible. The Tigers were the highest-tempo team in college hoops through each of the last two seasons, and are currently second this season. Their offensive possessions average somewhere around 12 seconds in length. In 74 games over the last two-plus years, Savannah State went over 90 possessions seventeen times. For context, Iowa has played one game over its entire history with 90 possessions. It was in 2016, and it was against Savannah State.
The strategy is simple: Counter bad shooting by getting easy buckets against tired defenders in non-stop breakneck transition. Defense is relatively optional, as defense only slows things down, and Savannah is more interested in wearing you down than actually stopping you. Basically, it's the defensive equivalent of the gladiator scene from The Life of Brian:
The strategy hasn't exactly worked. Savannah State has been among the nation's worst 30 defenses in each of the last two years; being ranked 352nd among 353 teams so far this year makes it fairly likely that the streak will extend to a third season. Opponents are making 62% of two-point attempts on them, which is usually a sign that everyone is getting a ton of layups. And more than a third of opponents' missed shots are rebounded by the opponent, at which point they probably make the second attempt at that layup. South Dakota State hung 139 on them two weeks ago. Wisconsin -- WISCONSIN -- dropped 101 on the Tigers last week at damn near 1.5 points per possession.
So yeah. Iowa's going to win Saturday. That win will probably come with more possessions and more points than any other game this season, which will be fun to watch. Savannah State is the best kind of cupcake, nothing but chocolate and frosting.