IOWA (10-2) VS. BRYANT (3-7)
And so Fran McCaffery's Christmas Cupcake Cook-off comes to an end Saturday, with Iowa hosting the Kenpom #338-ranked Bryant Bulldogs at Carver Hawkeye Arena. Tipoff is at 7:00. Tickets are available.
Bryant is not as wholly, completely, all-encompassingly bad as, say, Savannah State was last week. The Bulldogs are competent at things like not turning the ball over and not fouling a lot. They just play a style of basketball that makes no sense.
Bryant is coached by Jared Grasso, a longtime assistant to Tim Cluess at Iona. Cluess's teams have always been known to shoot a boatload of threes at a high rate; over the previous eight years, Iona has been in the national top 60 in three-point percentage all eight seasons. For a small, Northeastern university that can probably find shooters more readily than 6'10" centers, that makes sense, and Grasso has brought that philosophy to his own small, Northeastern university.
The problem is that, at least in this first year under Grasso, Bryant is a horrible three-point shooting team. Nearly half of Bryant's shot attempts this season have been threes, and the team is shooting a collective 27.6% from behind the arc. Their two highest-volume three-point shooters, senior Byron Hawkins (6'1", 180, 14.3 ppg) and junior Adam Grant (6'1", 180, 15.8 ppg) are a combined 51 of 164 from three this season. That's a staggering SIXTEEN three-point attempts a game from two guys who are averaging roughly 30% from three. And that's how you end up 318th in the nation in effective field goal rate and 329th in three-point shooting percentage.
It certainly doesn't help the Bulldogs that they also have no height. Their standard starting lineup is three 6'1" guards (Hawkins, Grant and freshman point guard Joe Kasperzyk), junior forward Sebastian Townes (6'5", 260, 13.9 ppg) and freshman center Patrick Harding (6'9", 230). Harding is the only guy over 6'7" getting more than ten minutes of playing time a game, and he's averaging less than three points per contest. Needless to say, Bryant is not very good at offensive rebounding (283rd nationally) or not getting shots blocked (312th). This isn't rocket science.
It's a bit odd, though, that teams are absolutely murdering Bryant from the perimeter; their opponents are shooting an absurd 45.5% from three, the worst three-point percentage allowed by any team in the nation. Three in every five made baskets against Bryant come by way of an assist, which is usually a pretty good sign that opponents are getting to the rim, collapsing the defense and kicking to open shooters all over the court. That's also how you get to 349th nationally in defensive efficiency despite playing a relatively modest schedule to date; prior to Saturday, Bryant will have played no games against the Kenpom top 75 and just one game against an opponent in the Kenpom top 100, a 42-point loss to #97 Yale.
This looks like a first-year coach trying to fit what he inherited into the system he wants, and the square peg simply does not fit into the round hole. Making it work usually requires some hammering. And with Tyler Cook and company staring down a bunch of undersized guards and a 6'9" freshman, we're almost certain to see some hammering Saturday.