IOWA HAWKEYES vs.
|TIME||11:00 am CT|
|WHERE||Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston|
|STREAM||CBS All Access|
TALE OF THE TAPE
|123.4 (2nd)||OFF. EFF.||108.1 (64th)|
|95.8 (72nd)||DEF. EFF.||95.0 (60th)|
|56.7 (16th)||eFG%||52.6 (78th)|
The first Michigan State postponement of the week gave Iowa an unexpected week off. The second Michigan State postponement of the week moved Iowa's next game into the prime national TV position. It's Iowa-Northwestern on the CBS Sunday matinee, with Ian Eagle and Bill Raftery on the call. Giddyup.
When we last saw the Wildcats, they were undefeated in the conference and ranked in the top 25. Three weeks later, the picture is vastly different. Northwestern hasn't won since, having been victimized by the most difficult schedule in the conference: Following the 15-point loss at Iowa, the Wildcats were beaten by Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State. Get this: Northwestern played the fifth-easiest non-conference schedule in the nation, but has faced such a monster Big Ten slate that they're ranked second nationally in overall strength of schedule. It's not over yet, either; after Sunday's game, Northwestern makes a mid-week trip to Wisconsin.
The biggest change in Northwestern's performance has been shooting. As you may recall, the 'Cats were firing from deep at a ridiculous rate in late December:
The Cats are shooting 41 percent from three as a team. Their collective 55 percent from inside the arc isn't too bad, either. Throw in a top 20 turnover rate (just 15 percent of possessions) and top 10 block rate (just 1 in 20 shot attempts is getting blocked), and you have the recipe for a brutally efficient offense, even if you don't rebound (which is good, because Northwestern doesn't rebound, at least on the offensive glass).
Those shooting numbers have dropped precipitously in the last couple of weeks. Their effective field goal rate has decreased by five points. Three-point rate is down from 41 percent to under 38. Two-point rate dropped by five percent, from 55 to 50 percent. Welcome to the Big Ten, indeed.
Shooting at a 58 percent effective rate can gloss over some deficiencies that a 53 percent rate can't. With the three-point shooting down, Northwestern's problems have become more evident, especially on defense. They don't turn you over (16.2% of possessions end in a turnover, 310th nationally) or block shots (just 5.9% of opponent shots are blocked, 290th nationally). They just stay in front of you, try to force a miss, and hit the boards. That doesn't really work against the best of the conference. Iowa scored at 1.28 points per possession in the first game, which, OK, that's Iowa. But Michigan (1.20 ppp), Ohio State (1.16) and Illinois (1.16) all scored at a high rate on the 'Cats.
Much of Northwestern's offense still runs through sophomore guard Chase Audige (6'4", 210, 12.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.7 apg), the team's least efficient offensive player. This continues to be an odd choice, given that Miller Kopp (6'7", 215, 14.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg) and Robbie Beran (6'9", 215, 6.9/3.5) are two of the most efficient players in the nation. Kopp is shooting an even 50 percent from three, Beran 41 percent, and guard Boo Buie 39 percent. But the plurality of three-point attempts are coming from Audige, shooting just 28 percent. Audige gets to the free throw line more than any other Wildcat, but shoots a team-low 62 percent there.
The presence of Kopp, Beran, center Pete Nance (6'10", 225, 11.5/5.7) and reserve center Ryan Young (6'10", 245, 9.0/5.8) are enough to give a size-oriented team like Iowa pause. The Wildcats certainly have bodies to throw at Luka Garza, and were the only Big Ten team to hold Garza under 20 points so far. Throw in a slight dip in Iowa's perimeter shooting when the team goes on the road, and you certainly can't classify Sunday's game as a pushover. But Iowa's philosophy -- be the most efficient offense possible, and expect that efficiency to win out over a long enough timeline regardless of defense -- is made more effective when the opponent's inefficiencies are so prevalent. If this plays out according to plan, Iowa should be tied for the Big Ten lead on Sunday night.