Pre-Game Franalysis: Iowa vs. Penn State

By Matthew Lundeen on March 4, 2017 at 5:05 pm
It's a battle of two really young teams, as Iowa takes on Penn State on Senior Day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
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It's a battle of two really young teams, as Iowa takes on Penn State on Senior Day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Iowa (17-13, 9-8) vs. Penn State (14-16, 6-11)
Time: Sunday, March 5th at 12:00 PM CT
Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Tickets: University of Iowa
TV/Streaming: BTN/BTN2GO 

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. Lastly, all numbers, unless otherwise specified, are from Big Ten play.

When Iowa has the ball, Kenpom ($) has this as a battle of the #50 Iowa offense vs. the #39 Penn State defense. Looking strictly at Big Ten numbers, and adjusting for the conference schedules played, Bart Torvik's T-Rank has Iowa's offense ranked seventh in the conference, scoring 1.13 adjusted points per possession (PPP). Penn State, on the other hand, has the sixth best defense in the Big Ten, allowing just 0.94 adjusted PPP.  

As you can see from the four factors, this side of the ball is pretty even. Both teams are close when it comes to shooting, while Iowa looks to have a big advantage on the offensive glass. Penn State creates a ton of turnovers, however, and only their back up big man has anything resembling a foul problem; the rest of the team is pretty good at keeping their man off the foul line. 

Starting with turnovers, it will be important for the Hawkeyes to take care of the ball. They haven't done a great job of that lately, and Penn State is right up there with Wisconsin in forcing them. Josh Reaves is Penn State's best defender, and at #11 in the country and #2 in the Big Ten in steals, he is responsible for a good chunk of the empty possessions Nittany Lion opponents find themselves having this year. He's good at jumping passing lanes, and his hands are so active that Iowa can't afford to get lazy with their entry passes into the post.

He also plays the head of the 1-2-2 press that Penn State will likely throw at Iowa on Sunday.

Outside of turnovers, Iowa may also find it more difficult to score down low than usual. Tyler Cook and Cordell Pemsl will have their work cut out for them against Mike Watkins, who is also #11 in the nation and #2 in the country, but in blocks.

That being said, Iowa has had troubles scoring inside over the last couple games, and they have still managed to do enough on offense, thanks to their three-point shooting and offensive rebounding. Outside of Watkins, who is one of the best defensive rebounders in the country, the Nittany Lions are pretty terrible at hitting the defensive boards. So even if Iowa's initial shot doesn't fall, hopefully the second one will. 

Lastly, three-point shooting will probably be key. With Watkins erasing shots in the middle, good performances from Peter Jok, Jordan Bohannon, and Brady Ellingson will be important. Let's also hope Nicholas Baer continues to find his three-point rhythm. He may have started the season slow, but he has since gone from hitting just 31% of his threes in non-conference play to shooting 40% against Big Ten teams. Let's hope that continues.

Overall, Penn State's defense presents a tough challenge for Iowa. Even with Iowa's recent road success, I can't stress how glad I am that this game is in Iowa City. Josh Reaves and Mike Watkins pose the biggest problems for Iowa on this end of the floor, and I fully expect them to give Iowa fits. That being said, I also expect that Iowa will continue to crash the offensive glass hard, and if anyone has a chance to get Watkins in foul trouble, it would be Iowa's dynamic duo of foul-drawers in Cook and Pemsl. Lastly, I like Iowa's odds at home if the threes continue to fall. I'm hoping they will, and I'm going with Iowa here. 

Advantage: Iowa

When Penn State has possession, we have a match up of the 168th best offense vs. the 95th best defense nationally. (Back inside the Top 100, y'all.) In Big Ten play, Penn State's offense is scoring 1.05 adjusted PPP, which ranks 13th in the conference. As for Iowa, who has recently moved up to #10 in the Big Ten, they are allowing 0.98 adjusted PPP.  

Iowa would seem to have the advantage when we look at the four factors. Penn State is woefully inefficient when it comes to putting the ball through the rim, and they don't help make up for that in any of the other categories. But before we go proclaiming that Iowa will win this side of the ball handily, it's worth remembering that Penn State is an extremely young team like Iowa. And, as we all know, young guys are notoriously inconsistent, so just because the season numbers don't look all that spectacular, it doesn't mean they can't do any damage. 

Anyway, let's start with transition. I mention transition because Iowa has had trouble getting back on defense at times this year, and Penn State loves to run almost as much as Iowa does. And while Iowa ranks 22nd in the nation in transition field goal attempts, Penn State isn't too far behind at #54. Moreover, both teams average 71-72 adjusted possessions per game, and both teams have the shortest offensive possessions in the Big Ten. And even though Penn State shoots an abysmal 44% eFG% in non-transition possessions, that number goes up to 57% when they get out on the break. In short, if Iowa gets back on defense, their odds of being upset at home go down dramatically.

In the half-court, the Penn State offense runs through true freshman point guard, Tony Carr. Not only is he the team's leading scorer, but he also creates offense for everyone else, like Mike Watkins.

I am really curious to see how Iowa defends Carr. He takes a ton of mid-range jumpers, but he is still fully capable of attacking the middle of a defense. Fran has been going all in with Jordan Bohannon on the opposing point guard over the last handful of games, and that could be a mismatch in this one. If Carr does start to get to the basket on a regular basis, expect the Hawkeyes to go to their zone defense. 

Fortunately, Penn State isn't a great three-point shooting team, so if Iowa does go zone to take away the inside game, hopefully Penn State won't be able to punish them from deep. Shep Garner and Payton Banks are their best shooters from long distance, but both guys are 35-37% shooters on the season, and actually a little worse against Big Ten defenses.

Iowa's defense has been playing better as of late, and it has been a big part of why they have won their last two games on the road. Because of that and because of the lack of three-point shooters this Penn State team has, I think I am actually going to go with Iowa on this side of the ball for the first time in I can't remember how long.

Advantage: Iowa

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.

Tony Carr G -- Carr was one of the jewels of Pat Chambers' most recent recruiting class. At 6'3" and 195 lbs. Carr has a nice mix of size and speed for the point guard position. He's averaging 15 points in almost 34 minutes a game, and has actually scored 20+ points over his last three. He's capable of hitting from outside, but his offensive game is currently far more oriented toward playing inside the arc. His main drawback on offense is that 43% of his field goal attempts are mid-range jumpers, and as a result, his eFG% on the year sits at just 45%. Based on Fran's latest tendencies, Jordan Bohannon will likely start the game defending him. But don't be surprised if Iowa switches to zone or Christian Williams ends up playing him for a good chunk of the game. 

Lamar Stevens F -- Stevens was another big time recruit in the 2016 class that Pat Chambers hauled in, and he has also taken to the college game pretty quickly. He's scoring just shy of 13 points per game in almost 29 minutes of action against conference opponents. Like Carr, Stevens plays much more inside the arc than he does outside it. He is an athletic freak, who is still developing his jump shot. And yet over half his shots from the floor this season are two-point jumpers, which explains his low eFG%. So the further away Iowa can keep him from the basket, the better. Otherwise, he can do stuff like this:

He should see a mix of Peter Jok, Nicholas Baer, etc. guarding him, depending on which forward spot he is playing.

Shep Garner G -- Garner is a junior who starts at shooting guard, and slides over to the point when Tony Carr needs a break. He sees the court 33 minutes per night against Big Ten foes, and is averaging 10 points in those contests. He averages six three-point attempts per night, and that's mostly what Iowa needs to be careful of with him. The Hawkeyes' 1-2-2 (aka 3-2) zone tends to give up a lot of open looks in the corner, and Garner, a career 35% shooter, is capable of taking advantage of those. He rarely attacks the rim off the dribble, making him my preferred option for Bohannon to guard in man defense, but I'm sure we will likely see Peter Jok or Isaiah Moss on him. 

Mike Watkins C -- If there is anyone in this game that could give Tyler Cook a run for his money in dunks per game, it's Mike Watkins. The 6'9" almost 250 lb. redshirt freshman is an athletic freak. He is still developing a back-to-the-basket game, but he gets his eight points per night (in 23 minutes of play) mostly as the roll man in pick-and-roll situations and off of putbacks. There are times when Penn State can just throw the ball up near the rim and be confident that Watkins will come down with a thunderous slam. He's also the 153rd best offensive rebounder and the 11th best defensive rebounder in the nation. He also pairs his ridiculously high block rate with an ability to avoid getting whistled for fouls. Tyler Cook and Cordell Pemsl are going to have their hands full with Watkins in this one. 

Josh Reaves G -- Reaves is another athletic specimen who is still working on establishing his jumper. (Notice a pattern?) He makes a living inside the arc, attempting over half of his shots at the rim en route to 7 points in 28 minutes a game against Big Ten teams. He's only a 31% shooter from deep this season, although that number has ticked up to 34% in conference play. Mostly, though, he's known for being Penn State's best on-ball defender. He's one of the best pick-pockets in the country and he actually blocks a decent amount of shots for a guy who plays out on the perimeter. Overall, he's not someone you have to worry about on offense as much, but you can almost guarantee that he will be guarding Peter Jok tomorrow. 

Payton Banks F -- Banks is the first man off the bench for Penn State. Playing both forward positions, he is Penn State's other main three-point shooter aside from Garner. Like Garner, he also attempts six threes and averages 10 points in Big Ten games, but he does so in 27 minutes on the court instead of 33. That's really the bulk of what Banks provides. 96% of his threes have been assisted this season and he's got the lowest turnover rate on the team, meaning he's mostly a spot up shooter. He's another one I would be worried about getting open in the corner against Iowa's zone. 

What Kenpom Thinks

Rankings: Iowa #70, Penn State #82
Projected Outcome: Iowa 79 (70%), Penn State 73 (30%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.07, Penn State 0.99
Possessions: 74

Kenpom likes Iowa in a fast-paced game tomorrow because: 1) Iowa is at home; and 2) Penn State's offense should be the worst unit on the court on Sunday. 

Penn State has a roster full of unpolished athletes, which has proven to be a good thing on defense, but quite the opposite at times on offense. Their defense can block shots and force turnovers, but their offense can go quiet for long stretches of time. 

For Iowa, the keys to this game on offense are to limit turnovers, crash the offensive glass, and hit their open threes. Mike Watkins is an absolute shot-eraser at the rim, but if Iowa can grab their misses and hit their open looks from three, they can do some damage against this Nittany Lion defense. 

On the other end, Iowa needs to get back in transition and force Penn State to run their half-court offense, where they shoot just 44% (eFG%) on the season. If they can continue to play improved defense, and keep Penn State away from the rim, they should be able to finish the season on a four-game win streak.

Let's hope they can, so that Peter Jok and Dale Jones (?) can be sent off on a good note.

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