Pre-Game Franalysis, Big Ten Tournament Edition: Iowa vs. Indiana

By Matthew Lundeen on March 9, 2017 at 10:21 am
Iowa looks to break their recent Big Ten Tournament curse tonight with a win over Indiana in Washington, D.C.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa looks to break their recent Big Ten Tournament curse tonight with a win over Indiana in Washington, D.C.

Iowa (18-13, 10-8) vs. Indiana (17-14, 7-11)
Time: 5:30 PM CT
Location: Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
Tickets: Ticketmaster
TV/Streaming: ESPN2/WatchESPN
Line: Indiana -1.5

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.

On this side of the ball, we have a battle between Kenpom's ($) 46th best offense and the 111th best defense in the country. If we look at conference numbers alone, and adjust for the strength of each team's schedule, T-Rank puts Iowa's offense at #6 in the Big Ten, averaging 1.15 adjusted points per possession (PPP) in Big Ten play. Indiana's defense, meanwhile, is dead last in the conference, giving up 1.03 adjusted PPP.

Seeing how these teams faced off two weeks ago, you would think that not much has changed for either team. But that's not exactly true. Iowa has added three-straight wins to their February 21st victory over Indiana, and the driver behind the recent four-game winning streak has been dramatically better offense from this young Hawkeye team. 

4 Factors eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate Adj. PPP B1G Rank
Pre-Indiana 2/21 48.5% 18.2% 31.7% 32.5% 1.12 #9
Pre-Indiana 3/9 49.9% 18.7% 32.8% 33.3% 1.15 #6
Difference +1.4% +0.5% +1.1% +0.8% +0.03 +3

That is a comparison between Iowa's offensive numbers heading into their previous game against Indiana and their offensive numbers heading into tonight's game against the Hoosiers. With turnovers being the only exception, Iowa has improved their offensive production across the board over this four-game win streak. They are shooting the ball better (thank you, three-pointers), they are crashing the offensive glass and getting second chance points, and they are even getting to the free throw line at a higher clip. Put all of that together, and you get an Iowa offense that has raised their adjusted PPP in Big Ten play from 1.12 to 1.15 and moved up three rankings in the conference, as a result.

And that's a good thing against an all-offense Indiana squad. Iowa had an advantage in all four factors going into the last game, and that looks to be even more the case this time around. Last time out, Iowa took major advantage of their offensive rebounds, scoring 14 second chance points on 13 offensive rebounds.

Additionally, they took advantage of Indiana's ridiculous fouling problems by visiting the line 47 times, and making 39 of them. Peter Jok went to the foul line 23 times on his own, sinking 22 of them and setting single-game free throw records for Iowa in the process. It may not be quite to the same extent, but we could very well see another game in which Iowa shoots a ton of free throws. Peter Jok has been more aggressive at drawing fouls when his shot isn't falling this year, and Tyler Cook and Cordell Pemsl are excellent at drawing fouls in the post. 

If Iowa continues to crash the glass and get to the free throw line, they stand a good chance of hanging with this Indiana offense. However, the difference maker on offense could be Iowa's three-point shooting. If Peter Jok, Jordan Bohannon, and Nicholas Baer continue to knock down their triples, the Hawkeyes stand a good chance of pulling away.

Advantage: Iowa

Switching ends of the floor, we get a similar match up in that Kenpom ranks Indiana's offense #29 in the nation, while he puts Iowa's defense at #102. (Looks like the final 10 minutes of the Penn State game moved Iowa's defense back outside of the Top 100.) In conference play, T-Rank puts Indiana's offense at #4 in the Big Ten, scoring 1.17 adjusted PPP against conference foes. Meanwhile, Iowa's defense sits at #10, allowing 0.99 adjusted PPP.

On this side of the ball, Iowa's best bet is to force a crap load of turnovers, and hope that Indiana doesn't shoot 40+% from long range. Iowa has the free throw advantage, but the Hoosiers don't rely on getting to the line much for their points. Instead, they shoot a ton of threes and score in the paint with post guys like Thomas Bryant and Juwan Morgan or their slashing point guard, Josh Newkirk. 

My biggest concerns on this end of the court are three-point shooting and rebounding. If guys like James Blackmon Jr. or Robert Johnson are knocking down a consistent stream of threes, Iowa could struggle to keep up on the other end of the court with points in the paint and free throws alone. That's where Iowa's three-point shooting will become crucial. Additionally, if Indiana isn't hitting their threes at an insane pace, those offensive rebounds could help them stick around in the game if Iowa can't lock down the defensive glass. 

What Iowa certainly can do, though, is limit that damage if Indiana turns the ball over in droves like they are prone to doing this season. Last time, Iowa had a lot of success extending their 1-2-2 press full-court when the game was on the line. Don't be surprised if Iowa goes to their usual three-quarter court version pretty early in the game. Iowa is #3 in the Big Ten in turnovers forced and #2 in steals, and last time they used those turnovers to create easy offense in transition. 

Turnovers really proved costly, as Iowa had 25 points off them against Indiana in February. Hopefully the Hawkeyes will have similar success this time around.

Overall, Iowa has a big advantage in the turnover category, and if they are able to get Indiana into foul trouble on the other side of the ball, it could really pay dividends on this side as well. Removing someone like Thomas Bryant from the paint due to foul trouble could help Iowa on the defensive glass, for instance. That said, Indiana is still very good at shooting the ball, and they have a number of guys (not just Bryant) who crash the offensive glass. I think Iowa can slow them down enough to win the game, but it will be very difficult -- without a cold shooting night from Indiana -- to hold them below a point per possession. Thus, the Hoosiers get the nod here. 

Advantage: Indiana

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.

James Blackmon Jr. G -- Blackmon is playing almost 32 minutes per game in conference play this season, and scoring just shy of 17 points during that time. He's a lights out shooter from anywhere on the floor, but Iowa should be most concerned with the fact that he is making three three-pointers out of eight attempts per Big Ten game this year. He scored 18 on Iowa back in February on 4-11 shooting from deep, but he also fouled out, thanks to Peter Jok. Considering he averages all of 2.3 fouls called per 40 minutes, he probably won't foul out this time. So hopefully Peter Jok outplays him again. 

Thomas Bryant C -- Bryant is averaging just shy of 14 points in 30 minutes of play against conference foes this season. He's a versatile big man, in that he can not only score in the post, but he's also shooting 40% on 58 three-point attempts this year. Still, though, the overwhelming majority of his production comes in the paint and at the free throw line, since he draws so many fouls. He's an outstanding offensive rebounder, but pretty meh for his size on the defensive glass. He also blocks a good number of shots, but that still doesn't make up for the fact that he isn't a great defender. 

(That's not necessarily bad defense. I just wanted to show Tyler Cook dunking on him again.)

Last time he played Iowa, he had 12 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and four blocks. However, he also contributed to Indiana's turnover and foul problems, with four of those apiece, as well. Iowa can neutralize his impact on the game by getting him in foul trouble again. However, let's not forget that he could also limit Tyler Cook and Cordell Pemsl's impact on the game if he can get them in foul trouble.

Robert Johnson G -- The team's third-leading scorer in conference games, Johnson is averaging 13 points in 32 minutes a night. Like Blackmon Jr., the biggest threat he poses is as a three-point shooter, since he takes over half of his field goal attempts from outside and is making 38% on the year. Aside from that, he's also a good defensive rebounder for a 6'3" guard, but he also has a turnover rate that is higher than it should be for a third-year player. Last time against Iowa, he had 19 points, but only shot 2-8 from downtown. He also had seven assists, six rebounds, and five steals. He was also one of the many in crimson and cream that fouled out. Overall, he's probably going to get his points, but hopefully Iowa can at least cut down on his defensive impact and not give him the ball five times again. 

Josh Newkirk G -- Newkirk is the team's fourth-leading scorer (10 points per game) and the fourth player who plays just about 30 minutes per night against Big Ten competition. He's the team's leading assist man, but that's not saying much on a roster that is 213th in the country in percentage of field goals assisted. More importantly, he's the biggest threat to penetrate the middle of Iowa's defense, and he is also a 38% three-point shooter. But his scoring potential is partially canceled out by the fact that he turns the ball over way too much, and gets whistled for more fouls than a redshirt junior should. That being said, Jordan Bohannon defending him man-to-man could be an issue. If it is, expect Iowa to play a lot of 1-2-2 zone.

The Rest -- The four players above are the guys who are guaranteed locks to start, barring injury or other unforeseen circumstances. The fifth starter, however, can be a little harder to peg, considering Indiana has had 11 different starting lineups this season. (Iowa, by comparison, has had eight, and really only seven, if you don't count Dale Jones' ceremonial start on Senior Day.) Over their last five games at the power forward position, Tom Crean has started De'Ron Davis three times, Freddie McSwain once, and Juwan Morgan in the last game.

Morgan is the likely starter in this one, since he started the previous game and he's got 17 other starts under his belt this year. He averages just under seven points in 23 minutes per game in conference play. He's a good offensive rebounder, but is just decent on the defensive glass. He can block a few shots, but he has trouble avoiding being whistled for fouls, as he's fouled out of five games this year, including the one at Iowa.

Davis is a true freshman big man with a lot of talent that still needs to be polished. He shows flashes of being a future star, but all too often he's sent to the bench for turning the ball over or getting whistled for one of the seven fouls he's averaging for every 40 minutes on the court. He plays only 14 minutes a night, as a result. Against Iowa previously, he played 22 minutes because Thomas Bryant found himself in foul trouble early. Davis finished the game in Iowa City with nine points, four rebounds, and three fouls.

Freddie McSwain really isn't an offensive option outside of putbacks he gets from offensive rebounds. And, boy, is he an outstanding rebounder. Unfortunately for him, he also suffers from the deadly turnover and foul illness that seems to plague this entire team. He's only fouled out of one game this season, but that's because he only plays seven minutes per game. Last time against Iowa he managed six points and six rebounds in just nine minutes of play. That's outstanding until you factor in that he also had four turnovers and three fouls. Hey, at least you can't say he doesn't give 100% when he's on the floor.

As for the back court, Devonte Green plays 17 minutes a game off the bench at the two and three spots. He's a really good three-point shooter, but he too has massive turnover problems. When he played Iowa last time, he had four points, two turnovers, and three fouls in 18 minutes. 

Finally, Zach McRoberts is just filler on the wings. He managed to see the court for 13 minutes per game in conference play, but attempted an average of one field goal attempt per contest. His usage rate is ridiculously low, and the best way I can explain it is that he is half as active in the Indiana offense as Brady Ellingson is in Iowa's. And the funny thing is, his already low usage rate is partially inflated by the fact that he turns the ball over more than the norm. Last time against Iowa, he only played two minutes, going 0-1 from downtown and turning the ball over once. Because duh. 

What Kenpom Thinks

Rankings: Iowa #66, Indiana #46
Projected Outcome: Iowa 79 (42%), Indiana 81 (58%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.11, Indiana 1.14
Possessions: 71

Despite Iowa finishing with the better conference record, Kenpom still likes Indiana on a neutral court by two points. The main reason is because their offense is the highest-ranked unit on both teams. 

Personally, I'm feeling overconfident, thanks to this four-game winning streak. If Iowa continues to shoot threes and crash the offensive boards the way they have been doing, they should be able to win this game. If they do all of those things and take advantage of Indiana's fouling and turnover problems, they could win it handily. 

Of course, I'm trying to tamp down my optimism by remembering that Iowa hasn't won a Big Ten Tournament game since 2013. And despite Indiana's lack of defense, their offense is still lethal, and if Iowa happens to catch them on a day when they are really torching the nets, the Hawkeyes could definitely lose this game. Or if this ends up being a game where Iowa's big men get in foul trouble and not Indiana's, that could also tilt the scale quite a bit in the Hoosiers' favor. 

I'm going to give Iowa the slight edge because of the tear they've been on recently. Basically, I'm hoping the improved offense can lift the apparent curse that has been plaguing Iowa in the conference tournament as of late. 

And, oh yeah:

You didn't think I could leave that out of the preview, did you?

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