Welcome back, Iowa Hawkeyes basketball!!! Are all of you folks ready for some basketball related data??? I know I am. Here we go!
The thing with data is that sometimes it appears to show something interesting and, other times, it doesn't. I am happy to report that something interesting happened in Iowa's season opener: Iowa outscored North Carolina Central by 31 points during the 21 minutes that Keegan Murray was on the court. I will elaborate on that in the paragraphs below.
First a review of my methods. I record how the team performs when each player is on the court and I have shown those data (for the North Carolina Central game) in the table below. “D PPP” is how many points per possession Iowa allowed. “O PPP” is how many points per possession Iowa scored. “D Diff” is how much better or worse, in points per possession, Iowa's defense got when that player was on the court (a negative number is better). “O Diff” is a corresponding statistic for Iowa's offense (a positive number is better).
|D PPP||O PPP||D Diff||O Diff|
These are "+/-" statistics and they are designed to capture aspects of player performance that box score statistics miss. They aren’t perfect, no statistical metric is, and they are notoriously unreliable when the sample size is small. For example, Iowa allowed 0.47 fewer points per possession when Bohannon was in the game. I would wager that the greatest defensive player of all time would not improve our defense that much when averaged over the course of a full season. So, either Bohannon is the best defensive player in the history of basketball or +/- can give you weird results in small samples.
Still, there were a few things that jumped out at me. First of all, as I mentioned above, the Hawks annihilated the
Chanticleers?, Billikens? Eagles (lame! overrated band) when Keegan Murray was on the court. In the first half, Keegan was on the floor for 14 offensive possessions and 16 defensive possessions during which time Iowa scored 24 points and allowed only 7 points. In the second half, he played 23 offensive possessions (22 defensive possessions) in which Iowa scored 40 points and allowed 26 points. Overall, Iowa outscored the Eagles 64-33 during the ~38 possessions when Keegan was on the floor. That comes out to 1.73 points scored and 0.87 points allowed per possession. That’s a paddlin’.
The box score and the eye test also suggested that Keegan had a nice debut but, let’s be real here, it’s not like he was prime Michael Jordan like his +/- suggests. There’s at least some flukiness to his +/- being that good. There were 34 first half possessions. It was 22-22 after 17 possessions but the next 17 possessions were 22-7 for Iowa. The first 18 possessions of the second half were 30-16 in favor of the Hawks whereas the last 18 possessions of the game were 23-22 so the Hawkeyes did most of their damage during the middle segment of the game. The beginning and end were pretty even. Keegan was on floor during that decisive period of the game and +/- loves him for it.
Nevertheless, he clearly played well and looks like a potential contributor this season. That fact, combined with Pat McCaffery’s breakout performance, were the two most encouraging takeaways from the game for me. In my opinion, the power forward spot is critical for Iowa to play enough defense to clear the bar this season. I’m not sure Jack Nunge has the quickness required to play much power forward in today’s game and I don’t think that having Joe Wieskamp and Connor McCaffery as power forwards gives us enough length. Both Pat and Keegan look like they could give us some length to protect the lane while also having enough athleticism to defend on the perimeter. To me, that’s the most reasonable path for this team being good enough defensively to reach its goals. Expecting drastic defensive improvement from someone like Bohannon is unreasonable because, as my data clearly show, he is already the best defensive player of all time.
There were a few other things worth noting from Wednesday’s game. The first is that the starting five hardly played together: just 11 offensive possessions and 12 defensive possessions. This is partially attributable to this year’s team being deeper than last year’s squad but also to Wieskamp picking up a quick foul at the start of the second half and sitting immediately. The second point is that bench mob really struggled defensively at the end of the game. Once Iowa took out Toussaint, they gave up 18 points over the final 12 possessions, which really messed up the overall defensive efficiency for the game. In particular, I noticed that Perkins got burned repeatedly on that end of the floor, which was disappointing. Coming into the season, I thought he might be able to give us a spark on that end of the floor but it sure didn’t look like it on Wednesday.
The final thing worth noting is that Iowa put up 1.41 points per possession when Garza was in the game but still managed to score 1.38 points per possession in Garza’s absence, so there wasn’t a huge drop-off. Obviously, this is only a one-game sample size against weak competition but it's encouraging nonetheless. Last year’s team scored 1.15 points per possession when Garza was on the floor and only 1.01 when he was out. So if Garza left the game last season, the offense lost a lot of its effectiveness. If Iowa can manage to keep scoring at a good clip in Garza’s absence this season that would be a very nice development indeed.