Iowa has an incredibly efficient scoring offense. They shoot 51.6% from the field (the NCAA average is 40%), 38.9% from 3 (average is 31%), and 77.8% from the free throw line (average is 69%). They also lead the nation in assists per game at 24.
Their only real offensive problem this season has been turnovers. 14.8 times per game, on average, the Hawkeyes don’t get a chance to score during a possession because they give the ball to the other team instead. While that rate is still better than the NCAA average of 16.2, it might well be the difference between being really good and being elite. Between being Top 5 in the Big Ten and making a run at a conference championship. Today’s game against Northern Iowa shows why.
At the end of the 1st quarter, Iowa held a 12-10 on the back of strong team defense. They were also shooting 46% from the floor, which isn’t great, but isn’t too far from their average. The problem was turnovers. Iowa had 6 in the first quarter, including a stretch where they had three in three possessions. The turnovers allowed Northern Iowa to survive a slow start and gave them good scoring opportunities in transition.
The second quarter was much the same—Iowa shot okay, played good defense, but three more turnovers kept the Panthers close. Iowa’s lead got as high as 10 in the quarter, but a late Northern Iowa run narrowed that to 28-24 at the half.
In the third quarter, Iowa showed their offensive potential. They shot 66.7% from the field and managed to speed up a UNI team that wanted to play slow. Their first turnover in the quarter came with 2:30 remaining when they had grown their lead to 16. The Hawkeyes continued to shoot well and take care of the ball, and the result was a comfortable 71-47 victory.
Megan Gustafson led the Hawkeyes with 26 points and 10 rebounds, including 6 on the offensive end. Alexis Sevillian was the only other Hawkeye in double figures with 11, though Chase Coley and Makenzie Meyer had 8 each. Full stats are here.
Megan Maahs and Kennedy Kirkpatrick led Northern Iowa with 12 points apiece; they were the only Panthers in double figures. Maahs also had 10 rebounds. As a team, the Panthers struggled from the field, shooting only 28.6% from the field and 26.7% from 3 (8-30).
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an Iowa game defined by turnovers. Earlier in the year against #13 Florida State, Iowa shot 61% from the field and held a double digit lead in the 4th quarter. In the last few minutes of the game, though, the Hawkeyes turned the ball over several times and Florida State managed to eek out a one-point win. If Iowa could’ve limited their turnovers in that game even a little bit, they would’ve won.
Limiting turnovers is obviously easier said than done. Making risky passes is part of the reason the Hawkeyes shoot so well, because it gets them plenty of good looks. They’re also more likely in the up-tempo offense Iowa likes to run. Still, some of the turnovers are a result of bad passes or rushing the offense when it’s not necessary.
If Iowa can limit their turnovers during the rest of the season, I truly believe they can compete for a Big Ten Championship this season and next. Their offense is already really good, but limiting turnovers would take it over the top. Limiting turnovers also takes some of the pressure off their defense. Overall, it’s been pretty good this year—especially when they have time to get set.
More concerning than the first half turnovers was Tania Davis going down with what appeared to be a knee injury—it wasn’t the knee she injured last season. She was down for a couple minutes, then went immediately to the locker room. As a positive, she did return to the bench later without crutches, but she never reentered the game. Hopefully Davis was held out as a precaution and will be okay to play again soon.
Iowa concludes its non-conference schedule against Drake on Thursday (12/21) at 7pm at Carver Hawkeye Arena. The Bulldogs are 5-6 so far this season, but they made the NCAA Tournament last season and are always tough. If Iowa wins this game, they will be 3-0 against their in-state rivals this season.