Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Talkin' Iowa: Ryan from Hawkeye Hoops

Ryan and I exchanged a few questions about Wednesday's NC State/Iowa basketball game. My thanks to Ryan for taking the time to provide us with some insight into the Hawkeyes.

You can find my responses to Ryan's questions at Hawkeye Hoops.


1) What are Iowa's strengths and weaknesses? From what you've seen so far, does this year's team have any noticeable differences from last year's team?

That’s somewhat difficult to answer, because Iowa doesn’t excel at any particular area of the game, and they don’t have any major deficiencies, either. They were a decent rebounding team last year, and should be even better this year with Doug Thomas seeing more minutes and Erek Hansen chipping in a little more often.

Hansen (6.7 fouls / 40 min) and Thomas (7.0) were the two most foul-prone players in the Big Ten last year, so the team does allow its share of free throws, but Hansen’s shot-blocking and the team’s rebounding make for a decent defense.

The biggest weakness so far this year has been outside shooting, as the team has made only 28% of its threes. We’ve been quite susceptible to a good zone defense, which Texas showed when they shut us down at the end of that game. Jeff Horner and Adam Haluska are Iowa’s only big shooting threats, and both have started a little cold.

Overall, not much has changed from the end of last year. The same guys are getting the majority of the minutes, with freshman guard Tony Freeman thrown into the rotation. Most of the bench guys look improved, though, so Iowa can play a little deeper this year.

2) Which guys should we watch? Who should we worry about?

Iowa’s offense revolves around Adam Haluska, Greg Brunner, and Jeff Horner, or as they’re called in the Hawkeye state, the Big Three. Each went to high school in Iowa, and Brunner and Horner have started just about every game the last three years, so most fans here regard them pretty highly.

Horner spent most of the last three years at point guard, but is spending more time at the 2 this year in an attempt to better utilize his three-point shooting touch. He hit over 40% of those shots each of the last two years, and will shoot from well behind the line if his defender gives him room. He’s struggled with that so far this year, though, hitting only 28% of his threes in Iowa’s five games. Horner is also a great passer – he always gets the ball to the open man, and often finds ways to hit guys who aren’t. He should end his career as Iowa’s all-time leader in assists and threes made. He suffered a deep thigh bruise on Saturday but should be ready to go.

Brunner is a solid power forward. He’s adept around the basket, rebounds well, and is a good passer for his position. He’ll use his spin moves to get good shots when posting up, and tends to draw a lot of fouls. He’s also really smart about positioning himself in ways that make up for his lack of height. He does have a tendency to get stripped when he puts the ball on the floor. Brunner worked a lot over the last year to extend his shooting range, and is a legitimate threat from the three point line, though he won’t attempt many out there.

Haluska is the guy I really like, especially from the stats angle. He’s very versatile on offense, and can be very efficient. He hits the three reasonably well (39% last year), gets to the free throw line pretty frequently and makes 80+% there, rarely turns the ball over, and scores really well around the basket. He really stepped up after Pierre Pierce was kicked off the team last year, leading the team in scoring for their 12 remaining games against Big 10 teams.

3) Tell us a bit about the rest of Iowa's starters (anyone not mentioned in #2) and the bench. What sort of rotation should we expect?

Erek Hansen starts at center. He’s something of a mixed bag in that he’s a terrific shot blocker but an atrocious rebounder (at least he was last year). Last year, he blocked over five shots per 40 minutes, but his reb% was only 7.6%. He’s shown some signs of improvement this year, though. He’s notorious for his foul troubles, and has been the first man subbed out of every game, often in the first three or four minutes.

Mike Henderson starts at guard, mostly because of his highly-touted defense, and handles the ball quite a bit at the other end. He’s really pesky as an on-the-ball defender, and has stripped many a dribbler already this year. Offensively, he’s shown some ability to penetrate, which gets him free throws, but his passing is very weak. He simply doesn’t create better shots for his teammates.

Doug Thomas is the first guy off the bench, coming in for Hansen. He makes up for his relative shortness (6-8) with strength and great jumping ability. He’s easily Iowa’s best rebounder and ignites the crowd with his trademarked Thunder Dunks. That was about all he could do last year, but he looks more capable of contributing on offense this year.

Tony Freeman gives the backcourt some depth. He’s a short point guard who passes well, and whose defense is about as highly regarded as Henderson’s. Alex Thompson (6-9) comes in to play both forward positions. His scrappiness makes him a decent defender, and he seems to be constantly improving (he’s just a sophomore). He probably had his best career game with 11 points and 8 rebounds on Saturday.

4) How do you think Iowa will attack NC State? Or, how SHOULD the Hawkeyes attack NC State?

It would be nice to force the pace, build a lead, and get NC State out of their patient offensive mode, though I doubt that will happen. I’ll be happy enough to see the ball go inside to Brunner and see if he can push around NC State’s lighter post players.

5) Along those lines: what do the Hawkeyes need to do in order to be successful on Wednesday?

Iowa needs to take care of the ball and start hitting some three pointers. The offense was poor against Kentucky and Texas, mainly because Horner and Haluska missed so many jump shots. Brunner is reliable inside, and rebounding isn’t much of a concern, but I think they’ll need some threes to keep pace with a good offensive team like NC State.

6) What aspect of the Wolfpack (or player matchup) concerns you the most?

The number of guys capable of hitting the three worries me. Northwestern plays a similar style, and we lose to them seemingly every year, even though they haven’t had a winning conference record since the ‘60s. If you’re patient enough with Iowa’s defense, there’s usually a good shot to be found, and the Wolfpack seem capable of exploiting that. And I don’t like the idea of Hansen and Brunner being drawn away from the basket and their area of defensive strength.

Since I doubt NC State will have many turnovers (they handle the ball well, plus Iowa gets conservative and doesn’t try to force TOs against good teams), Iowa will have to keep them from shooting well. If the outside shots are falling, NC State will be tough.

The slow pace worries me too. Iowa tends to make a couple stupid turnovers each game, and its nice to have a few extra possessions to even those out. If this game only has 60 or so possessions, they’ll have to play with fewer mistakes than they have so far.

7) And finally, give us your prediction.

I expect this one to be pretty close and low scoring. I like Iowa’s defense, and I’m hoping the home crowd gives them a bit of an edge, so I’ll say 65-61, Hawks.