March Madness: Iowa's guide to the B1G Tournament
The Iowa Hawkeyes had a chance to pull off a massive road victory over Illinois in the final game of the regular season to guarantee themselves a spot in the quarterfinals of the B1G Tournament but blew a 15-point lead and faded down the stretch.
Sunday night’s loss is certainly forgivable in a tough environment against a good team, but Iowa had plenty of chances. Instead of receiving the double bye, the Hawkeyes will enter conference tournament play as the No. 5 seed and will play either Nebraska or Northwestern in the second round.
The Hawkeyes found their stride in the middle of conference play, winning five games in a row and eight of their previous nine before the two-point loss to Illinois. Iowa finished the regular season with a 22-9 overall record including 12-8 in the B1G.
The Hawkeyes will return to the floor on Thursday afternoon, and here’s a look at 5 things they need to do to run through Indianapolis with a B1G title.
Speed it up
For college basketball fans who enjoy a fast-paced style of play, there’s a lot to love about Iowa. That’s when the Hawkeyes are at their best. Iowa ranks No. 2 in the conference in possessions per game and maximizing possessions has been great for the Hawkeyes’ offense. They lead the B1G in points per game, and KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency shows them to be one of the top offenses nationally.
The Hawkeyes should be more comfortable in playing this style than any other team that could challenge them in the B1G Tournament. Assuming the Hawkeyes get past whoever comes out of the Nebraska vs. Northwestern game, no other team in the conference ranks inside the top 150 nationally in possessions per game.
When Iowa is playing at its pace, it becomes a more dangerous matchup.
Get the ball to Keegan Murray
Keegan Murray is the most talented player on the roster and is a future Top 10 selection, according to plenty of the NBA mock drafts you’ll find on the internet. He leads the B1G in scoring with 23.8 points per game, and that number ranks fourth nationally. As crazy as it might sound about a guy who ranks 20th in the country in field goal attempts per game, Murray is underutilized in this offense.
When you consider Murray’s ability to get to the free throw line, his field goal percentage and the number of possessions Iowa averages per game, he should be an even bigger factor for the Hawkeyes. Just two games ago, Murray shot 7-of-9 from the floor against Michigan. Iowa won this game, which doesn’t exactly back up my point, but there should never be a scenario where Murray shoots the ball fewer than 10 times when he’s completely healthy.
Murray is a talent who can carry a team this time of year, and the ball should be in his hands as often as possible.
Don’t panic in tight matchups
Throughout its impressive run down the stretch of the regular season, Iowa did not have many close games as they continued to blow teams out. In order for the Hawkeyes to find themselves with a trophy on Sunday night, they’ll likely need to close things out in tight ballgames.
Iowa did not seem all that confident late in the loss to Illinois, highlighted by missed free throws late. The Hawkeyes were fouled on a 3-pointer twice, and that resulted in just 1 made free throw. In the final 3 minutes, Iowa shot 3-for-9 from the line in a game it lost by 2 points. It’s just one game but closing teams out when the game is close is an area where the Hawkeyes have struggled this season.
Iowa is just 3-7 in games decided by less than 10 points, and the Hawkeyes lost four in a row where the final score was within 5 points. The Hawkeyes have been great at building large leads, but they will need to not panic and find ways to win in the clutch moments against quality B1G opponents they’re likely to face in this tournament.
Find a way to get stops
Just about every stat you’ll find shows that Iowa is not a very good defensive team. For as good as the offense is, the Hawkeyes’ defense ranks No. 13 in points allowed per game and No. 10 in field goal percentage among B1G teams.
The lack of defense is even shown in rebounding numbers. Iowa puts a ton of effort in crashing the glass on the offensive end, averaging the most offensive boards per game in the B1G, while it is ranked 12th in defensive rebounds per game.
If you’re into the more advanced metrics, Iowa is barely inside the top 75 nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency. There’s a ceiling to teams that cannot get consistent stops when needed, and the Hawkeyes cannot win the B1G Tournament without improvement on defense.
Continue dominating the turnover battle
It feels like we’re talking about the Iowa football team because just like the Hawkeyes this past fall, the basketball program does an excellent job in just about all the turnover statistics you can find. Iowa turns the ball over on just 12.3% of its possessions, which ranks No. 1 nationally. The Hawkeyes do not rank as well at creating turnovers, but they’re still forcing 14.1 turnovers per game, which is the most in the B1G.
Creating turnovers consistently can be difficult to rely on when you’re playing team that do well in taking care of the ball, but they can negate some of Iowa’s limitations on the defensive end. If Iowa can keep stealing possessions like it has been able to do this season, the Hawkeyes will be a tough out this weekend.