Defense Will Determine Iowa’s Fate This Year
The No. 23 Iowa Hawkeyes have been scoring at will this season. They were averaging 89 points per game before putting up 98 against the usually stout Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Iowa City. Any team that scores more than 75 points against a Mike Brey-led team is an offensive juggernaut.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery is likely thrilled that his team nearly hit the century mark against such a defensively-disciplined team, but he can’t be happy with his team’s defensive execution to start the season.
The Hawkeyes have formidable size. Point guard Mike Gesell is the only starter under 6-foot-6 and his backup, Anthony Clemons, was the only other player under 6-foot-6 to play a minute for Iowa tonight. The team also have at least three above-average outside shooters in Jarrod Uthoff, Zach McCabe and Gesell.
Furthermore, Roy Devyn Marble showed that he can take over a game as he scored 13 straight points midway through the second half to create some breathing room for the Hawkeyes. He was the only player that seemed to be able to create his own shot off the dribble consistently throughout the game, however.
Crisp ball movement covers up a lot of Iowa’s shortcomings in the quickness department offensively, but Iowa’s attempts to cover up its lack of quickness on defense have been barely adequate thus far.
For most of the game, the Hawkeyes put the 6-foot-9 Uthoff at the top of a 1-2-2 zone when Notre Dame brought the ball up court, hoping that his long arms would be able to force bad passes or poor decisions. However, the Hawkeyes did not pressure the Fighting Irish with this approach. It seemed like it was more of a passive defense meant to allow the Iowa players to catch their breath between spurts of offensive sorcery.
Notre Dame recognized that Iowa wasn’t really committed to defense, and the Fighting Irish continually got the ball inside to Garrick Sherman, who set a career-high 29 points despite being often being hounded by two or three Hawkeyes that were comparable to him in size.
The problem for Iowa was that these defenders often were late to react to passes, or were unable to get themselves into position quickly enough to prevent Notre Dame from working the ball into the middle of the lane for a close-range shot.
Iowa was able to secure enough rebounds to hold off the Fighting Irish, and it will have to continue to clean up on the defensive glass in order to finish at or near the top of the Big Ten Conference this season, as teams will get open looks against the Hawkeyes. The good news is that Iowa ranks sixth in the nation with 46 rebounds per game, so the Hawkeyes will have plenty of opportunities for their offense to overwhelm opponents and mask their defensive weaknesses.
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