At the beginning of the season, I was hopeful to provide a running commentary of Iowa’s lineups game-to-game. But, the more I kept track of the data, the less it seemed to make sense. There were simply too many laughers which drastically affected the numbers and, in my view, didn’t provide a true picture of what this team actually is.
Further, the amount of data that gets gathered pales into comparison when it comes to the NBA’s robust data set. For instance, since Iowa played their first game on November 11th, the San Antonio Spurs have played 28 games at 48 minutes per game, not including overtime. And since the shot clocks are shorter, the data gathered during the same time frame is roughly 2.5 times as large, assuming every possession lasts the duration of their respective shot clocks.
Yet after 3 games in conference play, now seems as good as time as any to revisit what I’ve compiled for a couple reasons:
- Iowa’s rotation has solidified
Perhaps most importantly, Fran McCaffery has identified his main guys. Players like Cordell Pemsl and Isaiah Moss (and Jordan Bohannon, to a certain extent) did not get a true look for about the first 6 games of the season. Now that Tyler Cook is back from an injury which spurred the aforementioned players’ insertion to the starting lineup, there is a clear top 10 — Starters Bohannon, Moss, Peter Jok, Cook, and Pemsl, super-sub Nicholas Baer, and additional bench guys in Brady Ellingson, Ahmad Wagner, Dom Uhl, and Christian Williams.
- There is a small, but real, sample which exists to evaluate lineups
As I mentioned, despite playing in 16 games so far, only 8 have occurred against teams Ken Pomeroy identifies as A or B. This means exactly half of Iowa’s games are against competition not considered to be in the adjusted top 100 of Division I basketball. In those 8 games, Iowa has won 7 by double digits. In the 8th, they lost to Nebraska Omaha. Because of the how this sample overwhelms numbers against better teams, it is difficult to identify how good this team might be as certain units in aggregate.
Going forward, Iowa will be playing 11 out of their next 16 games against current A/B teams. Now is the time to see what works and what doesn’t.
Disclaimer: I was unable to find video of the Virginia/Iowa game. As such, its data is not included and positively affects Iowa since it was deemed an A game and they lost by 30
In the data I have for 7 games against A/B opponents, where Iowa is 2–5, the minute split for Iowa’s front court is as follows:
From this, it is impressive to see Nicholas Baer lead the charge as the main minutes-getter across the 3/4/5 positions. He has amassed 177 minutes, which is 24 minutes greater than Cordell Pemsl. Further, he has done it at all 3 positions, split 56%/40%/4%, respectively. As the first man off the bench with his ability to slot into multiple roles, it is clear that he is the main piece of the frontcourt puzzle for McCaffery. Though Iowa currently performs worse with him on the court (-.14 PPM vs. -.11 PPM), all of that difference and more can be traced to the Purdue game, where he was -20.
Looking more specifically to the 4/5, I wanted to see how Iowa performed with the two guys who appear most ready for the rigors of Big Ten play: Tyler Cook and Cordell Pemsl. What I found was that Iowa performs significantly worse with neither of them on the floor:
When both players are in, the net PPM is actually better than Jok/Baer (-.07 in 132.93 minutes). While 29 minutes without either player on the court occured in 2 games Cook was out (at Notre Dame & vs. ISU), the early returns are Fran should keep one of them is on the floor at anytime, which he did against Seton Hall. Cook and Pemsl need to oblige by playing smart defense and staying out of foul trouble.
Much like the frontcourt, here is breakdown in minutes at the 1/2 position:
Quite frankly, I have been blown away by the competence that Jordan Bohannon has shown in cementing himself as the starting PG for this year (and the next three). While he struggled against great defense at times — his whole +/- difference can be traced to the Purdue game — he has played with a confidence I did not expect.
Christian Williams is a bit of an enigma, as Fran has played him out of position as the backup PG for the bulk of his minutes. His numbers are not favorable, as Iowa’s -.17 PPM with him at the 1 actually decreases when you get rid of the positive garbage time minutes he played against Purdue.
Thankfully, there appears to be another option at backup PG and it is coming from a very unlikely source: Brady Ellingson. In the 8.5 minutes he’s played there, Iowa has gone +4 which is far better than his numbers at other positions. Further, I believe this enables Williams to play his more natural position on the wing and provide another option to the point on Iowa’s press as up until this point, they’ve largely used Jok and Baer.
There are only so many ways to say it, but Jok is the offensive star of the team so far. Well before the season, I postulated how he might be able to emulate Buddy Hield’s 2015–16 season and so far he has actually exceeded what I thought he would do, in terms of raw output, though he hasn’t approached Hield’s efficiency from last year.
How has he been able to do it? He has become the fulcrum of Iowa’s offense by shooting 36% of their shots (all games) when his on the floor. He has shot 4.3 more shots and 1.7 more free throws per game than last year, despite playing only 2 more minutes per game. His efficiency numbers have risen across the board, going from 46.0%/40.2%/85.2% to 47.9%/41.6%/91.4% for 2P/3P/FT, respectively. If you prorated his PPG to Hield’s 2016 minutes per game (35.4 MPG from 29.4 MPG), he would be outscoring Hield by 2.4 PPG.
Jok’s individual numbers buoy the team’s offense against A/B opponents, as they shoot an eFG% of 53.8% when he is on the court vs. 42.5% when he is off. They also post a FTA/FGA ratio of .340 when Jok is on while it is only .184 when he is off. The main area Jok can work to improve is on defense, where opponents eFG% is 55.2% when he is playing but 50.6% when he is on the bench.
By leveraging Baer’s versatility, staggering Cook and Pemsl, and continuing the Ellingson PG experiment behind Peter Jok’s offensive brilliance, this team will continue to improve. While I’m not optimistic they can put it all together in time for an NCAA tournament run, they will definitely be able to provide exciting basketball with the pieces they have in place.