If you're a basketball junkie like me, you've been very quick to read the articles about the Hawkeyes' games in Australia during the last week. While these individual games might not mean a whole lot in the big picture, it seems that whenever an Iowa team takes an off-season trip like this, it helps the team — and the coaching staff — quite a bit heading into the season.
These trips probably draw the team closer together and create a little more camaraderie than a typical summer might produce. And we've all heard the word "chemistry" about a bajillion times in the last few seasons, so we know of its importance.
Camaraderie and chemistry are great things to have, that's for sure. But, what about the tangible elements of the game? Things like field goal percentages, rebounds and turnovers. I pored through the statistics of Iowa's first four games in Australia and — while I'm well aware it's only August — these are some of my thoughts and observations…
Pierre Pierce has had no problem getting comfortable — apparently VERY comfortable — on the floor again for the Hawkeyes. The sophomore has taken 60 shots from the field so far, which is 30 percent more than any of his teammates. However, Pierce is struggling with his shooting as he is just 1 for 8 from behind the arc and has made only 66 percent of his free throws. It appears that his success is coming by taking the ball to the basket, as he has gotten to the foul line 38 times in four games…almost twice as much as the next Hawkeye.
Jeff Horner is healthy and playing very well. It's great to see the sophomore from Mason City regain his shooting touch. Horner has made 53 percent of his field goal tries and is 11 of 21 (52 percent) from 3-point land. Plus, he's 18 for 18 at the free-throw line. This is very good news for Hawkeye fans. If the point guard can carry his perimeter shooting and free-throw accuracy over to the regular season, Iowa's offense will have a terrific weapon.
Brody Boyd is also shooting the ball extremely well from the perimeter. The senior is 15 of 33 (46 percent) from downtown. Boyd has been pretty streaky the last couple of seasons, but I'm hoping he'll have a strong senior season. The Hawks are going to need his long-distance shooting touch to open up penetration lanes for Pierce and keep opponents from doubling down on Iowa's posts.
I'm surprised at Jared Reiner's shooting percentages. The senior center is 22 of 46 (48 percent) from the floor and 12 of 20 (60 percent) at the line. I would expect both of these percentages to jump in the regular season. Reiner leads the team with 10.3 rebounds per game.
Glen Worley and Greg Brunner are both shooting well and taking good shots, it appears. Worley is 21 of 38 (55 percent) from the field, while Brunner is 19 of 32 (59 percent).
Sean Sonderleiter is still a bit of an enigma. The senior post is shooting 59 percent from the floor, but has made only 5 of 16 (31 percent) from the free-throw line. Hmmm.
As a team, Iowa is shooting 49 percent from the floor through four games, which tells me the shot selection is pretty good. Of course, it helps when the Hawks make 33 of 83 (40 percent) from behind the arc.
I'm a little concerned that Iowa's opponents have shot more free throws than the Hawks (133 to 126).
I am pleased that Iowa has out-rebounded its opponents so far, by an average of 8.2 boards per game. That's always an important stat and Coach Alford has to be happy with the team's performance in this area.
One red flag that jumps out at me is Iowa's assist-to-turnover ratio in the first four games, which is 0.8:1. That's not very good. In fact, out of the eight players in the rotation, only Horner (1.7:1) and Boyd (4.5:1) have ratios over 1:1. Pierce has averaged 5.5 turnovers per game so far, which gives him something to focus on between now and November.
One of the things I love about Horner is that he has such a complete game. He doesn't have to shoot well in order to PLAY well…and there aren't many players like that. The games in Australia are 48 minutes long, so I adjusted Horner's stats to the equivalents for 40-minute games. He would be averaging 16.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists and leading the Hawks in steals. Very impressive. Iowa is in great shape at point guard for the next three seasons if Horner can remain healthy.
Glen Worley is still fouling too much. Even if you look at the 40-minute equivalent, the senior forward is averaging 3.8 fouls per game. This is an area Worley NEEDS to improve on. The clock is ticking.
I thought it was great to see Iowa win the one game that was in doubt in the final minute, defeating Sydney 100-99 in overtime. Reiner made the game-winning basket after a couple of big 3-pointers by Boyd. Any time your team finds a way to win a tight game, it gains some experience and confidence that it can draw upon to do it again. Winning close games can snowball in your favor just like it can go the other way. Nothing does more for your team than winning a close game.
I'm a little disappointed — I know that sounds harsh for August — in the performance of Nick DeWitz. I was hoping that the junior college transfer might be a big-time producer for Iowa this season ... and maybe he will be. But in the first four games in Australia, DeWitz is seventh on the team in scoring, seventh in rebounding and sixth in assists. Hopefully, he becomes more comfortable — and more productive — in the next few months.
I like the starting lineup that Coach Alford is using. It looks to me like Horner, Pierce, Worley and Reiner are locked into starting spots. So, who gets to join them in the lineup? Right now, Boyd is playing shooting guard, which puts Pierce at the small forward spot. I think this works for a couple of reasons. Number one, you HAVE to have a couple of 3-point threats on the floor or the defense will take away your offensive spacing and double your posts all the time. Number two, it moves Pierce to a small forward position, which I think suits his game right now…and sets him up to be sort of a point forward as his skills improve.
Phil J.: Marty, what if Fred Russell gets hurt this year? Who will be Iowa's featured RB? Can Iowa win without Russell?
If Russell gets hurt, which is definitely a possibility, my guess is that Albert Young will jump into the starting tailback position for Iowa. The freshman from New Jersey is 5-10, 205 pounds and runs a 4.5 40-yard dash.
Can Iowa win without Russell? In the short term, probably. If Russell gets dinged up and misses a game or two, the Hawks might be able to stay afloat against some of the teams on their schedule. And if the offensive line plays extremely well, maybe a freshman tailback could be effective for a handful of games. I just hope we don't have to find out the answers to these questions.
Stacy F.: I LOVED your article about retiring Chuck's No. 16 jersey! I totally agree -- it's way past time for this to be done!
Thanks for the kind words, Stacy F. I certainly hope that "the powers that be" see fit to do this someday.
Thomas Hawk: Marty, what if Iowa's offensive line struggles early on this season. Do you think O'Keefe would consider going to a shotgun offense with Chandler throwing 45 times a game. I love Mo Brown and hinkel and I think Russell is a good receiver too. What do you think?
Interesting idea, Thomas Hawk. But, don't hold your breath. First of all, I think that Iowa's offensive line will perform at a higher level than most people think this season. And if anyone can coach offensive linemen, it's Coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff.
Josh M.: Marty, After hearing of the taped conversations involving former Baylor men's basketball coach Dave Bliss attempting a cover-up of the scandals with the program, do you feel that the basketball team should be given the death penalty? I think when you look at the big picture the sum of these major violations could prompt such a ruling. Also, if I were the Big XII, I would give serious consideration to removing Baylor from the conference. It's about time somebody stands up and says that this type of behavior from "student-athletes" and despicable self-serving programs will not be tolerated. What do you think?
I think that when I heard the comments made by Dave Bliss, I was about ready to vomit. While it's always disgusting when million-dollar, professional athletes do ridiculously stupid, reckless and illegal things, it's almost become so commonplace that I'm not all that affected anymore. But when I saw the comments made by a man who was in charge of a college basketball program — a coach who has always been portrayed a one of the "good guys" — I was stunned.
I would have a hard time disagreeing with any punishment that is thrown in the direction of the Baylor basketball program. And while I am positive that guys like Mike Price and Larry Eustachy will find college coaching jobs in the near future, I will be shocked if Bliss ever has a similar position again.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular Web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)