First, the good news:
- Any time that you win a close game, it becomes easier to do it the next time around. Once you've done it, you know you can do it again. A team's confidence in close games has a certain momentum…and it can snowball either way, good or bad. Winning a close game away from Iowa City against a ranked team will give the Hawkeyes an instant jolt of confidence. It should also give the coaching staff a nice boost to have defeated Rick Pitino and the Cardinals.
- One sign of a strong team is that it doesn't HAVE to rely on one or two players to provide big numbers against tough competition. Granted, it would be great if Pierre Pierce and Jared Reiner scored 16 to 20 points EVERY game, but the reality is that it won't happen. That's why it's so important that Greg Brunner (26 points) and Brody Boyd (22 points) knocked down several key shots on Saturday. If you rely too much on one or two people, you become much easier to defend. In addition, the success of Boyd and Brunner will ultimately lead to easier chances for Pierce and Reiner.
- Jeff Horner is a fantastic player. I don't know if everyone already knows this or not. But, I'm going to point out a few things anyway. The sophomore point guard played 45 minutes on Saturday. He never came out of the game. His turnover total against the Louisville pressure defense? Two. It takes a special player to make a great impact without shooting the ball well (1 for 7 from the floor, 2 for 5 from the line), but Horner does so many things well that Iowa NEEDS him on the floor. For example, he led the team with nine rebounds. When Pierce picked up his second foul with 14:22 remaining in the first half, Horner switched over and guarded Louisville's best offensive player, Francisco Garcia, who stands 6-7. When the Cardinals had the ball in overtime with the score tied at 63-63, it was Horner who drew an offensive foul on Garcia. And the Hawkeyes never trailed after that possession.
- Another sign of a very good team is when the "star" player gets hurt or has to sit with foul trouble, the guys on the floor find a way to get the job done anyway. Pierce was only on the floor for 62% of the game against Louisville, due in large part to foul difficulties. When the sophomore picked up his fourth foul with 16:49 remaining in regulation, Iowa trailed 36-35. When Pierce re-entered the game with 7:28 to play, the Hawks led 55-54. And while this wasn't technically a road game, the fact that Iowa managed to do this away from Carver-Hawkeye is even more impressive.
- The Hawkeyes did a terrific job against the Louisville pressure defense. Watching the tape, I kept a close eye on turnovers and how they occurred. Only TWO of Iowa's 17 turnovers were the result of the Cardinals' press. DeWitz was called for a five-second call in the second half—although Horner was open and should have received a pass—and Boyd had the ball knocked away with 7:30 to play in regulation. That's it. I realize that pressing is Pitino's "style," but at some point, you have to ask yourself if it's worth it. How many fouls did Louisville commit while applying pressure? How tired were their legs in overtime? Also, I thought it was very important for Iowa to have Pierce and Henderson bring the ball up the court against the press with some regularity in order to give Horner a chance to rest his legs a little bit.
- I'm not sure why Pitino discarded his 2-3 zone at halftime. The Cardinals allowed only seven points to Iowa during the 12 possessions they played the zone in the first half. That's only 0.6 points per possession…a pretty good defensive number. During the Hawkeyes' 74 possessions against Louisville's man-to-man, they scored 63 points…or 0.9 points per possession. I'm sure that Pitino felt he could turn up the tempo with his man-to-man, but considering two factors—his team's foul trouble and that Iowa wasn't turning it over against the press—Louisville may have been better suited to play at least some zone in the second half. My guess is that Iowa is going to see quite a bit of zone defense throughout this season.
- I counted 86 offensive possessions for Iowa. The Hawks were able to get the ball into the lane—either by penetration or post feeds—on 54 of those possessions (63%). That's a pretty good figure…and it was Iowa's success in the paint that gave the Hawks the victory. The more times you get the ball in the lane, the weaker the defense gets. You have better chances for high-percentage shots, you are more likely to get fouled and you can kick the ball out for open three-pointers. All good things. To take it a step further, Iowa scored 59 points on its 54 possessions that the ball went into the lane (1.1 points per possession). On the Hawks' 32 possessions that they did NOT get the ball in the paint at some point, they only scored 11 points (0.3 points per possession). That means that Iowa had a 3.7 times greater chance to score on a possession in which the ball got into the lane somehow. Fairly important in a one-point game, don't you think? Horner led Iowa with 8 post feeds, Pierce was next with 7 and Boyd had 6. Pierce penetrated into the paint 14 times, Horner was next with 5.
- This was probably Boyd's best all-around game since the Big 10 Tournament title game against Indiana three seasons ago. The senior from Dugger, Indiana played 36 minutes and made some very big baskets for Iowa. He also came up with a HUUUUGE offensive rebound at the end of regulation that kept the Cardinals from getting the final shot. Plus, he scored both of the Hawkeyes' field goals in the overtime. Boyd is obviously playing with a ton of confidence and his shooting touch is a terrific weapon in Iowa's halfcourt offense.
- This was DEFINITELY Brunner's best game as a Hawkeye. It will be difficult for him to top this performance this season, but hopefully, he can continue to attack the basket offensively, battle for rebounds, draw fouls, make free throws, dive for loose balls and knock down the occasional perimeter shot. Oh, and stay out of foul trouble. The forward from Charles City played 41 minutes of physical, aggressive basketball and committed only one foul. He made 10 of 14 shots from the floor and 5 of 6 from the line, but his best play may have been a blocked shot with 2:37 to play in overtime. Plus, I think he had the most desire of any player on the floor when a ball was up for grabs. I'm confident that Glen Worley is going to get healthy and put together a very good senior season, but if Brunner continues to perform like this, Worley will be the sixth man. Now, THAT would be a nice problem to have…a guy with Worley's abilities coming off the bench.
- Good job by Bob Bowlsby and Steve Alford to schedule a game like this early in the season. Not only will this type of competition help the Hawkeyes improve quite a bit, but the victory will look very nice to the Selection Committee in March.
Here are some concerns:
- Reiner needs to get the ball more often—in the paint—in Iowa's halfcourt offense. Coach Alford has stated in the past few months that he thinks Reiner is one of the top five players in the Big 10. That's pretty high praise, for sure. If that truly is how Coach Alford feels about his senior center, then he has to be concerned that Reiner only got the ball 11 times on Saturday within 15 feet of Iowa's basket. Eleven times. Keep in mind that Louisville had a limited roster to begin with and both of its big guys were in serious foul trouble throughout. In fact, Dartez and George both fouled out after playing a combined 27 minutes! That left Louisville guarding Reiner with 6-6 and 6-7 forwards.
After George fouled out with 11:08 remaining, Reiner only received the ball within 15 feet two more times. Seriously. In the final 16 minutes. The first time, he scored a three-point play. The next time, I think he was so frustrated about not receiving the ball, he actually penetrated into traffic and threw up an awkward shot. Human nature. On the 11 possessions that Reiner got the ball within 15 feet, Iowa scored 12 points and Reiner drew five fouls. That's pretty efficient, my friends. The Hawkeyes need to work on giving the post player a chance to get his feet set…and then, getting the proper angle to make the pass. For example, several times on Saturday, two dribbles to the baseline would've given the wing a perfect angle for a baseline, bounce-pass, post feed. DeWitz hit Brunner with this type of pass a couple of times for baskets in the first half.
- Iowa's transition defense could use some improvement. For the most part, the Hawkeyes did a good job of rotating back and beating the Cardinals down the floor. It's not easy to do, it will never make a highlight reel, but it will go a long way toward winning games. On Saturday, Iowa gave up 15 points in transition (by my count), including three three-pointers. That means that 22% of Louisville's points came in transition. I'm hoping that the Hawkeyes can get better in this phase of the game prior to the Big 10 season.
- The Hawks need to stop flying at jump shooters. You should never leave your feet toward a perimeter shooter. It's simply a bad gamble. Officials LOVE to give guys the three-shot foul and a good ball fake can take you completely out of the play. In the first six minutes of action against Louisville, Iowa's players flew at jump shooters FOUR times. The results: two times the Hawks fouled the shooter—Louisville made 4 of 5 free throws—and the other two times, the Cardinal player ball-faked, penetrated and kicked for an open shot. This is a bad habit the Hawks have and it will take some discipline to correct it.
- Henderson and DeWitz had tough outings in their first Division 1 game against a "big-name" opponent. I'm sure that nerves had something to do with it on Saturday, but Iowa will need these two guys to pick up their production in these types of games this season. In 29 minutes of combined action, the two newcomers failed to score a point, went 0 of 5 from the floor, had 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 turnovers. DeWitz seemed awfully passive with the ball on Saturday. And in his 11 minutes, Henderson didn't feed the post a single time…and the only time he penetrated into the lane, he was called for charging. However, DeWitz fed the post nicely a few times, and Henderson helped with ballhandling duties and played solid defense. I just think both of these guys are capable of more than they showed against Louisville.
- The Hawks need to do a better job of shooting free throws. (Thank you, Captain Obvious!) Iowa was only 13 of 24 (54%) against Louisville, which usually won't cut it in a close game, especially away from home. In fact, the Hawkeyes missed three front ends of one-and-ones, which means they had the opportunity to shoot 27 free throws…and only came away with 13 points. Not good. Horner and Pierce were a combined 4 for 10, which makes me a little nervous, since these two guys will be doing a majority of the ballhandling at the end of close games.
- The television announcers—Bob Neal and Quinn "I love Bob Knight so much I think I'll marry him" Buckner—never mentioned during the telecast that Steve Alford picked up a technical foul after the leg wrestling match between Pierce and Garcia. We knew that SOMEONE got a technical—or something—when Louisville was awarded a pair of free throws. But Neal and Buckner never told us why. They acted as if leg wrestling was an automatic two shots and the ball. I found that a little odd.
- The Geico hair replacement commercial was the best commercial I've seen in a while. I was laughing at the second guy who claimed, "I always wore a hat…even in the pool." But, then the third guy—who they showed taking the weakest swing with a tennis racket in history—said, "My tennis game has improved…I don't know, it just always seems like I'm acing the guy." Now THAT was funny. This guy made Charles Nelson Reilly seem masculine. "It just always seems like I'm acing the guy." Good stuff.
- Note to sideline reporter Stacy Paetz: Please don't ever give us an interview with Dell Curry that lasts for four possessions again. Never, never…EVER…again. Geez.
- Strangest comment of the game: This one came from Neal with a couple of minutes to play in overtime. He was talking about how well Brunner was playing, when he noted, "It's not that Brunner's a leaper, either." Hmmm. After a pair of powerful two-handed dunks—one in each half—and a HUGE blocked shot at the rim in overtime, I think the guy can LEAP. But, that's just me.
- One more thing: In games like this one against Louisville, you get a pretty clear indication of the confidence the coaching staff has in each member of the rotation. In the final 15 minutes on Saturday (10 minutes at the end of regulation and the five minutes of overtime), Coach Alford went with the five starters almost exclusively. During that span, Sonderleiter played 4:26 and Henderson played 2:41. DeWitz did not see any action. Otherwise, it was Horner, Boyd, Pierce, Brunner and Reiner taking care of business…and those guys definitely did a great job. The Hawks should jump into the national rankings this week and while it's still very early, there is plenty for Iowa fans to be excited about.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)