Iowa Hoops Through Five Games

The Iowa basketball team has played five games this year and they have five wins to show for it; you can't do any better than that. A much more challenging portion of the schedule is dead ahead, beginning Friday in Las Vegas against West Virginia. Jon Miller takes a look at Iowa through five games, comparing key stats and player performances through five games one year ago...

The Iowa Men's basketball team is off to a 5-0 start on the 2008-2009 season. Hey, you can't ask for better than that.

There have been three blowout wins, a six-point win after Iowa let a double-digit second half lead evaporate yet still held on to win, and a double-digit win that was tight late, but the Hawkeyes came through.

There have been several teaching opportunities this year, and several instances where this young Iowa team has stepped up in the face of some adversity.

Iowa hit 20 of 22 free throws against Texas-San Antonio in a game where the Hawks committed 19 turnovers. Iowa committed just seven turnovers against Charleston Southern and SEMO and had just six against The Citadel on the road.

Iowa knocked off SEMO 75-41 on Tuesday night, its final tuneup before the challenging part of its non conference schedule begins. The 75 points matches last year's out of conference high point total. As I mentioned earlier, Iowa committed just seven turnovers. Iowa has settled into a pattern early in the year; 7 turnovers, 19 turnovers, 6 turnovers, 16 turnovers and 7 turnovers. The common theme in the double-digit turnovers games is teams applying full court pressure to Iowa. In the three games where Iowa has single-digit turnover levels, their opponents did not apply consistent full court pressure.

The Hawkeyes are clearly taking better care of the basketball this year; they had 89 turnovers through five games last year, compared to just 55 this year. For the mathematically challenged, that's down 6.8 turnovers per game. Not surprisingly, Iowa has attempted more field goals this season through five games; +15. Iowa is averaging 11 turnovers per game, which is great, but they are forcing just 12 turnovers per game. That being said, I would wager that Coach Lickliter would be content with that margin, as long as his team is placing value on each possession.

Iowa is also shooting the ball much better this year than it did through five games last year; .517 this year from the floor compared to .457 one year ago. Iowa is also shooting much better from three-point range this year, and the line is a foot farther back. The Hawks are hitting .417 from three this year through five games compared to .365 last year.

But this stat really jumps out at me; Iowa has taken 121 three point shots this year through five games compared to just 85 last year. Iowa attempted 640 three's all of last season. They are on pace to attempt over 750 trey's this year, which is a record pace; the 1995 team attempted 743.

Anthony Tucker is showing an early penchant for long range marksmanship, hitting 20 of 46 three-point attempts. I know it's early, and it's likely folly to try to project a season based on just five basketball games. Still, I enjoy taking a look at some of these early numbers and extrapolating them out over the course of a 31 game schedule.

Having done that with Tucker's numbers through five, he is on pace to hoist 285 three point attempts. That's less than 10 off of Chris Kingsbury's all time season record. Justin Johnson attempted 269 last season, for a more recent comparison. He is also on pace to make 124 three's, which would best Kingsbury's record of 117 in a single season. I doubt he passes either of those marks, but it's clear that he is unafraid to shoot the ball and he has the green light from the Iowa coaching staff. He is also one of those players that is in range when he walks into the gym; he knocked down a 27 footer Tuesday night without any disruption in his normal shooting form. Also, Jeff Horner's career marks for three's attempted (713) and three's made (261) may be in jeopardy, but there's a lot of basketball to be played. Tucker is averaging 15.8 points per game, which leads the team this year. All of this is to underscore that Tucker is off to a very solid start in his true freshman season.

I continue to be impressed by Matt Gatens. He is second on the team in scoring at 11.0 points per game, he leads the team with 23 assists (to just 12 turnovers) and he is third on the team in rebounds, behind Cyrus Tate and Tucker (which is a surprise, but Tucker's 10 rebounds against SEMO helped his cause).

Gatens has a court savvy that belies his true freshman age, and the advance evaluations on the type of player he might be in college have certainly proven to be true thus far on the season.

You can see that Tucker and Gatens have not been ‘awestruck' by the move to the college level, and I think two things are responsible for that; one, the level of competition hasn't been great through five games, but two, these two cut their teeth on the AAU circuit, playing against the best in the country. They are not alone; that's more common than not in this day and age of basketball. But these two players have a very high basketball IQ, which is nice to see in Todd Lickliter's system.

Before I continue onto other early observations, I must say that I expect both of these players to have their share of struggles this year as the competition improves, which it will do beginning Friday against West Virginia. That being said, they will not be intimidated and I doubt they will shrink away and be timid as the season goes on. They are freshmen, and most freshmen not named Durant, Oden or Beasley experience some level of struggle in their initial campaigns. That being said, I like what I have seen thus far, and the future is bright for these two.

I have also liked what I have seen out of Jeff Peterson. He flashed early last year, averaging 9.8 points per game through five games one year ago. But he also had 19 assists to 18 turnovers. This year through five, Peterson is averaging 8.4 points per game, which is on par with last year. However, his assist to turnover ratio is stratospheric; 22 to 4! While that pace cannot be maintained the rest of this season, it's clear that things are happening a littler slower for Peterson this year, and I mean that in a good way. He has played one year in Lickliter's system, and he knows what to expect. Therefore I contend that he is reacting as opposed to thinking this year, which is always a good thing.

Cyrus Tate is averaging 9.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game through five games in 25 minutes per game. He got off to a very slow start last year and came on strong over Iowa's final 12 games. Through five games one year ago, Tate was averaging 5.4 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in 14.2 minutes per game. Tate has found himself in early foul trouble a couple of times this year, something that needs to be monitored. If Iowa has any chance of improving on its Big Ten record from one year ago, Tate is going to have to factor into things in a big way. Is Iowa consistent at feeding the post? I would not say that, and that's something we have seen all across college basketball in the past five or six years.

Jake Kelly is averaging 8.4 points per game to go along with 15 assists to just three turnovers, a solid start to his year that began with a broken finger on his shooting hand.

The coaching staff continues to bring Jarryd Cole along slowly as he rounds his way back into playing shape, having missed the second half of last season with a torn ACL. He is averaging just under 10 minutes of court time per game, which is probably a wise strategy. He may not hit his stride until the Big Ten season begins, which is about right for recovery for an injury like that in this sport. I recall watching Brandon Rush of Kansas last year, who suffered an ACL injury in the spring of 2007. He began playing in December of 2007, and he was nowhere near the player he was before the injury. He only got back to that level in late February and March of last season, which was just in time for the Jayhawks national title run.

As I mentioned earlier, the challenging portion of the non conference schedule has arrived, as Iowa will play West Virginia on Friday in Las Vegas. They will play either Kansas State or Kentucky on Saturday. Then it's a cross-country ride to play at Boston College on Tuesday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, before returning home for a game against Bryant University on 12/5. Then the Hawks host UNI on 12/9, Iowa State on 12/12 and at Drake on 12/20.

Iowa figured to start this year 5-0, and it accomplished that objective. Coming out of Las Vegas with a split would be a respectable showing, and beating two of the three instate teams would also be a very nice accomplishment. I see a realistic scenario where Iowa could be 10-3 before it starts Big Ten play. Iowa won 13 games last year, but finished just 6-12 in Big Ten play. Six wins should be the low end of conference expectations this year, but anything more than eight wins will be a challenge given how the schedule falls.

While I still believe this team will be a 16-15 or 17-14 club, it has shown signs of improvement in its first give games this year compared to the same number of games last year. Jake Kelly will get better as his hand heals, and Cyrus Tate's numbers will emerge. Jarryd Cole should be a different player by the time January rolls around and Jeff Peterson is much improved as a floor leader. I don't expect Gatens and Tucker to continue to play the way they have been, over the course of a 31 game regular season, but I have already seen enough from them to know that the ‘kids will be alright.'

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