Points in Transition: Iowa vs. Maryland preview

Hawkeyes go on the road for 3 straight games after starting Big Ten play 0-4

Iowa Hawkeyes forward Tyler Cook (5) and guard Isaiah Moss (4) talk as they walk off the court following their loss to Ohio State Buckeyes in their Big Ten Conference basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes forward Tyler Cook (5) and guard Isaiah Moss (4) talk as they walk off the court following their loss to Ohio State Buckeyes in their Big Ten Conference basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

There’s nothing like following up an 0-4 start to Big Ten play — three of those losses coming at home — with three straight conference games on the road. The Iowa men’s basketball team starts a 16-day gap between games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday night at Maryland.

For every conference game, we’ll look at key players, strengths and weaknesses for both teams and the key to winning for both sides. Here’s a breakdown of the matchup between Iowa and Maryland, which tips off at 7 p.m. Sunday on FS1:

Player to Watch

Iowa: Isaiah Moss, guard — Moss has shown the ability to be a quality outside shooter and energizer for the offense this year, but not nearly consistently enough. Given Maryland’s best players are in its backcourt, Moss is going to have to have a solid game to give Jordan Bohannon some help on the outside.

Maryland: Kevin Huerter, guard — A 6-foot-7 guard is not something to be trifled with. Huerter isn’t the leading scorer for the Terps — Anthony Cowan has that distinction at 16.2 points per game — but the sophomore is a close second at 14.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. The combination of his size and quickness make him a tremendously tough matchup for Iowa’s backcourt, or whatever frontcourt player draws him in man.

Strengths

Iowa: There are these brief snippets of time, in the last two games specifically, where Iowa will play with a patience and deliberateness that suggests it's capable of so much more than it has been collectively. When things are going right, the motion offense is played with patience, there’s movement with purpose and shot selection is high-percentage.

Among those strengths are when Tyler Cook gets the ball in good position and can quickly recognize the most efficient move to make next. His 28 and 21 points in the last two games suggest he’s been right far more than he’s been wrong, but it’s not just him. When it’s been right, the offense works when he can go inside-out, too.

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Patience and purpose have been there — at times. When it’s right, Iowa looks like it did at the high points last year. The issue is it hasn’t been right nearly enough.

Maryland: The Terrapins are very good at a lot of different things, and it starts with their backcourt.

They’re efficient on both ends, at 1.122 points per possession on offense (41st on KenPom.com) and 0.957 ppp on defense. They shoot an effective field goal percentage of 55.3 percent (41st) and hold opponents to 44.5 percent (18th). They snag offensive rebounds at a high rate, 35.4 percent (31st). They get to the free throw line (42.4 percent free throw rate, ranked 25th) and don’t put opponents on the line (20.5 percent, ranked second).

Those numbers are sparked by Cowan, Huerter and Darryl Morsell, the starting trio of guards whose usage rates are 23 percent, 20.1 percent and 22.3 percent, respectively. They provide a combination of styles that collectively is quite difficult to guard.

Efficiency combined with versatility is hard to beat in anyone, especially on the road.

Weaknesses

Iowa: You’ve read so much, on social media and news websites, about what goes in this section, anything that can be written here feels repetitive.

But if there’s something to be said in this space that hasn’t yet at length, it’s that head coach Fran McCaffery’s decisions concerning the rotation deserve examination. His strategy, as long as he’s been at Iowa, is to play somewhere around 11 players. But so far this year — in particular the last few games — the bottom part of the rotation has not offered the needed level of production in the few minutes in which they get to play. Brady Ellingson, Ryan Kriener and Ahmad Wagner play the fewest minutes per game in the rotation, and have a low impact.

Looking at Box Plus/Minus — the number of points per 100 possessions a player contributes above a league-average player — Ellingson is a minus-0.7, Wagner a 0.9 and Kriener a 3.3. Kriener’s number puts him fifth on the team, but behind three other forwards, meaning that impact is less important given it’s a position of depth. All that to say, if the rotation was shortened, and other players had more of a chance to settle in on the floor, there’s a chance consistency grows.

Consistency has certainly not been a strength for the Hawkeyes.

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Maryland: Looking at advanced stats, there’s not a whole lot in the red — well below average — for Maryland, save for one glaring issue: ball security.

The Terrapins have been turnover-prone with some regularity, ranking 318th of the 351 teams in offensive turnover percentage (22.4 percent), and 341st in offensive steal percentage (11.6 percent). That’s a combination of mistakes both in the frontcourt and even the backcourt, which as mentioned is the driving force of the team.

Granted, some of those turnovers have come in garbage time of blowout wins, but trends are trends. They had 12 turnovers in a 30-point loss to Michigan State on Thursday (though Michigan State is probably going to do that to a lot of teams). Given Iowa has had its most success defensively when the press is forcing turnovers, this could be a window for the Hawkeyes.

Iowa wins if …

the Hawkeyes can stay patient, get more efficiency on offense from guys in addition to Tyler Cook and Jordan Bohannon, and more efficiency on defense from everybody. In short, a near complete turnaround from this week.

Maryland wins if …

the Terps can keep Iowa off the glass, not let the Hawkeyes’ press get settled and force turnovers and keep their efficiency on both ends of the floor against a team that has allowed most opponents to do so.

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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