Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery said the night the Hawkeyes were awarded a No. 1 seed to the NIT that his team wasn’t going to take anyone in the tournament lightly. While that’s pretty standard for any coach in any sport, it’s apropos given Iowa has a team coming to town that recently beat a No. 1 seed … in the NCAA Tournament.
For each NIT 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 TCU:
Iowa: Tyler Cook, forward — Cook’s scoring and rebounding have been much more consistent and much more efficient recently, as pointed out after Iowa’s win against South Dakota. Looking away from the stat sheet, though, Cook has gotten vastly better with positioning and anticipation on defense. Where he was a step late a few months ago, he’s not anymore. He’s been active in the zone — whether on the baseline wing or in the middle — and his closeouts have been much better in that spot as well, which isn’t easy for a big man.
TCU: Vlad Brodziansky, forward — KenPom.com lists each individual player’s advanced stats, and if that player ranks in the top 500 (of 2,164 eligible players), it’s listed. Of the 18 categories, Brodziansky is ranked in 13 of them — and in the top 100 in three. He’s incredibly efficient on offense while averaging 13.5 points and is one of the best rim protectors in the country — ranking 20th in the nation in block percentage. He’s going to be able to guard Cook (or Pemsl) one-on-one and not need much help.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes returned to their pre-Big Ten Tournament form on offense and in transition against South Dakota — at least after a slightly careless streak of possessions in the first half.
But what was most impressive in the second half was something both Cook and Jordan Bohannon pointed out: handling pressure. Several of Iowa’s turnovers in the first half (10) were self-inflicted. Peter Jok dribbled the ball off his foot. Cook just let one go. Bohannon’s one turnover for the game was one in which the ball sort of squirted away while dribbling. Beyond that, though, Iowa handled the Coyotes’ pressure very well.
When the Hawkeyes’ ballhandlers can stay under control while defense doubles or helps, it frees big men up for lobs and shooters on the wing. It’s something Iowa couldn’t say earlier in the year.
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TCU: As versatile as Brodziansky is inside for the Horned Frogs, TCU is pretty well-rounded on both ends of the floor.
Playing in the Big 12 kind of requires an efficient offense, and the guards TCU rolls out have done a good job attacking on offense and spreading the ball around to find high-quality shots against some of the best teams in the country. TCU sits in the top 50 in Adjusted Offense at 1.126 points per possession, and shoots a 52.3 percent effective field goal percentage. The Horned Frogs also rank 49th in offensive rebounding percentage at 33.6.
While the TCU offense is aggressive in finding a shot, it’s a purposeful aggression. They many times will wait deep into the shot clock for a good look, and are one of the slower-tempo teams in their league.
Iowa: There still seems to be the tendency for the Hawkeyes to get a little ahead of themselves.
When things were at their worst on Wednesday — and by worst, that means most blasť with the ball — the Hawkeyes were trying for the home run in transition or quick-shooting the ball in the half-court. Cook and Bohannon acknowledged they were a bit rushed to start, and whether or not that was trying to bury the Indiana performance is irrelevant.
The Horned Frogs are good enough that quick-shooting and careless turnovers will be met with buckets the other way.
All that said, McCaffery made a good point after the Coyotes game in which he said Iowa has to give respect to its opponent for a few of those mistakes. It’s about handling the situations in which an opponent puts your team in a bad spot. And TCU has shown the ability to put teams in a bad spot.
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TCU: It’s easy to look at TCU and its seven straight losses to end Big 12 play and assume the Horned Frogs reverted back to what might have been expected of them traditionally. But in that stretch, they took a three-point loss to Oklahoma State, and one-point losses to West Virginia and Kansas State — all three of which made the NCAA Tournament. Then there was that upset of Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament.
But what was fair to criticize in those losses was how TCU took care of the ball, how the Horned Frogs protected the rim and how they closed out on shooters.
The Big 12 is full of high-octane offenses, and while TCU has an efficient defense overall, the breakdowns they had in those three areas led to letting all those games slip away.
Iowa wins if …
the Hawkeyes avoid stretches like the first half against South Dakota and continue to be efficient on offense with Cook, Bohannon, Jok and others. Iowa clearly has the talent to win the rest of its games, but the Hawkeyes have to be able to stick with what’s worked in four of the last five games.
TCU wins if …
the Horned Frogs take care of the ball while adjusting to changing Iowa defenses and staying efficient in their offense. TCU has proved it can play with the best in the country and offers Iowa by far its toughest postseason test so far.
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