These are not your older brother or sister’s Drake Bulldogs. The Missouri Valley Conference program in this state that has been mostly an afterthought for the past several years thanks to some poor teams has some feistiness to it so far this year, playing well under first-year head coach Niko Medved.
For select non-conference games, 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 Drake:
Player to Watch
Iowa: Jack Nunge, forward — Nunge has been very good for the Hawkeyes in the last few games, and has been among just a few players who have been consistently good regardless of opponent. The reason he’s the player to watch in this one, though, is he’s going to get another tough test defensively. The freshman has handled quicker players decently well so far, but with a starting role and more and more minutes, he’s going to keep dealing with it. Drake’s attack is contingent upon quickness, so he’ll face another test Saturday.
Drake: Reed Timmer, guard — It feels like Timmer has been at Drake forever, but that’s only because he’s been the Bulldogs’ best player for three-plus years and counting. He’s started all but two games in his prolific career. Despite being on losing teams, Timmer has shown up every night. In 103 college games, he’s shot 44.1 percent from the field, 39.7 percent from 3-point range and has scored 1,555 points. He’s averaging 20.7 through 10 games so far this year, and could end up somewhere around 1,800 or 1,900 points for his career. He’s the tip of the spear for what Drake does in its backcourt and will be Iowa’s top priority.
Iowa: Specifically in the last two games, something that has really been a standout statistic for the Hawkeyes has been in rebounding.
Iowa without question dominated the glass at Iowa State, outrebounding the Cyclones 53-31, which was a season-high in rebounding margin. The only other game than came close was when they out-rebounded Alabama State 53-38. The Hawkeyes have out-rebounded opponents by more than five rebounds per game over the course of the season, and rank 22nd in the nation at 141 offensive rebounds, which is 12.8 per game.
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Getting multiple attempts at the rim in a single possession can be a tremendous advantage, and against a team like the Bulldogs, the Hawkeyes should have plenty of that given the size difference (hold that thought). The only issue is Iowa needing to get more out of those second chances — the Hawkeyes average 14.1 second-chance points per game.
Drake: You’re going to read a lot about the Bulldogs’ backcourt between now and tipoff at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena, and for good reason.
Drake rolls primarily with a four-guard lineup, with either 6-foot-3, 185-pound Ore Arogundade or 6-foot-2, 187-pound CJ Rivers playing at “power forward” all the way through basically every game this season. The most frequent lineup they put on the floor has 6-foot-8 Nick McGlynn as the Bulldogs’ center. It’s a small, fast, shoot-in-bulk team that relies on ball movement around the perimeter.
It’s worked more than it hasn’t this season. Drake beat Wake Forest — ranked 64th on KenPom — on a neutral floor in November, lost to Colorado, 86-81, and then just this week held Minnesota to 24 points in the first half while pushing the Gophers to the brink before a 68-67 loss. All of that has come on the strength of 40.5 percent shooting from 3 as a team, which is 31st in the nation. They also take solid care of the ball in that effort.
Three players — Timmer, Graham Woodward and Arogundade — are shooting better than 40 percent from deep, led by Timmer at 53.2 percent. They average just shy of 25 3-point attempts and 10.5 3-pointers made per game.
Iowa: Perimeter defense remains an issue, on a couple of fronts.
The Hawkeyes haven’t been great locating shooters in man or zone (2-3 or 1-3-1), and ball movement has been the biggest culprit there. Iowa has defended sets OK, with smart players on the court sniffing out what’s been scouted pretty well. But that basketball intelligence hasn’t yet translated into anticipating tendencies in how opponents rotate the ball in their given offense.
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Iowa allows 33.1 percent shooting from 3-point range, which is slightly above average at 115th in the country, but whatever the defense has done to deter a better opponent percentage has not come in denying shooters the ball in the first place.
The Hawkeyes rank 283rd in defensive turnover percentage at 16.9 percent and 229th in steal percentage at 7.8 percent. Getting into passing lanes is important, and Iowa has not been nearly good enough in that area so far.
Drake: That size that allows Drake to be so quick and agile offensively also will hamper it against a comparatively giant Iowa team. It’ll be a battle of styles, and the Bulldogs have not been great when the style is in favor of size.
What they did against Minnesota in that first half was fairly remarkable considering they rank 260th in the nation in adjusted defense at 1.079 points per possession overall this season. Teams shoot an effective field goal percentage of 55 percent, which is 293rd. They don’t force turnovers, ranking 303rd at a 16.5 turnover percentage.
And when teams work the ball inside, which should be relatively easy for the Hawkeyes, opponents shoot 56.1 percent from 2-point range, which is 311th of the 351 teams. At an average height of 6-foot-3, Drake is 344th in the country (Iowa ranks seventh at an average of 6-foot-7). It should make sense too, then, that the Bulldogs don’t block many shots, either.
Iowa wins if …
the Hawkeyes can dictate the game offensively with their size and athleticism, which are substantially in their favor. If Iowa plays inside out and exploits what should be several size matchups, Drake should have a very hard time on defense.
Drake wins if …
the Bulldogs do what they did to Minnesota — move the ball up the floor every possession without turning it over to force Iowa to play smaller and faster, while connecting on the many 3-pointers they’ll hoist. If Drake dictates the flow early from outside, Iowa could be forced to play catch-up.
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