Offensively No. 24 Iowa enjoys the luxury of having multiple scorers capable of reaching double figures on any given night. Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White are the only players averaging double figures for Fran McCaffery, but six different players have led the team in scoring in at least one game this season. In their 86-76 loss at No. 22 Michigan State on Thursday it was Marble who led the way, scoring 24 points on 9-for-17 shooting to go along with five assists.
As a team the Hawkeyes shot 46.7% from the field, a respectable number when considering the fact that Iowa made just seven of its 20 attempts from beyond the arc. But offense hasn’t been much of a concern for Iowa this season. It’s the defense that has proven to be problematic, and that was once again the case in East Lansing.
Michigan State shot 58.3% from the field and 10-for-17 from beyond the arc, making more than 63% of their shots in the second half. The Spartans certainly deserve credit for their offensive execution in the second half, most notably Keith Appling knocking down some shots that could get him going after struggling mightily thanks in part to an injured wrist. But Michigan State was able to get the looks it wanted far too often, and that’s a concern for an Iowa team that has struggled defensively for much of conference play.
Iowa entered Thursday ranked 11th in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense and tenth in three-point percentage defense. Given the tempo that Iowa prefers to play they’re going to allow points, as they led the Big Ten in tempo by nearly four possessions per 40 minutes. But that doesn’t excuse the percentages that teams are shooting.
Clearly Iowa has both depth and talent; they wouldn’t have 21 wins if that weren’t the case. But for whatever reason those attributes haven’t translated to the defensive end of the floor, with ten straight opponents scoring at least one point per possession. And in three of their last four losses Iowa’s allowed teams to score at least 1.2 points per possession, with Michigan State finishing the night at 1.28 points/possession.
Games tend to slow down in tournament play, which makes half-court execution incredibly important. Iowa can hold its own offensively, but if the Hawkeyes don’t find some answers defensively their time in the NCAA tournament will be short.