Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, MI
When: 7:00 pm, Tuesday, February 25, 2020
TV/Radio: ESPN2/Spartan Sports Radio
Iowa 19-8 (10-6): #22 (Kenpom)
1 - Joe Toussaint (6’0” fr), Bakari Evelyn (6’2” sr)
2 - Connor McCaffery (6’5” so), CJ Fredrick (6’3” fr)
3 - Joe Wieskamp (6’6” so)
4 - Ryan Kriener (6’10” sr), Cordell Pemsl (6’9” jr)
5 - Luka Garza (6’11” jr)
Man, what a fun team. I have long been a fan of Fran McCaffrey’s; he is fiery, a bit ridiculous, loves beautiful offensive basketball (#5 in Ortg this year), and has managed to make Iowa-freaking-basketball one of the better programs in the B1G. The years-long on-again, off-again battle with an addiction to not-playing-defense is going pretty well this year (#92 in Drtg), but may come back to bite them in the post-season: they can beat anyone, but they can also give up 93 points to DePaul and 76 to Nebraska (Iowa’s two worst losses this year)...
So what makes this year’s Fighting-Frans great? Simple:
- Luka Garza has been the best player in the B1G (I don’t think it’s particularly close, even though he struggles on defense).
Stats: 31 mpg, 23.7 ppg (118 Ortg, 31% usage, 35% shots%, 60% 2pt, 38% 3pt, 65% ft), 9.6 rpg (12.3 oreb%, 21.6 dreb%), 1.1 apg, +2 spg/bpg (5.9 blk%)
- Wieskamp is the perfect robin to Garza’s Batman, and everything we want Aaron Henry to be on offense: consistent, efficient, and a low-turnover creator and finisher.
Stats: 32.4 mpg, 15 ppg (114 Ortg, 20.5% usage, 23% shots%, 51% 2pt, 37% 3pt, 83% ft), 6 rpg (5 oreb%, 16 dreb%), 1.7 apg, 1.5 spg/bpg
- CJ Fredrick is a total sniper from 3 and is going to be terrifying with Wieskamp and Bohannon next year (assuming Wieskamp comes back, which he should). He is coming off an ankle sprain, but he is a gamer and I expect him to raise his level in this one (Watts will be really important in shutting him down, and simply cannot turn-off mentally off-ball).
Stats: 28 mpg, 10 ppg (121 Ortg, 16% usage, 17% shots%, 53% 2pt, 47% 3pt, 77% ft), 2 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1 spg/bpg
- Kriener, Pemsl, McCaffery, Toussaint, and Evelyn are an awesome backing group, hitting all the right notes, and everyone on this team can shoot over 30% from 3 except for Toussaint and Pemsl. This team plays with great tempo and typically great passing based on their superb actions and multiple points of gravity (Garza, Wieskamp, and Fredrick space the floor beautifully).
The trick, of course, is that this team doesn’t really want to defend, and takes to the task like a child to vegetables (fiddles around with them on the plate, makes fun pictures with them, but never takes to them with relish). Iowa plays man and various ineffective zones, but they are better than they have been in recent years.
The biggest thing with Iowa, literally, is Garza. He hits from all over the court (expect him to go for around 30), he has great footwork in the post, hits from mid-range consistently, and is hitting at a 38% clip from 3. Every team in the league has failed to deal with him, and even though he struggles on the perimeter defensively (which is why they play zones - to hide him and to keep him out of foul-trouble) he does protect the rim well and is having a career year on the boards.
Notice Iowa beating OSU without Fredrick here.
Here is a slow-paced, knock-down, drag-out fight at Minnesota that Iowa wins.
And here is Indiana blowing Iowa’s doors off. Ignore Green hitting a ton of BS 3’s, and focus on how many good looks Iowa gives up, especially in transition.
Finding ways to limit Garza will be huge - changing up how we guard him will be important (digging, doubling, fronting, half-fronting), but denying deep post-position is by far the most important thing to do. On the perimeter, close Garza out hard and make him dribble and pass.
Henry will have a tough task with Wieskamp, but I like Henry to win the match-up: he has been on fire defensively of late, and Wieskamp (despite being Iowa’s best wing defender) should still have a lot of difficulty tracking Henry in transition. Brown, Watts, and Ahrens should also have pretty solid match-ups against a probably-not-yet 100% Fredrick and Iowa’s other wings, who are all solid, and can all shoot or score, but aren’t top-options.
The big key, I believe, will be the 4 position. Iowa usually has Kriener or Pemsl on the court, and both can be had in the half-court and in transition. The interesting thing is that Iowa should like their match-up vs MSU in a battle of small-ball lineups, except that MSU defends way better in such situations and will have a huge advantage on the glass (assuming Henry and Brown decide to, you know, rebound the ball).
Cash and the wings should be licking their chops (this could be a Cash for 30 kind of game); Iowa’s perimeter defense isn’t great, they give up a TON of transition looks, and they concede a TON of open 3’s. At home, with a bit of momentum coming off the Nebraska shooting display, I like MSU to cruise in the second half. Even though Garza is terrific and will likely get about 30, MSU’s bigs can limit his damage and can really get at the Iowa bigs. This should be a significant resume bolstering win, and will set up the revenge road-tour beautifully.
MSU 82 Iowa 70