Coach Fran McCaffery outlines why his team is averaging 7.7 turnovers a game during a seven-game win streak.
PISCATAWAY, N.J. – The comparison may at first seem hyperbolic, given there is much basketball to be played before making a final evaluation.
But assess the facts through 17 games and consider this hypothesis: Is 2016 Iowa following the footsteps of 2014 and 2015 Wisconsin?
Granted, tempo-wise, there’s no comparison. Fran McCaffery’s fast-paced offense will never be mistaken for Bo Ryan’s methodical approach that helped lead Wisconsin to back-to-back Final Fours the past two seasons.
But there are two key statistics that remove pace as a factor, courtesy of nationally respected stats guru Ken Pomeroy, and give validation to a Wisconsin/Iowa comparison: Adjusted offensive efficiency and turnover rate.
In 2014, Wisconsin’s adjusted offensive efficiency -- points per 100 possessions -- was scored at 120.8. The Badgers’ turnover rate was 12.7 percent of possessions. Both numbers ranked No. 2 in Division I.
In 2015, which for Wisconsin was highlighted by a Big Ten Conference championship and national runner-up finish to Kentucky, the Badgers led the nation in both categories, at 127.9 and 12.3 percent.
In 2016, No. 9 Iowa has at least approached residency in Wisconsin’s efficiency ZIP code. Entering Wednesday’s games, the Hawkeyes were No. 8 out of 351 D-I teams in points per 100 possessions (118.1) and No. 3 in turnover percentage (14.1).
Iowa’s fourth-year starting point guard Mike Gesell was willing to entertain the Wisconsin comparison in an interview prior to Thursday’s 6 p.m. game at Rutgers, where the Hawkeyes will be aiming for their first 6-0 start in Big Ten play in 29 seasons.
“Wisconsin, they’re one of the best teams every year. And they’re one of the most efficient teams. There’s definitely a little bit of a correlation there,” Gesell said. “We don’t necessarily have the same style as them where we want to slow it down, but I think we’re taking care of the ball like they (have) in the past.”
The most efficient teams get up at least one shot on most possessions and do well from 3-point range.
On the latter stat, Iowa is making 9.1 3-pointers a game at a 40.5-percent clip -- the per-shot equivalent of 60.8-percent accuracy from 2-point range. The last Iowa team to shoot better (at 40.6 percent) was the 1990-91 group that attempted just 10.3 3s a game (this Hawkeye team attempts 22.4).
“Well, we have good 3-point shooters. We had more drivers (on past Iowa teams),” McCaffery said simply. “The numbers sort of bear that out.”
McCaffery’s Hawkeye teams have improved at ball-control every year. In his first season, 2010-11, Iowa played one game out of 31 in which it committed fewer than 10 turnovers. This season, McCaffery’s sixth, 14-3 Iowa is averaging fewer than 10 turnovers a game (9.9, including just 7.7 during the current seven-game winning streak).
“You're talking about a team that is not a mistake team, so you're coming down, you've got a chance to get a shot, got a chance for a second shot, and you've got a chance to get your defense back,” McCaffery said. “Turnovers usually lead to points, immediately, and that affects the flow of the game. It affects momentum.
“You've got to get a shot up, and if you don't, it affects everything that everybody does on the floor.”
That was especially evident in what was Iowa’s signature win to date: 76-59 over then-No. 4 Michigan State to snap an 18-game losing streak at MSU's Breslin Center. Iowa scored 17 points off turnovers in the first half to the Spartans’ zero. The result was a startling 47-25 Hawkeye lead at halftime.
In Sunday’s 82-71 win over Michigan, Iowa committed four turnovers for the game -- none in the final 29½ minutes.
Mike Gesell, who graduated in three years, thinks there is validity in comparing the 2016 Hawkeyes to date with some of Wisconsin's Final Four teams.
“A lot of it comes from guard play, I think,” said Gesell, whose 117 assists through 17 games are on pace to break Andre Woolridge’s school-record 192 in 1996-97 -- interestingly, the last time Iowa began a Big Ten season with a 5-0 record. “Me and Sappy (Anthony Clemmons, 63 assists) have been doing a good job of taking care of it.”
To take the Wisconsin/Iowa comparisons a little further, consider that the 2015 Badgers had an inside-outside threat as a big man in conference player of the year Frank Kaminsky (18.8 points a game). Iowa has Jarrod Uthoff, who is in that conversation as the Big Ten’s leader in scoring (18.9) and blocked shots while shooting 44.9 percent from 3-point range. (For what it’s worth, Uthoff spent his first college year redshirting at Wisconsin under Ryan’s influence.)
To 2015 Wisconsin offensive-minded wing player Sam Dekker (13.9 points a game), Iowa offers Peter Jok (also 13.9).
To 2015 Wisconsin ball-handlers Bronson Koenig and Traevon Jackson (combined 2.76 assist-to-turnover ratio), Iowa offers Gesell and Clemmons (3.05).
It’s really not that much of a stretch to see the parallels -- and perhaps more impressively, Iowa is putting these efficient numbers together against the nation’s sixth-toughest schedule to date, according to Pomeroy.
Of course, there’s one 2015 Wisconsin comparison that 2016 Iowa would like to avoid. The Badgers a year ago were stunned in their game at Rutgers, the only ugly scar of a 16-2 Big Ten season.
Carrying and overcoming a contender’s target like 2015 Wisconsin did is something Iowa is going to duplicate to win the school’s first Big Ten regular-season title in 37 years.
“Every team is ready to beat us every night we step on the court,” center Adam Woodbury said. “We’ve got to have our best every time out.”
EFFICIENCY UNDER FRAN MCCAFFERY
In five years at Siena before becoming Iowa’s head coach, Fran McCaffery’s most efficient scoring team was the 27-8 team of 2008-09 that ranked 54th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions). How McCaffery’s teams in six years at Iowa have ranked in turnover percentage, adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com:
NO. 9 IOWA (14-3, 5-0 BIG TEN) AT RUTGERS (6-13, 0-6)
When, where: 6 p.m. CT Thursday, Rutgers Athletic Center, Piscataway, N.J.
TV: ESPNU (Announcers: Adam Amin, Craig Robinson)
Radio: WHO-AM (1040) in Des Moines, KXIC-AM (800) in Iowa City and the Hawkeye network; Sirius Channel 83, XM Channel 195
Game notes: Iowa was No. 7 in the NCAA’s RPI entering Wednesday’s game and owned a 6-3 record vs. top-50 RPI opponents. … The Hawkeyes have won 11 consecutive regular-season Big Ten games, dating to a Feb. 15 overtime loss at Northwestern. … Rutgers is 0-3 at home in Big Ten play with the following margins of defeat: Indiana (7), Nebraska (34) and Purdue (50).