The 2020-2021 men’s basketball regular season has come to a close…I have some thoughts to share, and I appreciate you taking the time to read them.
First, here are the final standings with some KenPom.com numbers.
Eight of the 14 teams were able to play a full 20 game schedule, including Iowa. Illinois hit the 20-game mark, too, and went 16-4. Before the season began, I said that Illinois was the best team in the league and they were my pick to win the Big Ten. With the regular season drawn to a close, I still believe Illinois is the best team in the Big Ten, followed by Michigan and then Iowa. And what a Big Ten this is; the average KenPom rating of a .500 Big Ten team has an Adjusted Efficiency Margin (AdjEm) of 20.85, the highest for a conference in the 20-year history of his totals. A 20.85 AjdEm would rank as the 28th best team in his rankings this year.
Taking a look at the AdjEm column above, three Big Ten teams had an AdjEm north of 30.00. Prior to this year, there has never been a season where more than one Big Ten team finished with an AdjEm north of 30.00. This season is not over, but there has never been a season with three teams rated as high in the KenPom ratings as what Michigan, Illinois and Iowa are right now. NOTE: AdjEm is the difference between a team’s Offensive Efficiency score and their Defensive Efficiency score, and how Pomeroy ranks the teams.
You will note that Iowa’s AdjD rank is 61st. This is out of 357 teams. This is Iowa’s Defensive Efficiency ranking. Just a few weeks ago, Iowa’s ranking in this category was down in the 130-ish level. The Hawkeyes have been playing very good defense since losing at Ohio State back on February 4th, or nine games ago. How good? 12th best in the nation good, per BartTorvik’s advanced analytics site. Iowa’s Offensive Efficiency has also been 5th best in the nation during that same stretch, giving them a #2 overall national ranking for the past month of the year.
So the Hawkeyes first two-thirds of the season, per Torvik’s ratings, Iowa’s defense was 183 in the country with the #1 offense. The two-third mark was that aforementioned game against Ohio State on February 4th. So a full third of this season, perhaps the most important third which is the most recent third, the Hawkeyes have been a Top Five offense and Top 12 defense. Illinois has been a Top 12 offense and Top 7 defense. Gonzaga is the only team with a higher overall ranking on Torvik’s site during these last nine games and they have the #1 offense and #21 defense. Iowa and Illinois have been the most balanced teams and they have also been doing these things in the toughest conference in college basketball in at least the last 20 years.
For the season, Iowa has the #2 ranked offense per Pomeroy and those gaudy numbers have been posted against the 10th toughest defensive schedule in the country.
Before the season began, I said on the then Patreon version of Hawkeye Podcast that Iowa would likely need to have an Effective Field Goal Percentage of around 55% to reach the heights we believed this team could reach…they finished the regular season at 55.4%, 19th best in the nation. They finished the regular season hitting 39.5% of their three’s, which is 5th best in the nation (40.5% in Big Ten play, which led the league and second best was 36.4% by Michigan and Illinois). The most surprising statistic of the year for me, aside from the defensive turnaround these past nine games, is that Iowa is #1 in the nation in Turnover Percentage, at 13.3%. This means that Iowa only turns the ball over 13.3 times per 100 possessions, the fewest in the nation. When you consider the pace Iowa plays at, this is an astounding number.
Iowa’s league-play only defensive efficiency ranking was 7th, which is not bad considering over half of Iowa’s league games came before their near miraculous defensive mean on. Iowa’s league-only 2FG% defense ranked 3rd and their block percentage ranked 4th.
In league play, Luka Garza blocked 28 shots, which will rank in the Top 4 in the league when the stats are final tomorrow. Keegan Murray finished with 21, which will be a Top Ten total in the league. Not bad when you consider Keegan averaged just 18.9 minutes per game in league play. He also averaged 7.8/ppg and 5.5/rpg. I truly believe he will average 15ppg/8rpg/1.5bpg next year. Only seven players in the entire country hit those minimums in all three categories this year, with only Luka Garza doing it from a major conference. If you drop the blocks down to 1.0/game, just 16 players did that. Murray is going to be a star for Iowa and I don’t have any idea what his ceiling is, other than he might be the freshman with the most realistic NBA future at Iowa since Tyler Smith. No, Smith did not play in the NBA, but he averaged 14.9/ppg, 4.9/rpg and 3.6 assists per game and was heading down an NBA path, but he transferred to Tennessee after the Steve Alford era came to a close and got into trouble his last year in Knoxville.
Joe Toussaint closed the last three games of the year with 13 assists to five turnovers and was a catalyst for some steady second line play off the bench, averaging 14 minutes per game and playing in at least 14 minutes in each of the final three games. Prior to that, he had only played more than 14 minutes in a game in just three of Iowa’s first 17 league games. In his first 17 league games, Joe T had 28 assists to 21 turnovers averaging just over nine minutes per game. Joe T is coming on late, and that is a much needed thing.
With the win against Wisconsin, I think Iowa has a firm grip on a two-seed in the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens at the Big Ten Tournament. The bracket is on the left and you can click it to enlarge.
The big question hanging over the program heading into next week is the health status of Joe Wieskamp. He will have 12 sleeps before the Hawkeyes have to play in the NCAA tournament, and five sleeps until this coming Friday’s game in the Big Ten tournament. Again, I think Iowa is a two-seed regardless of what takes place at the B1G tournament. Iowa would likely struggle to make a deep run in the NCAA’s without Joe W, so they can afford to play without him on Friday, at least in my opinion.
On the whole, Iowa going 14-6 in this year’s Big Ten regular season is a very good campaign. They won their NCAA-best 8th game against a ranked opponent. The 14 league wins match the most in school history, last met by the 1987 Iowa Hawkeyes. This year’s team is probably Iowa’s best since that 86-87 team, or at least the best since the 1988-1989 team that still boasted Roy Marble, BJ Armstrong, Ed Horton and freshman Ray Thompson. Thompson was unable to play in the NCAA tournament for Iowa in 1989, something the team found out on the eve of the tournament as then Iowa President Hunter Rawlings ruled him ineligible, even though he was eligible by Big Ten standards. Iowa would lose to NC State 102-96 (2OT) in the round of 32 that year after having made the Sweet 16 in the year before and Elite 8 the year before that.
But hey…that’s ancient history. This is a different team and different circumstances…but when Joe W went down on Sunday, my mind raced to 1989 too fast for comfort.