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Through 10 games, McCaffery's group is living up to expectations

BY RYAN PROBASCO | DECEMBER 09, 2013 5:00 AM

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It’s not surprising that Iowa won nine of its first 10 games or that it holds the No. 23 spot in the Associated Press top 25.

This is the year Iowa’s program was supposed to take a huge step forward. Success is now on the verge of becoming an expectation from fans and followers of Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes.

But the way in which the Black and Gold have performed in 2013, the way McCaffery’s relentless, attack-like coaching philosophy has taken hold and how the team has successfully juggled 10 regular contributors while keeping everyone’s minutes at a fair level has been nothing short of impressive.

The team’s one loss — a grueling overtime battle against Villanova for the Battle 4 Atlantis title — shouldn’t even be considered a blemish on its résumé. Villanova is an extremely good team, got hot when it needed to, and that game perfectly exemplifies how anything can happen in a single-elimination scenario.

Questions about the team’s perimeter shooting were common concerns before the Hawkeyes started playing in games that counted. Although we’re only looking at a fairly small sample, Iowa’s shooting percentage from behind the 3-point line (36.9) ranks fourth in the Big Ten.

And the Hawkeyes have made up for their at-times shoddy shooting ways by getting to the free-throw line with regularity. Iowa is tied for eleventh in free-throw attempts per game (31.4) and makes the seventh most (23.4) in the country.

There’s no denying Iowa has passed the eye test in its first 10 games. But what could be viewed as a surprise is how much love the team is receiving from the data and analytics world.

Jeff Sagarin, a statistician famous for his ratings systems, which have been a part of USA Today’s sports section since 1985, has Iowa as the No. 1 team in the country. Sagarin’s system factors in win-loss records, strength of schedule, and margin of victory.

Ken Pomery’s ratings, possibly the most well-known advanced analytic system in the industry, have Iowa ranked 13th. 

As a team, the Hawkeyes are near the top of the leaderboards in many traditional statistics. Per game, Iowa is scoring 89.3 points (No. 7 in NCAA), assisting on 17.9 baskets (No. 9 in NCAA) and is hauling in 45.2 rebounds (No. 6 in NCAA).

At this point, the team’s biggest concern has to be the way it has defended the opposition. In its last two games, against Notre Dame and Drake, Iowa didn’t play defense the way it’s capable of doing, allowing 40 or more points in three of the four halves.

Despite Iowa having received some flak for defensive play recently, the team is playing better defense than it has gotten credit for. Iowa still ranks in the top half of the Big Ten in points allowed per game (64.7).

It’s early, and Big Ten play will be the test that indicates whether Iowa is, in fact, the real deal. But thus far, it’s been clear that Iowa plans on living up to NCAA Tournament expectations, as proven by both the eye and data tests.


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