Iowa’s offensive success rooted in ball movement


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In all likelihood, it’s just a coincidence. That is, about one week after being shown up by the best offense in the Big Ten — Wisconsin’s — for the second time this season, Iowa’s offense has found a new gear and begun to dominate.

Against Michigan on Feb. 5, Iowa outscored the Wolverines 42-16 in the paint and shot 62.7 percent from the field. And against No. 17 Maryland on Sunday, the Hawkeyes shot 64.3 percent from the field, 45.5 percent from 3-point range, and outscored the Terrapins 38-18 in the paint en route to a 71-55 win.

“That was our game plan,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said. “To not foul and to not let them score in the paint. And we couldn’t do anything about it. They were that good offensively.

“Give them a lot of credit. They’re at their best when they play that way. And they were really good at it tonight.”

After the game, forward Aaron White was asked about the recent offensive surge, one that has Iowa shooting 63.4 percent over the last two games — both double-digit wins.

His response was rooted in a recent stat being kept by the Iowa assistant coaches during the game, a stat that revolves around ball movement and keeping the offense from getting stagnant.

“They’ve done a really good job of stating, every possession, the number of passes, and our shooting percentages out of that,” White said. “… The numbers are amazing. In the 20s [percent] when it’s under two passes. Almost close to scoring on 70 percent of our possessions when [the ball] is going wing to wing.”

Against Maryland, that ball movement was evident from the start.

Not only did the Hawkeyes outscore the Terrapins in the paint, they also shot a better percentage from the field and out-rebounded them by 11.

Maybe most importantly, Iowa had an assist on two-thirds of its field goals. And that doesn’t include the number of times a nice pass set up a player who got fouled.

“Our focus is on being committed to each other and being committed to the team,” Mike Gesell said. “I think you see that in our game.”

The offensive outburst led to several individual performances of note as well, including Adam Woodbury’s and Peter Jok’s tied-for career-high in points with 16 and 15, respectively, and Gesell’s career-high 9 assists.

Also, White passed Matt Gatens for seventh on the all-time scoring list at Iowa.

“I think our ball movement has been better,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “You know, we’ve been really unselfish.”

While such a simple concept, ball movement isn’t always such an easy thing to achieve. Iowa has found that out several times this season, particularly early in the season when the ball had the tendency to stick with one player instead of move.

But that’s a problem most teams face.

In fact, White sees lack of ball movement as one of the main reasons college basketball is so low scoring these days; games often are determined with point totals in the 50s or 60s.

“That’s a big part of it,” he said. “Guys are just passing, standing, and jacking.”

For now, the Hawkeyes aren’t having any issues like that. And as a result, they’ve picked up two more conference wins, including potentially their last chance at a ranked opponent until the Big Ten Tournament.

“I think that’s really registered with us,” White said. “When you see that ball on one wing, go back to the other, swing back, dive, kick. You’re either getting fouled or making a basket.

“It’s a thing of beauty, to be honest. We’re playing really well together.”

Follow @JacobSheyko on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa basketball team.

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