IU-Iowa Gameday Preview: 3 Key Things to Watch

On Monday at 4:00 ET, the fifth-ranked Indiana Hoosiers (12-1) will open Big Ten play on the road against the Iowa Hawkeyes (11-2) on  ESPN2.

As always, Jerod, Ryan, Zach, and Andy will be here with another episode of The Assembly Call after the game.

IU-Iowa Gameday Info

IU-Iowa Preview

Iowa: Three Things to Watch

1. Aaron White

Cody Zeller will be the most highly publicized sophomore on the floor, but the Hawkeyes have their own impressive second-year player in White, a 6-8 forward who comes in averaging 13.6 points and 6.5 rebounds.  Iowa hasn’t played since December 22nd, but in that blowout win over Coppin State, White was an efficient 7-of-8 from the field and 6-of-7 from the stripe en route to 20 points in just 21 minutes.

White’s overall efficiency numbers are extremely impressive thanks to a solid offensive rebounding percentage, 63.6 percent shooting on two-pointers, and an outstanding 87.9 free throw rate.  While he added a little bulk in the offseason, White still has a slight frame and does much of his damage in transition.  The Hoosiers need to keep track of him in those scenarios, and this should be a challenging assignment for Christian Watford, who has played better on the defensive end of late.

For what it’s worth, White didn’t do much damage against IU last season, totaling 17 points and 11 rebounds in the two matchups.  Foul trouble plagued him in the first meeting, but he did grab 10 boards in the second.

2. Improved Defense

Like the Hoosiers, Iowa entered the season with some questions on defense.  Last season the Hawkeyes ranked 34th in adjusted offensive efficiency but were 180th on defense.  So far this season the numbers suggest significant improvement as they enter this matchup ranked inside the Top 40.

Not unlike Indiana though, some of the defensive improvement may well be the result of the competition Iowa has played thus far. Seven of the Hawkeyes’ 13 games have come against teams ranked 240th or lower in the Pomeroy rankings.

The biggest area of improvement has been in two-point defense. Last season the Hawkeyes allowed their opponents to hit nearly 52 percent from inside the arc, but that number has dropped to 41.4 percent this year.  Some of that can be attributed to a sharp increase in block percentage thanks to the contributions of Melsahn Basabe, highly rated freshman center Adam Woodbury, and Gabriel Olaseni.

The Hoosiers have been doing a nice job of attacking the rim so far this season, but expect them to be met with much more resistance inside than they were a season ago.

3. Free Throw Attempts

With both teams ranked inside the Top 20 in offensive free throw rate and inside the Top 40 in defensive free throw rate, something has to give here.

As mentioned above, the Hoosiers have been very aggressive at taking the ball to the basket this year, and despite Iowa’s shot-blocking prowess, that should continue. They boast a gaudy 47.4 free throw rate, and their free throw shooting has improved over the last few games.  As a team, the Hoosiers are now shooting 75.8 percent from the stripe, but in a game that could come down to the wire, there are sure to be some pressure free throws in this one.

In addition to White, Iowa has a number of other players posting strong individual free throw rates like Basabe (61.5), Eric May (60.5), Woodbury (45.8), and Roy Devyn Marble (39.5). The Hawkeyes haven’t shot the ball well from three-point range (31.7%), so they aren’t likely to settle for many long jumpers.

The Hawkeyes also play at a fast pace, and it will be important for the Hoosiers to keep track of their assignments in transition in order to limit needless fouls. IU certainly can’t afford for Cody Zeller to get into foul trouble again as he did on Friday against Jacksonville.

Indiana: Three Things to Watch

1. Road Test

The Hoosiers have yet to play a true road game this season, and the scheduling has been a frequent topic of conversation for IU fans.

Indiana did play three neutral site games in the non-conference, going 2-1 with wins over Georgia and Georgetown along with a loss to Butler. The Georgia and Butler games were arguably the team’s two worst performances so far, and Carver Hawkeye Arena has been a house of horrors for IU for as long as I can remember.

Indiana has won at Iowa just once since 2003 with the lone win coming by three points in 2008. The last three defeats have come by an average of 14 points, including a disappointing 12-point loss last February.

History aside, I am very interested to see how the team responds to its first challenge in a hostile environment. Getting off to a good start is always important on the road, but that’s even more important for a Hoosier team that has come out sluggish and sloppy at times in the early going.

There are plenty of veterans on the IU roster who have experience playing on the road, and while the team hasn’t had much success away from home in recent years, it’s worth noting that the Hoosiers did win two of their last three Big Ten road games last season.

The one guy who can’t fall back on that experience is Yogi Ferrell. He has done an outstanding job of limiting turnovers this season, and he’s coming off of a 10 assist, zero turnover performance against Jacksonville. While the Hoosiers don’t need Ferrell to be quite that perfect against the Hawkeyes, they probably can’t withstand another six turnover effort like he turned in against Butler.

2. Cody Zeller

It’s probably fair to say the early part of the season hasn’t gone according to plan for the preseason Player of the Year.

Sure, he comes in leading the team in points (16.4 ppg), rebounds (7.9 rpg), and blocked shots (1.3 bpg), and he continues to be one of the most efficient players in all of college hoops. And there have been a few outstanding performances like his 19-point, 19-rebound effort against Central Connecticut State, his transition clinic against North Carolina, or even his uber-efficient game against Florida Atlantic that saw him rack of 24 points in 22 minutes.

But Zeller struggled against Butler when he was thrown around inside by Andrew Smith, and except for a late garbage time flurry he didn’t do much against an undersized Jacksonville squad. I’m not of the opinion that Zeller needs to be a dominant scorer for IU to be an elite team, but I also don’t feel he’s played his best basketball so far this season.

The reality is none of that matter now, and the Hoosiers need Zeller to shine in Big Ten play.

He had a pair of strong games against Iowa last season with 26 points on 11-of-12 shooting in the first meeting and 15 points and 13 boards in the second. The Hawkeyes have more size to throw at him this time around, but he needs to establish himself early in the post and on the boards.

IU focused almost exclusively on force-feeding Zeller in the post late in the Jacksonville game, and that has to be the gameplan here as well. In a game that should be fast-paced, his ability to run the floor will also be on display.

3. Victor Oladipo

Even when Oladipo had just 12 points through the first two games of the season, it was impossible to overlook his contributions in other areas. In the last 11 contests though, his offense has caught up to the rest of his game with at least 12 points in each contest.  Quite simply, the IU junior is playing the best basketball of anyone on the team.

On the season, Oladipo is averaging 13.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 2.5 steals. He’s shooting 74.4 percent on two-pointers, and over the last four games he’s made 6-of-7 from long range to increase his three-point shooting to 45.5 percent for the year.

Overall, he ranks second nationally in effective field goal percentage at 73.0 percent, and he also ranks among the nation’s best in steal percentage. Throw in a strong offensive rebounding percentage, his ability to get to the free throw line, and the fact that he routinely draw the assignment of defending the opponent’s best player, and you have one of college basketball’s most dynamic all-around players.

Final Thought

After three blowouts, the Hoosiers will definitely be tested in this one against a solid Iowa team that many (myself included) touted as a potential sleeper in the Big Ten. And despite the fact that both teams have shown statistical improvement on defense, I’m not convinced this game won’t turn into a shootout.

The good news for IU is that even in a tough road environment, they catch a break because Iowa’s students won’t be back on campus. Still, they cannot afford to get off to a slow start once again. Intensity and precision on both ends of the floor will be critical in the game’s first few minutes.

I expect a strong performance from Zeller in an uptempo game, and the fact that Iowa starts a pair of 6-1 guards means that IU should be able to play Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell together defensively without putting themselves at a distinct height disadvantage.

In the end, I think the difference is Oladipo. He’ll have the tough task of slowing down Roy Devyn Marble, who leads Iowa in scoring at 15.7 points per game, but based on the way Oladipo is playing right now, I have confidence in him to make winning plays at critical moments in this game.

Even so, I expect a close game with the Hoosiers winning by four points to pick up their first road win of the season.

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Listen to Andy Monday on The Assembly Call. Follow him on Twitter at @AndyBottoms.

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