The strength of Iowa’s basketball team is scoring in transition. The Hawkeyes showed their stuff time and time again Saturday in an 83-66 victory over Drake in the Big Four Classic.
“Their transition offense is as good as I’ve seen in a long time,” Drake coach Ray Giacoletti said.
But an Iowa team that improved dramatically on defense a season ago has some work to do on that end of the floor if this is to be a special season.
“Defensively, we do need to improve,” Iowa’s Devyn Marble said. “At the same time, you’ve got to give some of these guards credit. But we have to pick it up as far as dribble penetration and kicking it out to the 3.”
The Bulldogs, tenacious and overachieving in Giacoletti’s first season as coach, peppered that Iowa defense by making seven of their first 11 attempts from 3 in the opening half.
A week ago, Iowa was leading the nation in field-goal percentage defense at 34 percent. Notre Dame came to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday and shot 51.5 points in a 98-93 loss. And Drake was blazing away at 62 percent at one point in the first half until failing to score on its last five possessions.
Iowa took advantage — in transition, of course — by finishing the half on a 10-0 run for a 49-40 lead. The Hawkeyes had a 23-13 advantage on the glass and a 19-3 edge in second-chance points. That helped make up for the fact that the Bulldogs outscored them 24-3 in the first half from behind the 3-point line.
The Bulldogs, not nearly as deep as Iowa, couldn’t maintain that pace and jump shots that were splashing the nets in the first half came up short in the second. Drake shot just 31 percent the second half and 39.7 percent for the game.
Iowa’s superior depth showed in every aspect of the game but 3-point shooting. Drake, playing a three-guard lineup most of the evening, was no match for the Hawkeyes on the glass. Iowa outrebounded the Bulldogs 47-28. That included a 17-6 edge on the offensive glass and a 29-5 advantage in second-chance points.
The Hawkeyes also hammered away in the paint, outscoring the guard-heavy Bulldogs 42-12.
The season is early, and coach Fran McCaffery’s first three Iowa teams looked significantly better in February than in November. But it better be an accelerated learning curve, at least on defense. Friday’s game against No. 17 Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum, one of college basketball’s great home-court venues, will be the biggest test of the season.
Iowa, now 9-1, is ranked 23rd. It will be the first time since the 1987-88 season the two in-state rivals come into the game sharing residency in the top 25.
Iowa is having success by outscoring people and wearing out foes with a bevy of fresh legs. Nine players have scored in double figures in a game this season. And trying to figure out who will be hot and who won’t is never easy.
On Saturday, Melsahn Basabe scored in double figures for just the third time this season. His previous high this season was 12, but Saturday he had scored 13 of his 15 with 15 minutes to play.
“I would just like to see him be aggressive like he was (Saturday) all the time,” McCaffery said. “He was a dominant player in the game. He should be that way every night.”
Freshman Peter Jok had a seven-point burst in just more than a minute to keep Iowa above water when Drake was draining 3-pointers with ridiculous ease. And in the second half, Jok had another minute and a half of brilliance — a 3-pointer, two free throws, a transition basket complete with a nifty shake-and-bake hesitation dribble, followed by a perfect lob pass to Aaron White for a dunk and a 20-point lead.
The most consistent piece in McCaffery’s rotation is Deyvn Marble, who now has scored in double figures in nine of 11 games and is the one player Iowa needs on the floor when times get tough.
Marble is also the leader of Iowa’s transition attack that gave Giacoletti a sinking feeling as the game progressed.
“They come at you in waves,” Giacoletti said.
Rick Brown, a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year, covers Hawkeyes football and basketball for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball