Illinois vs. Iowa Preview: A Tale of Two Offenses

Matthew Holst

Get used to the idea of a seven-game losing streak, Illinois.

Not since the days of Greg Brunner and Adam Haluska has an Iowa team looked so scary on paper.

Shuffling a 10-player rotation stocked with rebounders, scorers, shooting, quickness, and bulk, the Hawkeyes are better than Illinois in every aspect of the game. Even defense, one of the few things Illinois does well.

I didn't know Fran McCaffery's teams at Siena enough to know if those teams had this much depth, but the way he manages these rotating parts is masterful. If you're an NBA guy like I am, you'll notice a substitution pattern from Iowa similar to those NBA games. The starting lineup is an offensive juggernaut, and slowly McCaffery inserts his bench piecemeal until the backup guys are the only ones on the floor. Then the switch back to the starters. No one plays more than 27 minutes, but they rarely miss a beat regardless of which player is on the floor.

Iowa's offense is its real strength, and it's a thing of beauty. McCaffery preaches a motion offense that's unlike the one Illinois ran for nine years under Bruce Weber. Instead of motion to spring open 3-pointers, the series of cuts and screens springs open lanes to the hoop or deep position in the post for Iowa's army of big men. It's a team that knows its strength is scoring in the paint and uses every maneuver in a possession to free a look in that area--only three Hawkeyes have attempted more than 30 3-pointers this season

The duo of Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble, particularly, are most effective in the motion. Playing with each other for three years, they're attuned to each other's spacing and their best shot attempts usually come from the other's pass. Marble's heady driving ability paces the most dangerous transition offense in the Big Ten along with Mike Gesell's pure speed. Even when Iowa doesn't convert on offense, big men like Melsahn Basabe, Adam Woodbury, Gabriel Olaseni and White are all formidable offensive rebounders able to clean up after a miss. Iowa ranks No. 3 in offensive efficiency in the country, and it's a chore to keep them from scoring.

Despite all the offensive prowess, the Hawkeyes don't slouch on defense, either. Iowa's defense will be the best Illinois has faced besides, ahem, Northwestern (seriously, look up NU's defensive stats. Makes you scared if they start reeling in some offensive talent). Part of Iowa's defensive effectiveness is their three-quarters court press in the 1-2-2 formation. They make you work to get the ball into the halfcourt, leaving only 20 or so seconds for the offense to set up and run a set. And if the offense gets caught sleeping on the sideline, the press turns into a quick trap that's difficult to wriggle out of with all of Iowa's length.

In the halfcourt defense, Olaseni and Basabe have extremely polished footwork in defending the pick and roll and rarely allowing guards to get around them and into the lane. McCafferey will throw any number of defense looks at an offense, including multiple zone formations. Illinois has to feel fortunate it had over a week to scout and practice for all the different offensive and defensive variations Iowa pulls out of its hat.

That's about all the fortune I can accredit to Illinois for this matchup. Iowa outclasses them in every phase of the game, and Illinois's glaring weaknesses (rebounding, offense) are things that Iowa dominates. It'll take a monumental effort and considerable luck for Illinois to prevent a seven-game losing streak.

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