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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Closer Look: Points per Possession

Conference games only through 2/15/09
Pace: Tempo or avg possessions per game
PPP: points per possession
Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP)

1. Michigan State67.31.110.94+0.17
2. Wisconsin60.81.081.00+0.08
3. Illinois63.71.000.93+0.07
4. Purdue67.21.000.94+0.06
5. Ohio State64.51.051.01+0.04
6. Minnesota66.00.980.980.00
7. Michigan64.00.981.02-0.04
7. Penn State63.81.011.05-0.04
9. Northwestern62.11.021.08-0.06

For comparison:
Final stats for Iowa last season (2007-08)
Pace= 60.4 PPP= 0.94 Opp. PPP= 1.02 EM= -0.08

If nothing else, one thing Iowa teams have shown during Todd Lickliter's first two seasons is a much "slower" brand of basketball. Slower as in terms of possessions per game. Last season the Hawkeyes averaged 60.4 offensive possessions per game, only 8 teams in the entire NCAA averaged less possessions per game. This year Iowa is playing at an even slower pace, averaging only 58.5 possessions per game. Only Washington State (Pac 10) and Denver (Sun Belt) average less possessions per game then this year's Hawkeyes.

Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Of course casual fans will grumble about such a slow, "boring" style of basketball when their team is not winning. Sure, for most it may not be as exciting and fun to watch as a fast-paced, full-court press style of ball, but there have been a number of teams that have been very successful playing at a "slower" tempo. Just to name a few, Wisconsin, Georgetown, UCLA, and yes, Butler, have all had success in recent years while also averaging fewer than 65 possessions per game (G'town and Butler under 60 possessions per game in 2007). The key to winning at any pace and style is efficiency (both offensively and defensively), but this is especially true when a team averages such a low number of possessions per game. At a slower pace, a team's margin of error is much less. Every turnover and bad shot on the offensive end is even more damaging when that team only gets 60 possessions, or 60 chances to score, per game. And when a team turns it over as much as Iowa has, and struggles as much as Iowa does to get open looks at the basket on the offensive end, the record will be ugly.

It is necessary to point out that Iowa's offensive efficiency (points per possession) is actually up this year from last season. The Hawkeyes are averaging almost a half point more each offensive possession in conference games this season. Also, even at a slower pace, Iowa is scoring almost 4 points more per game than they were last season. Unfortunately that hasn't translated to more wins. Last year, Iowa finished 13-19 overall and 6-12 in conference play. The Hawkeyes have already matched last year's win total of 13, but are a disappointing 3-10 right now in the Big Ten. Obviously a number of factors go into a team's success, or lack thereof, over the course of a season, but it is interesting to note that Iowa's efficiency on offense has improved from last year.

Injuries, inexperience, off-court issues, and the Big Ten's improvement as a whole are just a few of the reasons this year's squad has struggled so much in conference play. As frustrating as the losses are, and as painful as it can be to watch at times, tempo-free stats show that Iowa has improved on the offensive end from last year. As the young core of Hawkeyes (Peterson, Kelly, Gatens, Cole, etc.) grow and gain more experience, expect that improvement to continue. Patience is a virtue.

Comments and/or questions? Join the discussion on this post at BigTenForum.com

KenPom.com : Iowa
StatSheet.com : Iowa Team Stats