Iowa is Succeeding With Unselfishness

I don't want to oversell this—Iowa is not a great team. The Hawkeyes have been outscored in conference play, and the non-conference slate included being run out of the gym against Virginia, losing to mediocre teams in Seton Hall and Memphis, and losing to Nebraska-Omaha at home (the Mavericks are currently 6-6 in the Summit League).

But after four starters departed from last year's 22-win team, that was to be expected. This season, Peter Jok was to lead a gang of mostly underclassmen through a rough rebuilding season. But that's only been kind of true. The Hawkeyes are currently 6-6 in Big Ten play, which is ahead of teams like Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, and Ohio State. Believe it or not, there's still an outside chance Fran McCaffrey's team gets an NCAA Tournament bid, despite the fact it's one of the youngest teams in all of Division I.

How? Well, one reason might be how willingly this group passes. While McCaffrey's system will never be mistaken for Tim Miles' Ballhog Offense, the Hawkeyes have raised their assist numbers noticeably this season. Generally speaking, there's a correlation between assists and three-pointers taken, largely because the catch-and-shoot 3 is one of the best shots in basketball. But Iowa's 3PA numbers really aren't any different than a typical season under McCaffrey, and relative to the Big Ten, the assists are near the top:

Purdue leads the way, but the Boilers also shoot a lot of 3s. Exceptions abound for this correlation, of course, but those tend to be systematic. In other words, John Beilein's teams will always shoot a lot of 3s, but without a lot of assists.

Iowa this season is just assisting on more baskets, but without more 3s. This is just a team that is relying on the pass to set up scoring opportunities, and it's been noticeable.

And it's not just long possessions, either, as Iowa has the 2nd-shortest average possession length in the Big Ten.

Iowa does not enjoy a talent advantage relative to most of the Big Ten, so instead McCaffrey deploys a lot of screening—both on and off the ball—to get the defense to switch. Once that happens, Iowa exploits the favorable matchup.

Short of an exceptional finish, Iowa is not going to make the Dance this season (Bracket Matrix does not have Iowa in anyone's field). But, the Hawkeyes stand a reasonable chance of going .500 in the Big Ten this year. Considering where expectations were, that's remarkable, and the passing is a big reason for it.