Rossow’s Rants: Iowa to 2021 Final Four? Unrealistic without better defense

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Adam Rossow lays out why the Hawkeyes defense might hinder a deep NCAA Tournament run

Penn State’s Seth Lundy looks for a shot on the basket under pressure from Iowa’s Luka Garza (55) and Connor McCaffery during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Cliff Jette)

The college basketball season was supposed to end Monday night. The 2021 offseason hype for the Hawkeyes would have started Tuesday in a normal year.

Instead we’ve been deluged with 2021 bracket predictions, preseason polls, and way-too-early Top 25s for the better part of the last month during COVID-19.

Iowa is a top-10 team in the eyes of most experts nationally. Final Four territory.

Hold your horses. Slow your roll. Pump the brakes.

Iowa won’t sniff Indianapolis unless defensive improvements are made.

Since the NCAA field expanded to 68 teams in 2011, only one Final Four team has ranked outside the Top 70 in adjusted defensive efficiency stats at KenPom.com entering the tournament.

That was VCU in 2011. The Rams were surrendering an adjusted rate of 100.8 points per 100 possessions before the tournament began.  

The Hawkeyes haven’t ranked inside the Top 70 since 2016. They were one of the worst power conference teams in 2017, but gradually improved the past two seasons.

The 2019 team finished with an adjusted rate of 98.6 per KenPom. That ranked 97th overall and No. 12 in the Big Ten.

To break inside that top-70 range, the Hawks would have to improve a rate of around 98.1 or better. That’s the pre-tournament average for No. 70 from 2011-19.

Achievable, but difficult with the current makeup of the roster.

The Hawkeyes 2-pt FG defense is part of the problem and part of the solution. A slight improvement could produce a huge defensive difference.

Iowa surrendered over 50.3 percent on two pointers this winter. That put them between Long Island University and Weber State at No. 213 nationally.

Iowa has allowed teams to shoot over 50 percent in three-straight seasons, ranking outside the Top 200 each year in this category.

Since 2011, only two teams have made the Final Four ranked outside the Top 200 – that same VCU team in 2011 and Auburn in 2019. All the NCAA champions during that span ranked inside the top 140.

Based on the nine-year average, a 2-pt FG defense of around 49.4 percent would cement a ranking inside the top 200. That would undoubtedly help the defensive efficiency numbers too.

If Luka Garza returns to Iowa City, the Hawkeyes will have one of the best offenses in the country. That alone might pull them through to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999.

The Final Four is an entirely different beast. Another season with a defense closer to Nebraska’s or Northwestern’s rather than Wisconsin’s or Michigan State’s will eventually be exposed in March.  

Great on offense and below average on defense —  those teams rarely get on the ladder and cut down a net.

For more Hawkeye coverage, follow @AdamJRossow and @HawkeyeHQ on Twitter and Facebook — and sign up for our HawkeyeHQ.com pregame and postgame newsletter. All you need is an email address and we’ll send you a newsletter every Friday and Monday during football season.

Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp (10) drives the ball pressured by Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu (11) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, March 8, 2020, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Holly Hart)

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