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2013 NIT Championship: Baylor Bears vs. Iowa Hawkeys Preview

Finally, the day we've been waiting for since we got over the slight depression of going to the NIT in the first place has arrived: Baylor takes on Iowa tonight on ESPN in the Finals of the National Invitation Tournament Championship Extravaganza Brouhaha Box Social Luncheon Blowout. Let's do this.

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No. 2 Baylor (22-14) vs. No. 3 Iowa (25-12)
April 4, 2013 | 8:00 p.m. CT
New York, N.Y. | Madison Square Garden (19,763)

Radio: ESPN Central Texas 1660 AM
Watch | Listen | Gametracker Gametracker | Game Notes Notes | TicketsTickets

Before we go any further, I have some bad news: ESPN has assigned Bob Knight to the game tonight. His personal acrimony for Scott Drew and general distaste for our program has, in the past, made him less than fun to listen to during our games. I don't know for a fact that will happen again tonight, but I strongly suspect there will be at least one vocal supporter of the Hawkeyes in the booth. Know that going in.

I don't have as much time to devote to this today, so it's going to be somewhat more brief than previews past. But we can cut right to the chase: Iowa is almost definitely the best team we've played thus far in this tournament, remarkably skilled on both offense and defense and a formidable obstacle to winning the NIT. Baylor is the underdog for the first time in this tournament for a reason.

Conference: B1G (6th)
Record: 25-12 (9-9)
SBNation Blog: Black Heart, Gold Pants
Game Previews:, Statsheet, BGHP (read this!)
Providence KenPom: Rank-- 20, AdjO-- 34, AdjD-- 17, AdjTempo-- 102, Luck-- 271, SOS-- 48
Baylor KenPom: Rank-- 34, AdjO-- 20, AdjD-- 78, AdjTempo-- 92, Luck-- 334, SOS-- 54
Spread: Iowa -2.5
RPI: Iowa-- 55, Baylor--58

4 Factors:

Iowa Player Impact:

As you can see, Iowa is a much more well-rounded team than either of the last two we've played, and that makes them dangerous. Good on both offense and defense, (particularly defense) Ken Pomeroy's metrics, the Hawkeyes rank 20th overall as of this date, only 1 spot behind Wichita State, a team playing this weekend in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. We, for the sake of comparison, rank 34th.

On offense, Iowa is your prototypical B1G team that doesn't shoot 3-pointers very frequently (101st in attempts, 161st in makes) or very well (296th), but is elite on the boards (5th in total rebounds) and gets to the free throw line at a rate higher than all but two teams in the entire country. To make matters worse, once they get to that line, they make those shots is higher than all but three. Those two things combine to mean that nearly a quarter of their points, 9th-most in the country, come off free throws. Keeping them off that line as much as possible, then, is absolutely critical. They are a lower-end team in turnovers per game (224th), something we might be able to use to our advantage, and have an effective field goal shooting percentage that is 249th in the country, even with their free throw prowess.

Leading the way in this free throw barrage are 6'8" sophomore forward Aaron White and 6'6" wing Roy Marble, who together have taken over 430 free throws this season, nearly as many as everybody in our starting rotation not named Pierre Jackson combined (Pierre has taken 234, 50 more than Marble but 20 fewer than White). Together they also average about 28 points and 10 rebounds. Those two get the majority of playing time at the 3 and 4, respectively for Iowa, behind 6'1" freshman Mike Gesell at the point, and 6'5" senior Eric May at the 2. May has the best 3-point shooting percentage on the team but has only taken 34 threes this season, 100 fewer than Iowa's team leader: Marble. Mammoth freshman Adam Woodbury starts at the 5 but averages only 17 minutes per game, giving way more often than not to a smaller lineup including 6'7" forward Melsahn Basabe beside White, Marble, Gesell, and May.

Something to watch for in this game will be which team controls the tempo. Pomeroy's rankings wouldn't seem to indicate much of a different between the two schools at 102 and 92, but Baylor's has actually been trending upward fairly consistently in this tournament, an improvement that coincides with our total offensive efficiency going up, and Iowa likes to play at a slower, more deliberate pace. That doesn't mean they're a plodding team by any stretch, they're just not nearly as frenetic as BYU was or Baylor can be when the need arises. Baylor setting the tone with our offense could also help get Iowa's top-20 defense off their game, something we'll need to have happen, regardless. The Hawkeyes, led by Basabe, block a lot of shots (14th in the country), though no one player is what I would call an elite shotblocker. It's more a team effort for them than anything else. They also, as I said, rebound extremely well (23rd in defensive rebounds per game). We absolutely must crash the boards on both ends off their misses and control ourselves enough not to foul.

It's going to be interesting to see how this game plays out if only because Baylor's strength (offense) lines up perfectly with Iowa's (defense). Iowa probably has fewer holes as a team, being good at a lot of things and poor at very few, but Baylor has the best two players in Jackson and Cory Jefferson based on the way all are playing right now. We'll need Jefferson particularly to play well in this game since Iowa's strongest players, unlike our last two opponents in Providence and BYU, man the 3 and the 4.

In the Q&A I did last night with Iowa's SB Nation site, I predicted Iowa would win largely as a way to reverse-jinx the team going into tonight's game, but I'll say now that I hope Baylor finishes this season, and it will be over tonight regardless of the outcome, on the highest possible note. In getting this far at all, our seniors-- A.J. Walton, Pierre, and Jacob Neubert-- have already done something they can be proud of, but nothing beats actual hardware, and I hope they get some tonight. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.