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March 5, 2013

Inside the numbers

For all its missed opportunities and frustrating offensive performances this season, Iowa has improved emphatically in one regard more than any other from last year - on defense.

It takes no expert or even statistical analysis to recognize the Hawkeyes' progress on that end of the floor, the casual observer needing only a few minutes of game tape to notice significant improvements from last season. But, since this is a numbers column, I'll lay the figures out for you anyways.

Last season, Iowa's opponents averaged 72.5 points per game on 45.7 percent field-goal shooting - both the worst marks in the Big Ten. This season, however, the Hawkeyes are holding opponents to 63.5 points per game (eighth in conference) on 39.1 percent shooting - the second-best field-goal defense in the league.

More specifically, I had numerous memories of opposing stars carving up Iowa's defense last season. I decided to dive into the numbers and take a look, comparing the Hawkeyes' defense of scoring leaders this year to last year.

I'll start with the log from last season (2011-12). Below I list if Iowa won or lost its game, the opponent, that team's leading scorer, how many points he scored against Iowa, and how many he averaged on the season.

W Chicago State: Jeremy Robinson 20 (13.6)

W North Carolina A&T: Nic Simpson 12 (11.4)

W Northern Illinois: Tim Toler 10 (10.8)

L Creighton: Doug McDermott 25 (22.9)

L Campbell: Darren White 17 (16.8)

W IPFW: Frank Gaines 25 (21.2)

L Clemson: Andre Young 19 (13.3)

W Brown: Sean McGonagill 9 (13.5)

L Northern Iowa: Anthony James 18 (12.5)

L Iowa State: Royce White 17 (13.4)

W Drake: Rayvonte Rice 23 (16.8)

W Central Arkansas: LaQuentin Miles 12 (14.9)

*W Boise State: Derrick Marks 17 (9.4)

L Purdue: Robbie Hummel 16 (16.4)

W Wisconsin: Jordan Taylor 17 (14.8)

W Minnesota: Rodney Williams 11 (12.2)

L Ohio State: Jared Sullinger 28 (17.5)

L Michigan State: Draymond Green 22 (16.2)

W Michigan: Trey Burke 19 (14.8)

L Purdue: Robbie Hummel 17 (16.4)

L Nebraska: Bo Spencer 16 (15.4)

L Indiana: Cody Zeller 26 (15.6)

W Minnesota: Rodney Williams 9 (12.2)

W Penn State: Tim Frazier 23 (18.8)

L Northwestern: John Shurna 17 (20.0)

L Penn State: Tim Frazier 18 (18.8)

W Indiana: Cody Zeller 15 (15.6)

W Wisconsin: Jordan Taylor 9 (14.8)

L Illinois: Brandon Paul 17 (14.7)

W Nebraska: Bo Spencer 8 (15.4)

L Northwestern: John Shurna 9 (20.0)

W Illinois: Brandon Paul 4 (14.7)

L Michigan State: Draymond Green 21 (16.2)

W Dayton: Kevin Dillard 23 (13.3)

L Oregon: Devoe Joseph 15 (16.7)

*Boise State's leading scorer, Anthony Drmic, did not play against Iowa last season, so the Broncos' second-leading scorer, Derrick Marks, was used instead for the purpose of this data.

My math shows that opposing leading scorers combined to score 584 points against Iowa, or 16.7 points per game. Their combined averages totaled 541 points, or a combined average of 15.5 points per game. Therefore, the leading scorers for each team were, on average, even better against Iowa than they were all season. Leading scorers posted an aggregate margin of plus-43 points over their aggregate season scoring average.

Below, we'll look at the exact same data for opponents' scoring leaders this season against Iowa, using player season scoring averages as of Monday.

W Texas Pan-American: Brandon Provost 13 (14.6)

W Central Michigan: Kyle Randall 17 (17.6)

W Howard: Mike Phillips 11 (11.8)

W Gardner-Webb: Donta Harper 12 (12.9)

W Western Kentucky: T.J. Price 16 (14.9)

L Wichita State: Cleanthony Early 25 (14.5)

L Virginia Tech: Erick Green 24 (25.0)

W Texas A&M-Corpus Christi: Will Nelson 1 (13.5)

W South Dakota: Juevol Myles 8 (15.5)

W Iowa State: Will Clyburn 0 (14.6)

W Northern Iowa: Anthony James 15 (12.6)

W South Carolina State: Matthew Hazekiah 12 (13.1)

W Coppin State: Michael Murray 7 (12.3)

L Indiana: Cody Zeller 19 (16.5)

L Michigan: Trey Burke 19 (18.9)

L Michigan State: Gary Harris 14 (13.3)

W Northwestern: Reggie Hearn 6 (13.5)

W Wisconsin: Jarred Berggren 8 (11.6)

L Ohio State: Deshaun Thomas 16 (19.8)

L Purdue: Terone Johnson 17 (12.9)

W Penn State: D.J. Newbill 20 (15.9)

L Minnesota: Andre Hollins 15 (13.6)

L Wisconsin: Jarred Berggren 16 (11.6)

W Northwestern: Reggie Hearn 13 (13.5)

W Penn State: D.J. Newbill 26 (15.9)

W Minnesota: Andre Hollins 3 (13.6)

L Nebraska: Dylan Talley 18 (14.4)

W Purdue: Terone Johnson 0 (12.9)

L Indiana: Cody Zeller 22 (16.5)

The data confirmed my hypothesis - a better team defense also means Iowa has done a better job of clamping down on opposing stars, or vice versa. Opponents' top scorers are averaging 13.6 points per game against Iowa this season while those same scorers' averages create a cumulative average of 14.7. Thus, the Hawkeyes have been significantly better at defending top scorers this season, holding them to a total margin of 33.3 points below their aggregate season scoring average.

Iowa held six leading scorers to single-digit points in 35 games last season, and has held nine players under 10 points in six fewer games thus far this season.

It may be too little too late for Iowa's NCAA Tournament hopes, but it's clear the Hawkeyes likely wouldn't have even begun to sniff the bubble without the defensive strides they've made this season - particularly in terms of containing their opponents' star players.

You can follow Jordan Garretson on Twitter here.


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