Team Profile: Old Dominion at Northern Iowa
Old Dominion (20-7, 12-3 CAA) at Northern Iowa (22-3, 13-2 MVC)
7 p.m. ET, Friday, ESPN2/ESPN360.com
About Old Dominion: 6’10″, 250 pound Gerald Lee leads the Monarchs at 14 points per game. Surprisingly, Lee got in foul trouble against Georgetown’s Greg Monroe…and the Monarchs STILL won–if not a testament to the team’s depth, at least to its balance. Frank Hassell and swingman Ben Finney complement Lee, though Hassell doesn’t have the outside touch of his more prolific frontcourt mate.
Trian Iliadis, a 6’3″ guard from Perth, is the team’s sharpest shooter off the bench, though the aforementioned Finney and junior guard Darius James attempt far more trifectas in total.
ODU is fifth in the nation in defensive efficiency, and although their slower pace of play skews opponent PPG stats slightly, only four teams have scored more than 70 points on the Monarchs all season. In their two signature wins, ODU held offensive juggernauts Georgetown and Charlotte to 57 and 48 points respectively. Pretty stunning.
About Northern Iowa: UNI has great inside-outside balance, and is laden with experience. Seniors Adam Koch, and Ali Farokhmanesh and junior Kwadzo Ahelegbe have started the last 39 games together. Senior Jordan Eglseder would have been included in that group, but was suspended for three games after a drunk driving incident last weekend.
The 7’0″, 280 pound Eglseder, ironically, probably would have been the difference maker in this game, as I’m not sure Old Dominion would have had the beef inside to handle him. UNI coach Ben Jacobson told the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier last weekend “I’m disappointed in what has happened. I’m disappointed in Jordan,” said Jacobson. “At the same time, he has my full support and the full support of his teammates.”
UNI definitely has players who can step in off the bench, including more prototypically mid-major center Adam Rodenberg at 6’6″, 245 pounds. But I’d look for Ahelegbe and Farokhmanesh–as well as leading scorer Adam Koch–to have even more of a green light to look for their own shots than usual. Farokhmanesh lit up Creighton for five threes and 17 points in UNI’s MVC-title-clinching rout on Tuesday. Sophomore guard Johnny Moran equaled Ali with 17 in 28 minutes as well. So it seems like Jacobson’s gameplan in Eglseder’s absence is to rely heavily on perimeter shooting. Which is probably a good move with the McLeod Center in full throat (the Panthers have not lost at home all season).
In terms of style of play, out of 347 teams in Division I, Northern Iowa chalks up the fifth-fewest possessions per game, and unsurprisingly ranks second in the nation in scoring defense as well. Last year here in Portland, I witnessed firsthand their stifling D on a very talented Purdue team–holding the Boilers to an amazing total of only 62 points in a close loss.
By The Numbers (numbers from kenpom.com)
Vs. Top 50: 4-4
Last 12: 8-2
Tempo (Poss. per game): 63.9 (301st fastest)
Off. Efficiency: 106.3 (97th)
Def. Efficiency: 85.7 (5th)
Vs. Top 50: 1-0
Last 10: 8-2
Tempo (Poss. per game): 59.8 (343rd fastest)
Off. Efficiency: 106.8 (87th)
Def. Efficiency: 90.3 (29th)
NCAA Tournament Implications: Surprisingly, this game probably means more to Old Dominion–a statement I wouldn’t have made three weeks ago. But with UNI’s regular season title-clinching win last week, and the dearth of deserving Bubble teams at the moment, I’d say the Panthers’ chances at an at-large bid, even with a couple losses down the stretch, look pretty good. A win in this game propels them into discussion for the #6 line.
Old Dominion, meanwhile, has a lot of competition at the top of the CAA with Northeastern, William and Mary (a team they swept) and George Mason all making strong runs. The Monarchs are more likely to be upset in the CAA Tournament than the Panthers are in The Valley, and a second signature road win would go a long way towards ensuring an at-large selection. With this win and another in a CAA Tournament championship, the Monarchs would be looking at a top-half seed as well.
Who wins: Pure and simple, I think the team that makes the most threes in this game wins. Both teams play a grind-it-out style and a couple of key baskets from either side down the stretch are going to decide the game one way or the other. ODU is not going to be fazed by the raucous home court the same way Creighton was earlier in the week, but it’ll be tough for them to match UNI’s intensity over the course of 40 minutes. Northern Iowa has been playing with a chip on its shoulder in relation to their perceived lack of national respect all year, and in Eglseder’s absence, on national television, I think their stifling defense down the stretch will overwhelm a still-deserving NCAA Tournament team in Old Dominion.
Northern Iowa 61, Old Dominion 57.