IOWA CITY — Fran McCaffery harbors no secrets when it comes to his team’s transition offense. Neither do his Iowa players.
No. 17/13 Iowa (17-5, 5-3 Big Ten) likes to attack up the court as quickly as possible. The Hawkeyes’ opponents know that. They also know how to prevent it, but actually doing it is another story.
Illinois Coach John Groce saw Iowa’s transition game firsthand Saturday night. The Hawkeyes officially scored 10 fast-break points in a 81-74 win at Champaign, but fast-break points are a poor measure of a transition offense. It’s the quick, constant barrage up the court makes Iowa’s transition perhaps the nation’s best, even without an accurate statistical measure.
“I think it’s three things,” Groce said. “One, they’re committed to it. And I think you’ve got to have a commitment to doing it. That’s pretty evident that Fran and his staff and their players have that. Secondly, you have to be fast. And they’re fast. Third, you have to have depth so that you can to hold all players accountable at running at that speed. And they have all three. Three for three. So I think that’s what makes them so lethal in transition.”
Iowa leads the Big Ten and ranks seventh nationally in scoring at 84.3 points a game. The Hawkeyes pace the Big Ten in scoring margin (17.6) and are second in the country. Much of that is because of its transition offense.
Iowa combines good ballhandlers like guards Devyn Marble, Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons with versatile forwards Aaron White, Jarrod Uthoff and Zach McCabe who can handle the ball in all situations. Once the Hawkeyes pull down a rebound, it’s get up and go.
“We’re going to push it in transition, we’re going to push it right down their throat,” Uthoff said. “We have that mindset every day in practice. It’s always start it with transition, and we work on it.”
Iowa triggers its transition attack in a variety of ways. Usually, it’s a defensive rebound. The post players are taught to get it out of their hands quickly, but not at all costs. If they see an opening to dribble, they do. If a guard is defended, they push it themselves. If a guard is open, they move it on and sprint up an open lane.
McCaffery welcomes and encourages that attack mindset from his forwards.
“Uthoff, Aaron White, Zach (McCabe), get it and go,” McCaffery said. “You’re the middle man. You’re the point guard. The guards can fill in the lanes.”
“I think it helps our team a lot to have different guys’ ability to bring the ball up in transition and keep pushing it,” Uthoff said. “Sometimes you can’t wait for the point guard because he’s denied. In that case we’d have to slow it down every time. Having different guys being able to push the ball up the court plays into our strengths, which is transition.”
Gesell, Marble and Clemmons usually do lead the break, however, and all are essential. When a break opportunity presents itself, and they’re not leading it, they run lanes themselves. Marble will post up, while Gesell looks for opportunities to get involved.
“I’m getting my back to the sideline so I can see what’s behind me, see all the way up the court, see if they’re trying to jam the outlet,” Gesell said. “Because a lot of teams know we’re trying to run and trying to jam the outlet to stop us. So once I know that there’s no one there, I can continue to cheat up the floor and try to catch the outlet pass as far down the floor as I can to eliminate the time.”
Ohio State saw Iowa’s transition first hand three weeks ago in Columbus. The Buckeyes surrendered 84 points to Iowa, the most they had given up in nearly six years. Iowa’s defense spurred the transition, forcing 17 Ohio State turnovers, including a career-high six by senior All-Big Ten guard Aaron Craft alone.
Iowa scored 27 points off Ohio State turnovers and 15 on the fast break alone.
“It’s part of what they do,” Ohio State Coach Thad Matta said. “It’s something that, first and foremost, when you watch them play, and we’ve played against them already, one of their top priorities is trying to score quickly and score easily. Getting back in your defense is something easier said than done because they’re very effective with the transition. But those are the things you have to do if you want a chance to win.”
McCaffery knows his opponents are gunning for Iowa’s break, but he’s also committed to it. He refuses to slow it down because of the opposing defense, even when defenders are jamming his outlet or defending the passing lanes to prevent easy baskets.
“It’s just a constant reminder that we’re still going,” McCaffery said. “We’re still pushing down the floor.”