Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery was ejected from Sunday night’s game against Maryland, but not much changed from the outcome of the game. The Hawkeyes weren’t better or worse. Things played out pretty much the same. That’s telling in terms of where these players are to this point.
Each week of the season, we’ll break down the Hawkeyes’ offensive and defensive performance and give them grades, as we’ll as highlight each player who contributed significantly and his individual performance. This week’s Iowa Hoops: Making the Grade highlights Games 15, 16, 17 and 18 against Northern Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State and Maryland.
Iowa vs. Northern Illinois, W, 98-75
Iowa vs. Michigan, L, 75-68
Iowa vs. Ohio State, L, 92-81
Iowa at Maryland, L, 91-73
C-Why: Offense comes out of the wash as average over these last four games because there were two extremes from the Hawkeyes.
There was the version that started all four games, where ball movement had purpose and patience; where Iowa didn’t settle on one idea of what a possession should be. That version set and ran defenders into good screens, moved when off the ball and crashed the offensive glass — and made the most of those second chances.
Then there was the version that finished the last three games. That version settled. Ball screens were halfhearted or illegal. When a set didn’t work or the motion didn’t get an open look quickly, the flow turned into movement without purpose — like they were running a three-man weave in practice without real goal. Against Michigan in particular, it was all about tossing it inside to Tyler Cook, watching and waiting for him to do something. In that and the Ohio State game, when Cook left the floor, so did any real thought that Iowa could get a bucket when it wanted.
It’s maddening — to both observers and the players — how Iowa can be like this offensively. There’s no answer for it, at least from them. McCaffery hasn’t had consistent lineups, which hasn’t helped, and foul trouble has made for weird situations as well. Right now, when adversity hits the offense, adversity wins, and that’s as big an indictment on a team as there can be.
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D-Why: An F involves complete failure, with no redeeming qualities. And since there were a couple stretches in every game where the Hawkeyes’ full court pressure forced turnovers and opponents were forced into bad looks, this grade isn’t an F.
Anyone watching Iowa over the last couple weeks — OK, let’s be honest, throughout this season — can tell that those moments where things work well on defense are the exception and not the rule. A lot of that has to do with recognition. The Hawkeyes are going to mix up defenses under McCaffery. That’s part of his philosophy. But in those switches, situationally, the awareness and recognition of what the opponents are doing to adjust has just been flat out poor. Adjusting to the adjustments is as important as anything.
When things were going well, Iowa was forcing teams — Maryland in particular — into second and third looks in a possession. Making a team check down — borrowing a football term here — is big because not a lot of teams are adept at adjusting on the fly with consistency. Iowa just hasn’t forced teams into a second look all that much. It seems like four out of every five possessions, the Hawkeyes are giving up an open shot or a layup from a single cycle of a base offense or one set play.
Guys aren’t staying in front on man and are either over- or under-pursuing in zone, going back to the awareness point. It’s a mess right now.
Players (in last four games)
Tyler Cook, forward — In two of the last three Big Ten games, the Hawkeyes wouldn’t even have been in the game without Cook, whose 20-plus-point performances reached five with 28 and 21 against Michigan and Ohio State, respectively. His performance across the board in those two games was very good — vs. Ohio State in particular, with just one turnover. But positioning on defense led to getting himself in foul trouble — it wasn’t a conspiracy against him — and he couldn’t get the ball in a good spot to score hardly at all against Maryland. Foul trouble can’t be an argument to help his letdown game against the Terps, either, because he played 27 minutes against Ohio State and Maryland each. One rebound simply isn’t up to his standards. He’s the best thing Iowa has right now, and they can ill afford bad games from him.
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Luka Garza, forward — At least on offense, it looks like Garza is starting to really get it. He was stunted against Maryland thanks to foul trouble — playing smarter as he matures will help — but his effectiveness was there. Against Ohio State in particular, he was much better than he had been against Power 5 competition. Whatever he can do to improve lateral quickness, he’s got to try because that’s what’s killing him defensively.
Isaiah Moss, guard — Give Moss this: his game at Maryland was phenomenal. A career-high 25 points was legit in every way it could be. He didn’t disappear after halftime and was efficient on offense throughout. But that level of efficiency has been the exception, not the rule. His games against Michigan and Ohio State were forgettable on both ends of the floor. If he can be even close to the guy he was against Maryland, a lot of the offensive issues get fixed in a hurry.
Jordan Bohannon, guard — Maybe it’s the hill I’ll die on, but Jordan Bohannon is a point guard, should be a point guard and should be Iowa’s point guard — for a few reasons. The first I wrote about here. His stats are the same or better than when everyone seemed to think he was going to be the best Iowa point guard in decades. The second is what’s the other option? Let Maishe Dailey be the primary ballhandler, when Bohannon is the best at that on the team and is quicker at shaking full-court defenders? Flip to defense — a fair criticism — where if Bohannon goes to the 2, he’ll be defending a bigger guard with more athleticism? How is that supposed to work out? Iowa’s issues aren’t magically fixed moving him of the ball, and he’s got the skill set to be a Big Ten point guard. If he gets some help like he had in Peter Jok — from Moss or the guards collectively — I think that’ll show.
Maishe Dailey, guard — Dailey has continued to take care of the ball, and his minutes have shot up in the last couple games because of that. His next step is to become a more consistent scorer. Right now Iowa has two guards who can do that. He’s hit some big shots, but not with regularity, and not by creating it himself. Additionally, his defense lapsed considerably against Maryland.
Nicholas Baer, forward — McCaffery loves to point out Baer plays to the point of exhaustion. That’s admirable. He’s giving everything he has. But he’s also got to be self-aware enough to know his body to the point that when he has maxed out physically, not to try to do too much. His turnovers and mistakes come in trying to be the exact player he is when he’s fresh. You want a guy to be himself, but also mature mentally, too. Baer brings so much to this team that his overextending does a lot of harm.
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Cordell Pemsl, forward — Pemsl did not have a great first half against Maryland, and has had a couple stretches in every game where his mistakes pile up. But for the most part he’s been a net positive for the Hawkeyes. His errors feel more trying-too-hard than incompetent. Offensively, though, he needs to have a more consistent impact, and either develop or trust a midrange jumper better to be more diverse.
Jack Nunge, forward — McCaffery doesn’t like to use “it’s a mental thing” as an excuse, but clearly Nunge has some confidence issues at the moment. He lost his starting spot and has careened since. After playing 21 minutes against Northern Illinois, he’s played 19 minutes total since. He sat all but nine seconds of the second half against Michigan because McCaffery said he let a couple missed 3s affect the rest of his game. His defense has been exposed in his limited minutes, too, being unable to stay in front.
Brady Ellingson, guard — His minutes have looked like this the last four games: 17 vs. Northern Illinois, 10 vs. Michigan, six vs. Ohio State and he was a DNP vs. Maryland. His ankle should be healthy by now, so there’s something else going on there. He’s a defensive liability in zone and man, and hasn’t gotten open all that much.
Ryan Kriener, forward — It’s puzzling the negative shift his offense has taken in the last stretch of games. He’s shown the ability to shoot the midrange jumper, but his cover-your-eyes miss against Ohio State was backed up by a bank-in against Maryland that looked lucky to fall. His mistakes have led to his minutes dipping into the low single digits the last few games.
Ahmad Wagner, forward — Wagner’s primary benefit to the Hawkeyes was supposed to have been his athleticism on defense and in rebounding. But the effect he’s had in that area is reflected in his minutes — 28 total in the last four games. If he’s not going to be active on the boards or defending athletic forwards, he’s of little value for Iowa, because his offense is almost non-existent. He scored two points total in the last four games.
Iowa at Illinois, 7 p.m. Jan. 11 at State Farm Center in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. (FS1)
Iowa at Rutgers, 6 p.m. Jan. 17 at Louis Brown Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J. (BTN)
Iowa vs. Purdue, 11 a.m. Jan. 20 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (ESPN/2)
*Full disclosure on grades: First things first, that’s by subjective view after covering and re-watching games. Second, grades are an aggregate of the week, based on an 11-point scale. A is worth 11, A- 10, and so on through F, which is 0. Offense and defense are given a grade for each game and then averaged for the week.
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