Four straight wins is a season-high for the Iowa men’s basketball team, and there has been tangible improvement in all of them, even if a few opponents haven’t exactly been world-beaters. Headed into the resumption of Big Ten play, what was seen out of Iowa in the last three games should be encouraging.
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 12, 13 and 14 against Drake, Southern Utah and Colorado.
Iowa vs. Drake, W, 94-60
Iowa vs. Southern Utah, W, 92-64
Iowa vs. Colorado, W, 80-73
B+Why: If you take out the middle 20 minutes of the Colorado game, this is a solid A for the Iowa offense in the last three games.
Offensive rebounding has been a tremendous asset for the Hawkeyes, giving second-chance opportunities over and over. Iowa did a much better job converting those chances, too, averaging 15.7 second-chance points on 12 offensive rebounds per game in the last three. That Iowa has capitalized on a size advantage with such emphasis is a good sign, given that wasn’t the case in November.
The Hawkeyes had 52 points in the paint in two straight games against Drake and Southern Utah, and much the same as how guys got open on the perimeter, ball movement and well-placed entry passes into the post were a big reason why.
Things still get sloppy. It’s far from perfect. Nineteen turnovers against Colorado is objectively bad, and Coach Fran McCaffery and his players didn’t hide from that. But the fact that the offense overcame such sloppiness in the middle of that game to slow themselves down, have consistent, purposeful possessions and capitalize in key situations shows a growth that was a necessity.
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B+Why: Like the sloppiness on offense, the defense has a ways to go to be really good, but defensive intensity was high from the start in all three games. Being active is such a huge thing for this team, because most teams they face are going to be quicker and more agile across the board.
Against Colorado and Drake in particular, teams which derive their offense from the outside in, activity getting in passing lanes made things way harder for the Buffs and Bulldogs. In Sioux Falls in particular, Iowa caused at least three shot clock violations, one of which in the first half was because off-ball defenders stepped into passing lanes on the perimeter, preventing a ball reversal and completely stalling the Colorado offense.
Dribble penetration still bites them, and there are times where guys still get behind the zone, but there has been real progress on defense and that, too, was necessary.
Players (in last three games)
Tyler Cook, forward — The good: Cook has been very efficient around the rim in the last three games, shooting 65.6 percent with approximately 75 dunks. (Yes, that’s sarcasm. For one week. He might reach that this season.) The bad: inconsistency taking care of the ball. Six turnovers against Drake, zero against Southern Utah and four against Colorado include offensive fouls, but he has made some bad passes out of double teams. Outside of those decisions, he’s been superb for the Hawkeyes, and an ever-growing threat of a look or trip to the free throw line when he touches the ball.
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Isaiah Moss, guard — He took 34 shots over the course of the last three games, and all but a few were jump shots. That feels like a lot, but he shot the ball pretty well — 44.1 percent overall — because in the Colorado game he hit a handful of long 2s. Given Iowa could be without Connor McCaffery for a while again, his need to be consistently good has only increased. Taking pressure off the other (few) remaining guards and converting at the rim are vital.
Jordan Bohannon, guard — There still have been a few odd turnovers, but Bohannon has played very well in the last few games. He’s shot the ball very well — 50 percent from the field, 41.7 percent from 3-point range — and handled ball pressure well, save for the middle part of the Colorado game. His flex and 3s against Drake and his second half against Colorado showed a kid who’s getting back to the form he was in when everyone jumped on the bandwagon last year.
Luka Garza, forward — Still waiting for Garza to have a big game against a Power 5 opponent, but he had probably his most consistent stretch this season in the last three games. He beat up on two undersized teams in Drake and Southern Utah, and that could come in handy against some other undersized teams in Big Ten play. One thing was much better though: his free throw shooting. His season percentage still isn’t great, but he was 11 of 14 this week.
Maishe Dailey, guard — It’s been fascinating to watch Dailey’s growth this season, given it’s taken most of us by surprise. There’s a lot of season left and what he’s done in the last few games does not guarantee he’ll finish the season the exact same way, but he’s taken care of the ball, made good decisions and been a consistently good individual defender regardless of the opponent. His game against Colorado was a breakout, though. Without him, Iowa probably doesn’t win that game.
Cordell Pemsl, forward — I’m so here for multiple Cordell Pemsl dunks. First career dunk against Drake — after which I (somewhat) jokingly told him it was a big deal, to which I got a laugh, eye roll and “c’mon man.” Seriously though, Pemsl was fantastic against Drake and Colorado in particular. When he’s getting those 50/50 plays (hello, Casey Schlatter) and pumping up the crowd, it’s got the same kind of effect as Nicholas Baer. He plays better when he’s emotional.
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Nicholas Baer, forward — It would’ve been a lot to ask for Baer to sustain his rebounding rate seen against Drake (a career-high 14) and Southern Utah, but he’s been the energy guy everyone has come to expect. His game against Drake was special, and shows the multiple tools he has that can converge all at once.
Jack Nunge, forward — The last few games have been more of a struggle for Nunge than a few weeks ago, and an illness might’ve had an effect against Drake. Otherwise, the growing pains as far as foul trouble and being in the flow of the offense have been based on matchups. The Colorado matchup was a guard’s game primarily, so his role was limited.
Ryan Kriener, forward — Kriener has packed a lot into limited minutes — both good and bad. If nothing else, he’s made things happen. He might be the clubhouse leader in players who are full throttle from the second they hit the floor, save maybe for Baer. He’s finishing well and rebounding pretty well of late.
Brady Ellingson, guard — Ellingson tried to give it a go against Colorado at the Sanford Pentagon, but it only lasted roughly two possessions — one of which was his trying to bring the ball up the floor under pressure, not being able to go side to side at full speed and getting the ball stolen. Iowa needs him healthy and fast because …
Connor McCaffery, guard — What a weird, unpredictable freshman year for this kid. Read about his tonsillectomy and what Fran McCaffery has said about a medical redshirt the last few weeks here.
Ahmad Wagner, forward — Wagner missed the Colorado game after spraining his ankle less than a minute into the Southern Utah game. His minutes had consistently dropped before that, and with how others are playing, it could be a difficult road back.
Iowa vs. Northern Illinois, 7 p.m. Dec. 29 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (BTN Plus)
Iowa vs. Michigan, 6 p.m. Jan 2 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (ESPN2)
*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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