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Another college basketball season is underway, and the Iowa men’s basketball team is 2-0 after one week. The Hawkeyes are one of 166 teams to remain undefeated through that time frame, though of course, the competition Iowa has faced isn’t quite the same caliber as what others have faced. Still, the Hawkeyes did what they were supposed to do in those first two games.
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 1 and 2 against Chicago State and Alabama State.
Iowa vs. Chicago State, W, 95-62
Iowa vs. Alabama State, W, 92-58
AWhy: Let’s acknowledge something right off the bat: Iowa’s first two opponents did not provide formidable defense. Chicago State (ranked 334th overall on KenPom) is 313th in adjusted defense at 1.084 points per possession after playing Iowa and Purdue. Alabama State (340th overall) is 337th in adjusted defense at 1.101 ppp after playing Mississippi State and Iowa.
Still, Iowa deserves plenty of credit for doing exactly what it should’ve, and not really struggling at any point. It would be easy to play lazy against those kinds of teams. Instead, ball movement was active and crisp. Frontcourt passing was very good, with 11 assists as a group against Chicago State. Entry and exit passes were consistently good.
Iowa played big quite a bit, and when Connor McCaffery returns from injury, that will get a little bigger with some lineups. Jack Nunge playing outside-in could be dangerous as long as he controls the basketball.
It wasn’t all perfect, but when the Hawkeyes were in a flow — especially in transition — they gave a glimpse of what they could be when it all comes together. They found efficient shots and hit most of them. Rebounding offensively was good at several points in both games as well. Having a pair of almost-seven-footers helps.
BWhy:Let’s acknowledge something right off the bat: Iowa’s first two opponents did not provide formidable offense. Chicago State sits at 0.908 ppp (343rd) and Alabama State is at 0.915 ppp (335th). Both teams shot worse than 29 percent from 3-point range. Neither have an effective field goal percentage of better than 41.6 percent (Chicago State’s is 32.5 percent, which is 322nd).
Iowa, again, deserves some credit for that, but not as much as it can take in what its offense did to the respective defenses. The Hawkeyes still aren’t fully connected on defense, and while it was better against Alabama State than it was in the opener, Coach Fran McCaffery and his players openly acknowledge it still needs plenty of work.
The Hawkeyes threw out a number of different sets again, including 2-3 zone in half court, though they are still mostly in man. They tossed out a couple different full court zones, including a 1-2-1-1 zone press that forced a couple turnovers.
On-ball defense still needs work, and they’ll tell you that. Thursday’s opponent won’t offer a great step up on that (probably a step down, if we’re honest), but it’ll get real soon on the trip to the Cayman Islands.
Luka Garza, forward — Just about the only thing for which you can give this freshman a hard time are his free throws. He’s 11 of 19 through two games, which could be any combination of nerves or conditioning. And really, this is a nitpick of his opening two games as a Hawkeye. As has been mentioned a few times, Iowa’s pair of opponents weren’t exactly Michigan State and Wisconsin, but his positioning on the boards and composure with the basketball look beyond his years. Once he starts anticipating on defense, he could be a big problem for people.
Isaiah Moss, guard — While Garza was impressive, to be certain, Moss probably was the most so in the opening games. Apart from the fact that he shot 9 of 14 overall and 6 of 11 from 3-point range over the first two games, it was how he carried himself that could be most important to his sustaining the statistical success. He didn’t hunt shots. He didn’t rush himself. In fact, he seemed almost too calm. He clearly stood to benefit the most from Peter Jok’s departure, and he carried himself in a way that rose to the occasion this week. He’ll face much tougher defense as the season goes on, but confidence is a major hurdle to clear.
Tyler Cook, forward — Cook made 22 straight in-game field goals dating back to March and the NIT through the first game of this season, and the streak stopped with his first shot Sunday. He kind of laughed off not having missed a shot in a game. He’s going to get his points and he’s going to dunk a lot this year. But maybe his most valuable contribution could come in his passing. His court vision is greatly improved and so has his efficiency. Cook has five assists to no turnovers through two games. Considering Iowa had 17 turnovers in the opener, that’s a stat of note for Cook.
Maishe Dailey, guard — Dailey was clearly the fourth option at guard in the opening pair of games, and will be the fifth when Connor McCaffery returns. But being the fifth option doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t play at all. Most of his scoring came when the games were already long-since decided, and he had three turnovers against Chicago State. If he wants to see consistent time, taking care of the ball is job No. 1, followed by hitting open shots.
Cordell Pemsl, forward — Raise your hand if you had Pemsl leading the Hawkeyes in scoring for any game this season. OK, maybe a few of you, but not a lot. That’s not a knock on Pemsl — he’s still very efficient around the rim and his basketball IQ seems only to have gotten stronger. His positioning picked up where he left off last year. He looks like he’s one of the first subs — with Jack Nunge — for McCaffery, but he’s turned the ball over twice in both games. That obviously isn’t ideal. He also has been objectively bad from the free throw line.
Brady Ellingson, guard — Like Moss, he stands to benefit in terms of number of shots and minutes with the absence of Jok, and it’s hard to argue with his shooting results so far. He’s only attempted one two-point shot (a miss) and is 6 of 10 from 3-point range. If Ellingson keeps even close to that pace from deep, the Hawkeyes are going to be just fine. He’s also shown he can be a suitable replacement at backup point guard if needed.
Jordan Bohannon, guard — It’s very possible that Bohannon’s scoring this year could be all over the map. He’s a very smart player and one who appears to understand what he needs to do each given night for the best chance at victory. He’s not going to turn down a shot, of course, but he’ll find teammates who are in a flow or have a mismatch just as quickly. That shows in his assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s got 12 assists and one turnover. The points will come. The rest is more important right now. He still has a ways to go on on-ball defense, after all. His next step is in understanding that if he isn’t quick enough to stay in front, he’ll have help — and to direct who he’s guarding into that help.
Jack Nunge, forward — He’s not a talker, which is fine. What he does on the floor says enough. He had a solid opener, especially from the floor and getting to the free throw line. That wasn’t as good in the second, but he’s also being asked to do several different things. According to KenPom.com, he’s in the top three in terms of percentage of time played at three positions. Ellingson is the only other player who can say that on the team, and it’s just point and shooting guard for him — for obvious reasons.
Ryan Kriener, forward — Kriener wins the award for funniest moment of the first two games. As an Alabama State player was coming into the lane and raising up for a dunk, Kriener fouled him hard enough to definitely affect the shot. He turned to the Iowa bench and appeared to mouth “I’m not getting dunked on,” through a grin, which prompted quite a bit of laughter. Seriously though, he’ll do the dirty work for this team. Someone will need to.
Ahmad Wagner, forward — Tip of the cap to Wagner and his telling the media scrum he’s been working on his outside shot. His first career 3-pointer was part of five straight points against Alabama State. He probably won’t fill the stat sheet a bunch this year, but that’s OK. Like Kriener, his filling the gaps, defending three positions and running the floor to facilitate scoring don’t come up on the sheet, but go a long way toward winning.
Dom Uhl, forward — It’s still hard to envision a spot for Uhl in the regular rotation, even if McCaffery insists otherwise. If he does, it’ll be because he knows where to be on defense and can defend multiple spots. Otherwise, unfortunately for him, it could be we don’t see him a lot.
Iowa vs. Grambling State, 7 p.m. Nov. 16 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (BTN Plus)
Iowa vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, 11 a.m. Nov. 20 at Cayman Islands Classic (TV TBD)
*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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