NEW YORK — Just when it looked the Iowa men’s basketball team was finally saying hello, it said goodbye.
Now a big question looms. Will sophomore forward Tyler Cook say goodbye to Iowa this spring?
Why Cook would consider leaving for another college program or to turn professional at this stage in his career is something he may answer in the months to come. He wasn’t revealing what he has in mind while in a Madison Square Garden locker room after the Hawkeyes’ 77-71 overtime loss to No. 13 Michigan in the Big Ten tournament.
Rumors have been flying, and some think Cook going to his home state to join Cuonzo Martin’s rejuvenated Missouri program is a distinct possibility.
Why Cook, who turns 21 in September, would sit out a season as a transfer at this point in his development is a natural question.
But here’s what makes this even more maddening for Hawkeye Planet: Over the last five days, Iowa hasn’t looked horrible enough to go 4-14 in the Big Ten and 14-19 overall, and all its significant players have remaining eligibility. Plus, prep phenom Joe Wieskamp of Muscatine joins them come autumn.
Iowa beat Northwestern at home on Sunday, outplayed Illinois in winning a tourney-opener here Tuesday, and traded blows all day with a veteran Michigan team that now is 25-7.
The Hawkeyes didn’t look like they had suddenly morphed into a first-division Big Ten squad, but competed hard and seemed to somewhat shore up some problem spots.
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“I’m really pleased with our effort and execution,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said about Thursday’s loss.
“If we called a timeout and called a play, we ran it.
“Defensively, I thought they were more connected, obviously reflected at the 3-point line.”
Michigan missed its first 12 3s and was an icy 3 of 19 from that distance. Its shots typically weren’t as wide-open as so many have been for Iowa foes this winter.
“We missed some shots, missed some free throws,” said McCaffery. “But so did they. So I’m just pleased how we fought back and got it in overtime and how we played at the end of the first half.”
That the game got to overtime was a moral Iowa victory. Michigan led 67-61, but Nicholas Baer made a 3-pointer for Iowa with 59 seconds remaining, the Hawkeyes got a defensive stop, and Jordan Bohannon spotted up and made a game-tying 3 with 16 seconds left.
Then came another stop, and overtime. However, Iowa didn’t get a basket in the last 4:34 of the OT. Game, and season.
Had the Hawkeyes won, McCaffery said Bohannon probably couldn’t have played Friday. He hurt a hip, something added to the plantar fasciitis in his right foot he’s dealt with for most of the last year.
“I’m a little banged up,” Bohannon said.
Yeah, like a 20-year-old New York taxi. To see him slowly hobble out of the locker room and to the Garden exit was to wonder how he played 40 minutes in this game and 70 over 24 hours.
“That is a tough kid,” McCaffery said.
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Bohannon will be back next season. Freshman forward Luka Garza could become special. Off-guard Isaiah Moss seems to have plenty of upside.
You see Cook and wonder how high his ceiling is if he improves his defense and reduces his turnovers. You never want to lose someone with his potential unless he’s a bad character, and Cook has always seemed like a good teammate and decent guy.
When a player says he doesn’t know if he’s returning, he’s usually gone. Transfers flood college basketball every year for reasons big and small, perceived and quite real.
“We’ve got a locker room-full of guys who worked their behinds off,” Cook said. “I don’t have any doubt that individually and as a group, these guys will get better.”
If he would have included himself in that “we,” it would have been a lot more convincing.
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