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IOWA CITY — Much of the difficulty the Iowa men’s basketball team has had this season has come with its frontcourt. With a handful of talented players deserving of playing time, it makes sense Coach Fran McCaffery would field questions and think a long time about who plays how many minutes for him in the post.
But the last two games have served as a reminder that while there might be a few less, his guards provide a very similar difficulty in finding minutes.
Aside from Peter Jok, the Hawkeyes roll with Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss, Brady Ellingson and Christian Williams as the main quintet of backcourt players. Jok and Bohannon have solidified their minutes, while Moss, Ellingson and Williams haven’t found consistent time for most of the season.
McCaffery pointed out Friday that he plays with rotations and lineups based on who a given group of five is producing at that moment. He also recognized it’s harder for his players to deal with that than him.
“It’s not difficult for me. I think the difficulty is for the guys because there might be a game when Isaiah (Moss) plays 29 minutes, then a game where he plays nine; Brady (Ellingson) plays 23 minutes, then he plays eight,” McCaffery said. “That’s hard, and I’m aware of that. I don’t like that. But there’s times, based on situations — if you remember the Maryland game last time, the lineup that was on the floor when we took the lead was not a lineup you would’ve expected on the floor.
“That’s just something we have to deal with. It’s great we have (that) kind of depth. … The good thing is those guys come with energy whenever I put them in, whether it’s a frontcourt guy or a guard.”
Jok’s productivity for the Hawkeyes’ backcourt has been as advertised before the season: 21 points, six rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while shooting 43.1 percent from the field.
Beyond him, though, Moss, Ellingson and, most recently, Williams have seen dips and surges in what they’ve produced.
Moss has had games scoring of 21, 19, 17 and 14 while playing 32, 24, 37 and 31 minutes, respectively. He’s also had five scoreless games and seven more with just two points each game while playing in single digit or near-single digits in minutes.
Similarly, Ellingson has scored in bunches this season. He had 23 and 11 point-games in a three-game span in November, had 10 and 11 point-games in a three-game span in December and then 17 and 11-point games against Ohio State and Nebraska a few weeks ago. His production in between was limited.
And Williams, who lost his starting job to Bohannon, has spent the better part of the year playing somewhere around 10-11 minutes per game. But in the last three games, his individual defense has gotten him on the floor and an increased aggressiveness has kept him there.
Those three players are just a few examples of how Iowa doesn’t necessarily know when, but they’ll be able to get productive guard play from their group.
“(Moss) has proven he can score, he’s been a good defender and he’s had some games where he’s made some plays. … What he’s got to do is consistently put it together. The hardest thing is when your minutes are up and down based on the fact we play a lot of guys. He’s the guy who’s probably suffered the most,” McCaffery said. “(Williams) wasn’t as aggressive as he should’ve been (at the start of the year). We had Jordan, who’s been spectacular, and Christian, because he’s got great character, was a great teammate to Jordan and everybody else. He’s developed a confidence level now that enables him to do the things he’s always been capable of doing.”
It’s that energy and engagement point McCaffery made, though, that supersedes everything. As happy as he is that Moss and Williams specifically have stayed connected through their individual journeys this season, it’s a team-wide thing in the head coach’s view.
With a tall task ahead on the road at Maryland on Saturday (5:05 p.m. on ESPN2) defending a talented Terrapins backcourt — Melo Trimble chief among them — the Hawkeyes’ still being all in despite uncertainty should pay off.
“They all know they’re getting in. They stay ready mentally; they stay ready physically,” McCaffery said. “There’s nobody sulking. … I’m really proud of the maturity in the locker room as it relates to that kind of stuff.”
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