Iowa hoops: Making the Grade, Big Ten Week 5

Up-and-down Hawkeyes finished the last 3-game stretch on an up - after a pair of downs

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Iowa came out of the bye week after Northwestern and didn’t seem to make a ton of progress. Slow starts highlighted (or lowlighted, if you will) the Maryland and Illinois games, and once again the Hawkeyes’ road woes reared their ugly head. But as unpredictable as this season has been, it took another shift with the decisive win against Ohio State.

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 20, 21 and 22 against Maryland, Illinois and Ohio State.

Schedule/Results

Iowa vs. No. 25 Maryland, L, 84-76

Iowa at Illinois, L, 76-64

Iowa vs. Ohio State, W, 85-72

Offense

CWhy:Iowa had made three consecutive starts of at least being down 8-0, and one 10-0, hadn’t scored more than 1 point per possession in back-to-back games and was without its star player in Peter Jok headed into Saturday’s game against Ohio State.

So, naturally, the Hawkeyes came out and looked the best they had offensively since the Purdue win, moved the ball as well as they have at any point this season, assisted on 21 of 32 made shots and turned the ball over just nine times (only three in the second half).

What can be maddening about following Iowa is its unpredictability. That’s also why it’s entertaining and above all interesting. The Hawkeyes struggled mightily to find flow and consistency against Maryland, figuring it out with that bizarre lineup, then were inactive and slow to rotate the ball against Illinois. Against Ohio State, every part of the offense that Coach Fran McCaffery wanted to see done well was done well.

Iowa rebounded well on offense and got 17 second chance points on 12 offensive rebounds. The Hawkeyes ran the floor well, and made the most of Buckeyes mistakes with 18 points off turnovers. Post passing was particularly effective, with Dom Uhl and Cordell Pemsl getting six and five assists respectively, most of which to shooters outside. It went from low to high in the last three games for Iowa’s offense — the kind of trend you want if you’re in black and gold.

Defense

CWhy:Wide open shots are much easier to make than contested shots.

That’s not anything groundbreaking, but it is a fact. It’s one Iowa keeps getting reminded of over and over — and once again did in its last three games. Maryland exploited Iowa in that way a bit — though the Hawkeyes managed 14 steals and took 21 Terrapin turnovers in that game — and Illinois drove a stake in Iowa’s heart with open perimeter shots, especially early in that game. Long, seemingly positive defensive possessions kept ending up in a field goal because the last rotation was too late.

Too many times, McCaffery has had to talk about ball-screen defense being a liability, and that showed up in a bad way again against Maryland and Illinois. Screen and rolls, drive and kickouts were routine.

But like the offense, that seemed to almost completely turn around against Ohio State. Outside of some possessions in the second half, the Hawkeyes were far more active and anticipatory against the Buckeyes. Backside help was there to the tune of five blocks. The players stayed home on defense and didn’t wander as bad.

It wasn’t perfect, and Ohio State doesn’t have a star on offense but Iowa made it difficult on a team that it probably should’ve without a major offensive threat. That’s more than can be said for other games this season.

Players (in last three games)

 

* To view more data, click here.

Peter Jok, guard — Will he play at Rutgers? We don’t know for sure. What we do know? He was playing in pain against Maryland and Illinois, despite being medically cleared by Iowa’s training staff. Medically cleared and mentally cleared might be two different things. Whether the medical staff thinks he’s good is one thing. Jok has to be confident in his back to be his usual self. He wasn’t in his last two games, and it showed. He didn’t move like normal, didn’t shoot like normal and just wasn’t himself — which in some ways made him a liability. Rest only will help that.

Ahmad Wagner, forward — Just when it seems like he’s going to lose a ton of playing time with other frontcourt players emerging, he has a stretch of games like these three, and everyone is reminded why Wagner deserves to be in the rotation. His supreme athleticism was on display, and against Maryland and Illinois, his finishing at the rim finally matched his effort.

Tyler Cook, forward — Other than on the boards, Cook struggled against both Maryland and Illinois. It seemed like every time he made his first move — almost always a good one — he’d lose the ball on the way up or he’d get too sped up and too far under the rim and catch himself in a bad spot. When that happens, you can see the frustration. Against Ohio State, that looked far different. He looked less in his head and far more relaxed, and he got the results to prove it.

Jordan Bohannon, guard — Watching Bohannon shoot an open 3-pointer in transition is like something out of a hit tape. You kind of half expect a special effect to come from the ball as it swishes and he runs back with his mouthpiece half out of his mouth. Seriously though, despite a poor shooting percentage for him in the last three (9 of 33 overall), he hit some daggers at some big times — even in the losses.

Nicholas Baer, guard — You’d think by now it would be in opposing teams’ scouting reports — OK, it probably is — but he still takes advantage of backside blocks in help on post defense. It’s fascinating to watch an opposing big man — who probably has four or five inches on him — lose a shot to a block, and then see the confused look on their face when they see who blocked them.

Ryan Kriener, forward — It’s safe to say he’s not going anywhere from the regular rotation now. He’s fully earned his place in the rotation, and that was most evident against Ohio State. He looked then like he did against Purdue and Northwestern, going 6 of 7 from the field for 14 points and adding seven rebounds. His post defense still needs work, but he’s solidified his place without a doubt.

Cordell Pemsl, forward — Some guys don’t take losing a starting spot well. Pemsl is a smart young man and a smart basketball player, and seemed to back up what he, McCaffery and others have said about the starting lineup and rotation: they don’t worry about it. He dealt with foul trouble, so he didn’t play as much after coming off the bench against Ohio State, but he still was and will be a big part of the rotation, and played like that Saturday.

Brady Ellingson, guard — Ellingson is a man of (very) few words, who sometimes is just as quiet on the basketball court. He was anything but quiet against Ohio State — but that’s because he found himself open. McCaffery pointed it out, but it’s easy to see why it would go unnoticed: Ellingson doesn’t hunt for his shot because he’s picky about being efficient. He wants a quality shot and will pass until he finds one. He found plenty on Saturday.

Isaiah Moss, guard — He still hasn’t found the magic he did in the first Nebraska game. He had a more impactful game against Ohio State — albeit with just six points and two assists — after struggling mightily against Illinois and a relatively quiet game against Maryland.

Dom Uhl, forward — Dom Uhl, the point forward? His teammate, Brady Ellingson, laughed a bit when asked if that was the case after Uhl dished out six assists against Ohio State. No, Uhl won’t be a point forward, but his passing out of the post was superb on Saturday. That’s the kind of impact and productivity Iowa was expecting from him.

Christian Williams, guard — He was far more active and aggressive in a more expanded role against Illinois, but that reversed again on Saturday against Ohio State. His offense just hasn’t come along like McCaffery and Co. said it might. Still, he was and is valuable on defense, and had some key defensive possessions against Ohio State.

Upcoming Games

Iowa at Rutgers, 6 p.m., Jan. 31 at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, Piscataway, N.J. (BTN)

Iowa vs. Nebraska, 1 p.m., Feb. 5 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (BTN)

Previous weeks: Games 1-2Games 3-4Games 5-7Games 8-10Games 11-13Games 14-15Games 16-17Games 18-19

*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.

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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