There have been better weeks of Iowa men’s basketball. Coupled with the last few weeks of football, and Monday and Tuesday were downright miserable for most of you. While the Hawkeyes are showing much the same growing pains as this time last year, there were a few bright spots in the Cayman Islands, and reasons to believe they’ll be able to get it together like they did last year.
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 3, 4, 5 and 6 against Grambling State, Louisiana, South Dakota State and Alabama-Birmingham.
Iowa vs. Grambling State, W, 85-74
Iowa vs. Louisiana, L, 80-71
Iowa vs. South Dakota State, L, 80-72
Iowa vs. UAB, W, 95-85
C-Why:The Iowa defense has been justifiably criticized — and will be below, too — but Iowa’s offense deserves a solid share of the blame for losses to Louisiana (102nd in KenPom, 71st RPI) and South Dakota State (105th KenPom, 66th RPI).
Against the Ragin’ Cajuns especially, the Hawkeyes’ offense became almost astoundingly stagnant. The ball didn’t move, rather was dribbled a bunch and then either turned over or the shot missed. The Hawkeyes forced passes and shots, had poor spacing and couldn’t handle the pressure Louisiana gave it. Iowa shot 25.9 percent in the first half of that game. Worst of all, Iowa had 15 turnovers and 10 assists.
It got slightly better against SDSU, but only slightly. When things got tough, the Hawkeyes reverted back to how they played against Louisiana. The post passing that was so good against the (admittedly woeful) first trio of opponents didn’t make the trip to the Caymans. At several points against the Jackrabbits, the Hawkeyes looked selfish on offense, which rarely can be said about this group.
The saving grace came against UAB. Iowa looked like the team we expected in the second part of the first half, as well as at large in the second half. The assist-to-turnover ratio flipped back, to 18 assists on 30 made shots and 11 turnovers. The 14 points in fast break opportunities was more in line with what we expect of this team.
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DWhy: For most teams — yes, even head coach Fran McCaffery’s teams — defense creates offense. Getting a stop and running in transition is a hallmark of teams designed the way Iowa is. Athletic frontcourt players who can bring the ball up the court should be able to thrive in that scenario.
But for whatever reason, offense is all that created defense for the Hawkeyes in the Caymans. When Jordan Bohannon made four straight 3-pointers Wednesday against UAB, Iowa turned a nine-point deficit into a 12-point lead because the Hawkeyes also turned the Blazers away with one-and-done possessions. At least by watching them, it appears as if getting in a rhythm offensively gets these guys excited about getting stops so they can keep the offense rolling.
Obviously, that has to shift at some point, and way sooner than later. The Hawkeyes struggled in man, 2-3 zone and 1-3-1 zone at various points in all three games in the Caymans, and that famous “connected” word was thrown out as why. Communication seems to be struggling. Rotations are struggling. Helping the helper is struggling. They’re still reacting and not acting on what the opponent is doing.
Long story short: where Iowa is now is where Iowa was in November 2016. This team still is young, and it still is showing.
Players (in last four games)
Jordan Bohannon, guard — There are two sides to the last four games for Bohannon. Side one is special. Bohannon very much put the Hawkeyes on his back, as McCaffery told the FloHoops broadcast team, in basically saving Iowa from a third straight loss. His four straight 3-pointers in the UAB first half and six total were exactly what the Hawkeyes needed to wake up the offense and literally bring them back. He ran the offense well and showed very clearly he can carry the load when he needs to from a scoring perspective. If he can become a consistent defender, he has potential to be an all-time guard at Iowa. Side two, though, is that if. Bohannon gets credit for bringing Iowa back, but also was part of how stagnant the Hawkeyes were against Louisiana and SDSU. A couple bad turnovers and trouble dealing with pressure in those first two games hurt. His on-ball defense remains a work-in-progress, too. The best thing he did, though? “Relax.” Gold.
— Jordan Bohannon (@JordanBo_3) November 20, 2017
Isaiah Moss, guard — Can he be a consistent scorer? Yep. At least through the first six games, Moss has shown he can be relied on to hit big shots and be at least some version of the guy Iowa lost in Peter Jok. He helped the Hawkeyes at least get back in the game against Louisiana, and was one of the few bright spots against SDSU. What he struggled with this week was decision making and defense (they all did). One stretch in the Caymans, he iso dribbled on the wing, put up an ill-advised shot without looking to pass, then committed a frustration foul. That has to become fewer and farther between.
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Tyler Cook, forward — The Tyler Cook we saw against UAB is the one pretty much everyone expected this year. He was exceptional with 29 points and six rebounds and was 8 of 11 from the field and 13 of 16 from the free throw line. That free throw number was especially important. He was 80.6 percent from the line this week, in fact. What Cook struggled with this week was taking care of the ball. He had seven turnovers in four games. The post passing he did in the first few games needs to make a comeback.
Keep talking down!
— Tyler Cook (@iamtc5) November 20, 2017
Jack Nunge, forward — The freshman got his first taste of sitting while struggling against UAB. Perhaps a better way of putting it is he sat while others played well, but still. Overall, Nunge had a good week individually. He had the best shooting percentage of anyone who took more than 10 shots in the four-game stretch at 63.6 percent, and shot 55.6 percent from 3. But a game like UAB, where he didn’t hit a shot and sat in crunchtime is just part of the process.
Luka Garza, forward — If it’s possible for a freshman to need a bounce-back game, Garza needed it Wednesday, too. Here’s a kid who is going to be asked to do a lot this year and who expects a lot of himself. After struggling (mightily) in the first two games, he was very good against UAB. Iowa went to him in crunchtime and he delivered. He will, though, have to get more physical in rebounding, rather than just use positioning.
Ahmad Wagner, forward — We don’t know the exact severity of Wagner’s shoulder injury, but his absence was felt on the boards and at the edge of the zone. His injury came after one of his best offensive days as a Hawkeye, with 11 points on 5 of 6 shooting. Iowa needs him to do the stuff that isn’t sexy, so his quick return would be welcomed.
Ryan Kriener, forward — Kriener might not see a ton of time — 14.5 minutes per game this week — but he does what is needed in that time in terms of scoring. The issue he had this week, like a few others was turning the ball over in that limited time. Against SDSU, he had three turnovers in 10 minutes. He’s aggressive, and that’s good, but it’s not yet always controlled aggression.
Maishe Dailey, guard — Dailey has played his way onto the floor in the absence of Connor McCaffery, and it’s come at the defensive end, believe it or not. Bohannon pointed to Dailey as one of the best on-ball defenders, and he’s hanging his hat on that so far. He had probably his best game as a Hawkeye against UAB, with seven points. He’ll have to come along offensively, though, if he wants to keep these minutes when McCaffery returns.
Cordell Pemsl, forward — He’s not scoring right now, and he’s a little scattershot controlling the ball. On more than one occasion this week, he made oddly-timed passes or passes that had a mission but poor execution. He also didn't finish around the rim like he has in the past, but he set an awful high bar for himself. Despite the above, he had a quietly very good game against UAB. Five rebounds and four assists made him efficient, even if he didn’t score.
Brady Ellingson, guard — If anyone wants Connor McCaffery back the most outside Fran, it’s this guy. Ellingson has filled in at point guard, and while he can run the offense fine, he struggled mightily in man-on defense and even a little in the multiple zones. His value should increase when Connor returns, when he can focus his offense on getting open.
Iowa at Virginia Tech, 8 p.m. Nov. 28 at Cassell Coliseum (ESPN2)
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*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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