There have been better stretches of Iowa men’s basketball. For 20 minutes, it looked like things were back on track for the Hawkeyes, but that came to a screeching halt in a big hurry. It wasn’t a fun night, and it won’t be a fun film study this week, either.
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 Game 7 against Virginia Tech.
Iowa at Virginia Tech, L, 79-55
DWhy: Cordell Pemsl and Tyler Cook, frankly, hit the nail on the head in their postgame comments on Tuesday night. Right now, when the Iowa offense gets knocked down, it doesn’t get back up. Right now, the Iowa offense is not tough enough.
Right now, the Iowa offense only gets steam when Jordan Bohannon or Isaiah Moss is hitting 3-pointers, drawing the defense out of the lane and getting Tyler Cook and Luka Garza touches in the paint without two or three guys crashing. Tuesday night started off so promising. The Hokies threw 3-2 zone and man-to-man, and the Hawkeyes were patient and poised. They got quality shots late in the clock. They were tremendous on the offensive boards and executed away from the ball — an off-ball screen from Cook got Bohannon a wide-open 3, for example.
But when things didn’t start out the same way in the second half, everything hit the skids. Yes, perfect execution of a set can be foiled by a missed shot. And sometimes that’s an acceptable answer. But Iowa’s fluidity, spacing and ball movement all stagnated way quicker than it should’ve when the shots weren’t falling.
It’s eerily similar to the start of last season — when the Hawkeyes still had Peter Jok, who was an offensive oasis. With and without Jok, the Hawkeyes have started the same way. The only difference now is the runs — 15-0 Tuesday, 20-0 vs. Louisiana — are longer and more damaging. But if it’s by five or by 15, a loss is a loss.
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C+Why: All things considered, Iowa had a pretty good defensive night. Virginia Tech came in scoring 102 points per game and 1.146 points per possession. Points per possession was down to 1.113, and 79 points is the second lowest number for the Hokies this season.
The Hawkeyes had success in man and zone in the first half, and through the first part of the second half before the game got out of hand. Help defense was immensely better in the first half, and even at certain points of the second half. The outcome was very lopsided, but it could’ve been worse. Iowa had a hand in Virginia Tech shooting 30.4 percent from 3 and 43 percent overall. Iowa won the rebounding battle, 44-40.
The issue though, was in crucial possessions and at crucial moments, the defense wilted — in a similar story to early 2016-17. For whatever reason, offense still is creating defense. It’s a lot to ask when the offense is hitting at an 18 percent clip, but rotations and closeouts went the wrong way at the worst times.
Pemsl had another good quote Tuesday night. He said the first half showed what Iowa can be. He’s right. But the second half is who the Hawkeyes are right now.
Players (in last game)
Tyler Cook, forward — The ESPN2 broadcast got on Cook for only having five points midway through the second half. When the comment was made, Iowa only had five points in the second half. In a vacuum, by himself, Cook was very good Tuesday. And that left-handed dunk through a pair of Virginia Tech defenders was special. But he admitted himself he wasn’t aggressive enough on either end. He missed multiple defensive assignments and 10 shots isn’t enough if the rest of the offense isn’t working.
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Jordan Bohannon, guard — Bohannon was particularly hard on himself after the game. He said he needed to do a better job finding Cook and others inside, a better job dealing with defensive pressure and a better job getting easier shots when the 3 wasn’t falling in the second half. The sophomore spent more than 10 minutes talking with his brother Zach on the floor after the game, and the stern, almost furious look on his face didn’t change from when he was answering questions. Being mad at himself and the situation, and the seriousness with which he seemed to take the questions and that conversation with Zach are a good sign.
Cordell Pemsl, forward — Pemsl for sure had his best individual game of the season, even with his struggles finishing around the rim. In the first half especially, his defense was far better than it’s been. His rebounding was superb, and six assists with no turnovers is outstanding. However, he — like several others — had one too many missed assignments, and those missed shots suggested he was sped up — something McCaffery highlighted after the game. Having the mental fortitude to shake off missing an easy shot is required at this level.
Nicholas Baer, forward — His return was less than stellar, but it’s probably unfair to be too hard on a guy that hasn’t played in a competitive basketball game (the exhibitions don’t really count) since March. Baer looked a lot like his old self at times, but was a little too sloppy with the ball. He also never seemed to get in a rhythm.
Luka Garza, forward — Early foul trouble got his night off to a rough start, and it didn’t really improve when he returned for the second half. The post doubles and changing defenses from Virginia Tech seemed to have him a little sideways. When the first unit didn’t score right away, he was replaced by Baer and didn’t really factor in from there. It’s happened to everyone on the team at some point — had to happen to him, too.
Jack Nunge, forward — Like so many others, his first half was very good. Especially in rebounding, Nunge was highly effective. He showed continued signs of being a guy that will be very versatile and dependable. But also like so many others, he was absent in the second half. His 3-pointer after Pemsl’s miraculous save over the side table felt rushed, for example, and other than that, he wasn’t much of a factor either.
Maishe Dailey, guard — Dailey’s layup with 4:54 to go was the first basket not scored by Tyler Cook in Tuesday’s second half. For several reasons, that’s not a good thing. Dailey has been better than expected so far this season, and that’s mostly on defense. Tuesday, though, was pretty forgetful for him, too. He, and the next guy, need to be much better to give Bohannon some relief.
Isaiah Moss, guard — The Virginia Tech game was the first time this year where Moss really struggled. It was surprising, given in every other game he’s at least gotten something going. But the Hokies hounded him much the same way they did Bohannon. Frankly, he’s going to have to get over that, because it’s not going to get any easier. With the guard depth what it is, he cannot have off nights and Iowa expect smooth sailing.
Ahmad Wagner, forward — When Wagner went down early in the game and hit his head/face so hard on the floor, it looked bad. His needing help off the floor didn’t make it look any better. But somehow he came back. I can tell you this much, if my face eats the floor like his, I’m probably not able to move for a day, let alone play hoops. Tough kid.
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Brady Ellingson, guard — Basically a non-factor on Tuesday, and that was even before he dinged up his shoulder after contact with a Virginia Tech defender. He’s in no man’s land right now. He can’t really play his natural position because the Hawkeyes need him elsewhere, and he clearly isn’t a great fit at point guard. He probably wants Connor McCaffery back more than anyone.
Ryan Kriener, forward — He only got five minutes against Virginia Tech, and that’s a little surprising given how out of hand the second half got. It’ll be curious to see if this becomes more of a trend, or if his minutes come back up over the next week or so.
Iowa vs. Penn State, 4 p.m. Dec. 2 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (BTN)
Iowa at Indiana, 7 p.m. Dec. 4 at Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind. (BTN)
*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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