The Iowa men’s basketball team got back on the winning track on Sunday against Southern, and did so by doing the things it hadn’t, and by not doing the things it had — if that makes sense. The Hawkeyes (5-6, 0-2 Big Ten) still aren’t where they should be or want to be, but the win Sunday suggests they at the very least understand what’s been going wrong.
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 10 and 11 against Iowa State and Southern.
Iowa at Iowa State, L, 84-76
Iowa vs. Southern, W, 91-60
C+Why: Better? Yes. Problems solved? Not by a long shot.
Iowa played probably 27-30 minutes of high-quality offensive basketball at Iowa State. Especially in offensive rebounding, the Hawkeyes were working as a unit. Patient possessions happened more often than not, ball movement was solid, and adjustments to varying lineups were much quicker. Several different individuals stepped up at different times.
Against Southern, the Jaguars’ early press and zone, combined with a general sleepiness of Iowa’s offense had them behind, but the Hawkeyes woke up midway through the first half and more importantly cleaned up. Iowa had 18 turnovers for three straight games and dropped that number to seven total — just one in the second half — on Sunday. Ball movement especially was better against Southern.
It’s hard, though, to give Iowa too much credit considering a few things: Southern is not a high-caliber opponent by a long shot, and when the game got close against the Cyclones, the Hawkeyes reverted and went back to being sloppy with the ball. Iowa’s offense hasn’t been efficient in several games, and has just a 0.997 points per possession mark over the last five games. Only a 1.213 effort against Southern brought that up to begin with.
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Fewer turnovers, better movement and especially offensive rebounds are something to be encouraged by, but it is just one game in the last stretch in which those have been positives.
CWhy: Similarly to the offense, it’s hard to say things are just magically fixed because the Iowa defense allowed just 60 points to Southern, but it wouldn’t be fair to say nothing improved, either.
The Hawkeyes did force Iowa State out of the paint in terms of post feeds, but struggled with defensive switches and dribble penetration in man-to-man against the Cyclones. Iowa was bit by some bad luck in that game as well, with the Lindell Wigginton and-1 an example — good off-ball help forced the ball out of his hands, but it bounced off a foot, back into his hands and he was fouled as the ball went in.
Even if it wasn’t perfect in both games, Iowa was far more active, which is more than could be said in most of the losses this year. The Hawkeyes have ran more zone than man in the last few games, though that’s skewed a little by their falling into zone once they got up big against Southern. Iowa still struggles with speed of opposing guards and while recovery to the perimeter was better, the Hawkeyes still were chasing quite a bit.
Shutting down a lesser opponent in Southern was a positive sign, if only because that didn’t happen against Louisiana, South Dakota State or even Grambling State, going back a ways. Over the last five games, Iowa’s defense is the definition of average: 1.036 points per possession, which is the national average.
Players (in last two games)
Jack Nunge, forward — Nunge seems to be getting better with each game. He still has lots of room to grow in terms of his handle, but his court awareness was very good against Iowa State and Southern. His shot selection is judicious, and his passing is improving. His long-range shooting wasn’t great this week, but for the season he has been second best on the team (more than 10 attempts). He’s very much earned his starting role.
Luka Garza, forward — Garza needed that game against Southern in the worst way. His confidence seemed to be down, he was chasing everything and everyone on the court in several games previously, and he looked uncomfortable whenever he was on the floor. Sunday, that was totally different. That he did what he did in the first half with two fouls shows his situational awareness.
Jordan Bohannon, guard — What I struggle with most as far as Bohannon goes is matching results with expectations — not necessarily mine or his own, but what the collective has to say. This is the same guy who most of Twitter and Facebook said last year was going to be an all-time point guard. Now, all of a sudden, Iowa has a point guard problem it can’t fix. Which is it? He struggled shooting against Southern, but took much better care of the ball and ran the offense effectively. He was the offensive spark at Iowa State. One game doesn’t prove he’s fixed his turnover issue, but he also got much better help from teammates Sunday, too.
Cordell Pemsl, forward — Have you ever hit your shin on the hitch of a truck? That’s what it looked like when Pemsl hit that chair with his shin at Iowa State — both from the gash/indentation on his leg to the facial expression he was making as trainer Brad Floy helped him back to the locker room. Pemsl was fantastic in that game, too. He was finishing like last year, rebounded very well and took care of the ball.
Isaiah Moss, guard — Moss remains hit or miss of late. He did not play particularly well against Iowa State, but got his stroke back from 3-point range against Southern. Something that might be hampering Moss is when and for how long he plays. He’ll sit for longer stretches than most, and while his minutes don’t end up that much less than the other starters, he seems to fall out of a rhythm easier when he sits for long stretches.
Maishe Dailey, guard — What a pleasant surprise Dailey has been this year. His shooting has finally come around from the first few games in which he seemed sped up and overanxious. This last week especially, he played with far more poise and remains the leader of the team in terms of individual defense. His minutes have reflected that, too: since getting just four minutes against Penn State, Dailey has averaged 20 per game.
Brady Ellingson, guard — Ellingson got a lot of good looks at Iowa State, but nothing was falling for the junior. Late in the game, down five, Ellingson had two open looks from 3 to give Iowa a shot at winning, but both rimmed out. He stands to benefit most from Connor McCaffery’s return, so he won’t have to run the point and can focus on getting open.
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Nicholas Baer, forward — Baer still seems to be working out some kinks from missing that time with his broken pinkie. He hasn’t shot consistently yet, and has made some curious decisions defensively. On more than one occasion, he’s turned it over or committed uncharacteristic turnovers at bad times for the team.
Tyler Cook, forward — The BTN broadcast laughed off his technical after the dunk, saying “if I’m Fran McCaffery, I take that.” Fran McCaffery said he didn’t like the emotion, but only when he has three fouls, and “I pointed that out to him.” Well, McCaffery’s wry grin when he said the last part said something, too. The release of emotion probably had a lot to do with venting frustration after foul trouble the last few games.
Connor McCaffery, guard — His return saw more minutes than he expected, and while he does have quite a lot of recovery left in terms of conditioning and explosiveness, he showed off court vision and a few passes that are at least a window into what he can bring. It’ll be a lot different in a few weeks, so the time between now and then is vital for him.
Ryan Kriener, forward — Kriener took another shot to the head — this time it looked like an eye-poke — on Sunday. Kriener is a tough kid, and plays that way, but these kinds of things add up. What’s clear, though, is that he’s not going to change his style any time soon.
Ahmad Wagner, forward — A very quiet week for Wagner, who played just five minutes at Iowa State. His impact and playing time likely will continue to fluctuate on a game-by-game basis.
Iowa vs. Drake, 1 p.m. Dec. 16 at Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines (BTN)
Iowa vs. Southern Utah, 8 p.m. Dec. 19 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (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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