IOWA CITY — Iowa’s game against Virginia Tech on Tuesday night underscored a few things. One in particular has to do with Isaiah Moss.
It was a well-accepted concept that the sophomore guard was going to be the heir apparent to Peter Jok in terms of being the off guard who would be charged with the bulk of the scoring on the wing. Moss’ shooting and driving ability, as well as his skill in transition, made him the obvious guy.
So when he had a rough game against the Hokies, the Hawkeyes didn’t have a ton of other options to which they could turn when things weren’t falling. It’s not all on one guy, but this is sort of like learning who your MVP is by seeing what happens when that player is absent.
Moss has the ability to be Iowa’s MVP in the backcourt, and he said Friday he understands the value in his role and that he has to limit nights like Tuesday for Iowa to be successful.
“Things like being stronger with the ball, coming off screens harder, setting my man up, things like that (are important),” Moss said. “I’ve got to have confidence in myself no matter what. I think it’s important to come out and being energetic and start good, but whether I start bad or not, I have to have confidence the whole game.”
Iowa’s struggles so far this season aren’t solely because Jok is no longer on the team. The Hawkeyes started 3-5 a season ago, with losses to Memphis and Nebraska-Omaha in which Jok played. The defensive issues Iowa had then are in many ways the same as those faced now.
But even with that being the case, it was always going to be an adjustment for Moss, Jordan Bohannon and Brady Ellingson — as outside shooting threats — when opposing teams didn’t have to worry about Jok on the floor.
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Iowa handled it fine in the few games last year when Jok was out with an injured back, winning both games he missed — albeit to teams that finished in the bottom half of the conference in Ohio State and Rutgers. It’s one thing to do that on the fly when teams don’t have a ton of film on you. It’s another to do it when there’s a season of tape and tendencies on which to prepare.
Coach Fran McCaffery agreed that the loss to the Hokies shined that light a little bit, and that Moss is in many ways now what Jok was then.
“He was trying to be aggressive, couldn’t get anything to go,” McCaffery said. “We’ve got some other options, but Isaiah is the guy. He’s going to start. He’s going to play, and we’re going to set him up. We’re going to get him shots.
“Other teams played him the same way in the past. When you’re a good player they’re going to crowd you. They’re going to get up on you, stand a little closer to you. … He’d better get used to it.”
Moss’ teammates see it, too.
Bohannon put some blame on himself for Moss’ struggles against Virginia Tech, rightly or not. Bohannon said things like, “I need to do a better job getting him the ball in the right position for him to get him going as much as possible early,” because “there were games last year (too) where when he was going, we were going.”
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McCaffery pointed out Moss’ performance was his first bad one individually this season — going back to the summer trip, even, the coach said. Moss was the leading scorer going into Tuesday’s game and had at least 12 in every game before two points and two rebounds on 1-of-6 shooting against the Hokies.
The task won’t get any easier, though — for Moss or for his teammates to find him. Saturday’s game comes against a team that is 16th nationally in turnover percentage (24.6 percent) and fourth nationally in steal percentage (14.3 percent) according to KenPom.com, and individuals in Tony Carr, Josh Reaves and Shep Garner — the latter two the most likely to guard Moss, McCaffery said — who are gifted defensive individuals.
His being stronger with the ball and more deliberate is going to be a necessity.
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“They’re up into me more this year, and I’m sure I’m going to see that the rest of the year,” Moss said. “It’s just being aware. Sometimes sweeping the ball through, you might get lackadaisical, but being aware of it and being stronger.
“I’ve got to do my part and step up.”
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