Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa men's basketball can ill afford more ill health

Once upon a time, some thought Iowa's rotation was too deep

Iowa guard Austin Ash (13) grabs for the basketball after colliding with Western Carolina’s D.J. Myers late in the Hawkeyes’ 78-60 win over Western Carolina Tuesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Iowa guard Austin Ash (13) grabs for the basketball after colliding with Western Carolina’s D.J. Myers late in the Hawkeyes’ 78-60 win over Western Carolina Tuesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Wednesday was a good day for the Iowa men’s basketball team to have the day off.

Sophomore walk-on forward Riley Till, who may assume a role in Iowa’s rotation as this season proceeds, sprained his left ankle recently and watched the Hawkeyes’ 78-60 win over Western Carolina Tuesday in street clothes, with a walking boot on his left foot.

Till proceeded to watch teammates join him on the sideline.

Junior center Ryan Kriener had an ankle sprain or twist in the second half, and left the game and the main arena. He appeared at a postgame interview session, though, insisting he was OK. Kriener played 12 minutes. Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said he wanted to play him a lot more, but the injury put an end to that.

Kriener needs to be good this season if Iowa is to compete in the Big Ten, and the potential is there. Like many players, he seems like he plays better the longer he plays. Fellow front line players Luka Garza and Nicholas Baer aren’t 35-minute guys like Tyler Cook.

Kriener had five points, four rebounds, an assist, a blocked shot and a steal in his limited playing time Tuesday. He had a plus-19 in the box score, meaning the Hawkeyes scored 19 more points than the Catamounts when he was in the game. Only Cook’s plus-23 was better.

Backup point guard Connor McCaffery was shaken up from a play under a basket late in the game, and clearly was shaken by it though he remained in the game. He went to the trainers’ room immediately after the contest, and didn’t appear at postgame interviews.

What all the nicks and dings brought home, though, is this is suddenly a team without room for more players missing time. Center Jack Nunge is redshirting, and forward Cordell Pemsl’s season is officially over after he had knee surgery Tuesday.

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“We’ll be all right,” said Iowa freshman guard Joe Wieskamp. “We’ve got a lot of core guys who can keep playing, a lot of guys that aren’t necessarily playing the heavy minutes right now that can play a lot more minutes, myself included. If I need to play the whole game, I will.”

That’s easy to say, but 35 minutes per game in the Big Ten isn’t a recipe for most players to prosper.

Senior forward Baer had another good game Tuesday. He took just two shots in 25 minutes, but scoring isn’t how he’s measured. He had team-highs of four blocked shots and three steals. He leads the club in both of those categories though he is seventh on his team in minutes played.

I don’t pretend to understand some of basketball’s statistics. There’s something called team defensive efficiency. Iowa is 119th nationally. I would have thought it would have been a lot higher. Michigan is fifth, Nebraska ninth.

The Golden State Warriors are 15th in that statistic in the NBA. They’ll be fine.

Offense is part of the game, too. Iowa is seventh nationally and first in the Big Ten in opponents’ fouls per game, with 23.4. As has been mentioned several times the last couple weeks, the Hawkeyes are first nationally in free throws and free throw attempts.

Those are good things.

Big Ten stuff

Purdue’s Carsen Edwards is averaging 25.6 points per game. He is a 6-foot-1 guard. Wow.

That’s six points per game more than anyone else in the conference. Six points!

Edwards was an NBA early-entry candidate before returning to school last spring. If you listed the Big Ten’s guys from that list who are still in the Big Ten you’d include Cook, Ethan Happ of Wisconsin, Nick Ward of Michigan State, James Palmer and Isaac Copeland of Nebraska, Charles Matthews of Michigan, and Juwan Morgan of Indiana.

Not a one of them returned to campus sulking over not being NBA-ready. Just the opposite, in fact. All have come back strong.

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 Wisconsin guard D’Mitrik Trice is averaging 55.6 percent (a close second in the nation to Dartmouth’s Brendan Barry) from 3-point distance, and he’s taking 5.7 threes per game. I’ll use the word again: Wow.

Only 15 players in NCAA Division I history have taken at least 2.5 threes per game and played in 75 percent of their teams games and shot 50 percent or better from that distance. Jon Diebler of Ohio State (50.2 percent in 2010-11) is the only Big Ten player who did so.

 Through Tuesday, Big Ten teams had combined to play just 18 true nonconference road games. Iowa had none.

 Michigan State is last in the Big Ten in turnover margin, at minus-2.5. Illinois is second, at plus-3.7. Michigan State has a better team, nonetheless.

 If the Hawkeyes beat Savannah State and Bryant, they’ll have their first unbeaten nonconference regular-season record in 32 years. If they don’t beat both of those two, it will be treated as far more than a statistical footnote.

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