Iowa Men's Basketball

Ryan Kriener coming up big for Iowa basketball

Junior power forward emerges as vital player

Iowa's Ryan Kriener dunks during the Hawkeyes' 89-82 men's basketball win over Penn State Wednesday at Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pa. (Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY Sports)
Iowa's Ryan Kriener dunks during the Hawkeyes' 89-82 men's basketball win over Penn State Wednesday at Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pa. (Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY Sports)

IOWA CITY — A big reason for the switch flipping for the Iowa men’s basketball team is the switch flipping for junior power forward Ryan Kriener.

The Hawkeyes have won their last four games after an 0-3 Big Ten start, and are 15-3 overall after going 14-19 last season. Causes for the improvement are many, but near the head of the list is the emergence of the 6-foot-9 Kriener.

After one game of 10-plus points all season, Spirit Lake’s Kriener has scored in double figures in four of the last five contests. He perhaps had the best game of his career in Iowa’s 89-82 win at Penn State Wednesday night.

His 14 points off the bench on just eight field goal attempts was great in itself. But Kriener’s defense (two steals), his passing (a career-high five assists, including one to Jordan Bohannon for a killer 3-pointer with 36 seconds left) and his ability to be an outside threat (2-of-3 3-pointers) made him one tough cover.

Beyond that, Kriener is bringing an aggressiveness and attitude into games. He’s playing with assertiveness you don’t often see from someone who had been in the role-player slot before this season.

“If you’re healthy,” Kriener said Friday, “it’s a whole different game.”

Last season, he said, “I was able to get something going, (then) get a concussion. Get something going, get a concussion. Get something going, and the season ends.”

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Kriener had two concussions last season, missed several games, and experienced frustration. “I wanted to be out there doing my best to help the guys,” he said.

We saw glimpses. Kriener had 15 points in a late-season game at Minnesota, and finished the year with a 14-point game (6-of-7 shooting) against Michigan at the Big Ten tournament.

With forwards Jack Nunge redshirting and Cordell Pemsl out for the season and expected to get a medical redshirt, Kriener’s spot in the team’s rotation was assured. It was up to him to do something with it.

“It just comes from the coaches and the guys just staying with me and trusting my talent,” Kriener said.

Talent, he has. He has an outside shot. He has plenty of post moves. He has defensive vision. And, he doesn’t fear the moment.

“We go through a whole month before the season starts, he’s the top performer in practice, always,” said sophomore forward Luka Garza. Of Garza’s 22 points Wednesday, the easiest two came from a sweet Kriener bounce pass for a lay-in with 7:15 left.

“That was as good a play as you’re ever going to see from a big guy in a situation like that, and he did it instinctively,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “He didn’t think about it, we didn’t call it, he just did it.”

“He’s not hesitating, he’s not being antsy, those type of issues he’s dealt with in the past in games,” Garza said. “He’s really improved, and he’s one of the toughest bigs to guard.”

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Kriener’s description of himself: “A competitor. Every game you’re going to be asked to do a little something different. I don’t care what I’m asked to do, I’m just going to do whatever to win.”

Kriener’s play helped make Tyler Cook’s absence with a sprained ankle Wednesday easier to process. Cook’s status for Sunday’s noon home game against Illinois is unknown.

“He’s going to try to go a little bit today, so we’ll see how that goes,” McCaffery said. “He worked out yesterday on his own and said he felt pretty good.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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