IOWA CITY — The Iowa men’s basketball team did what it was supposed to do Friday night against Chicago State in the season-opener at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes’ 95-62 victory was bigger than either exhibition game against William Jewell or Belmont Abbey.
Coach Fran McCaffery and Co. talked about this opening slate of games being important for a few reasons, among them developing a rhythm with the various lineups that saw the floor and finding scorers to replace Peter Jok. Steps 1 and 2 (of 30-plus) in that process: achieved.
Iowa (1-0) got 50 points, 30 rebounds and 11 assists from its seven frontcourt players, but it was the smooth, confident play from starting guard Isaiah Moss that served as the clearest bit of an I-told-you-so for McCaffery.
The Hawkeyes’ head coach said last year, this summer and at media day this fall that Moss was playing with a confidence that could make him dangerous this year.
“This year you’re seeing a guy that could be really special,” McCaffery said of Moss. “If you are able to put it all together like he’s doing, you have to have confidence in yourself, but you won’t ever have confidence in yourself if your coach doesn’t have confidence in you. That’s been a gradual process for him — convincing him ‘we love you, you’re great, just keep attacking; trust your talent.’”
Moss finished with 14 points in 13 minutes on 5 of 7 shooting from the field and 4 of 6 from 3-point range.
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The redshirt sophomore is a quiet guy who can be hard to read. His lack of emotional highs and lows — at least outwardly — could serve him well going forward, especially since he doesn’t have to worry about playing behind the Big Ten’s leading scorer.
Moss said, “I think it came over time with all the work I put in, and my teammates believed in me too. That helps a lot. They always believed in me.” McCaffery pointed that out again Friday, that the reason Moss didn’t have as much of a chance to do what he did a few times last year — the first half at Nebraska springs to mind first — wasn’t Moss’ doing.
His teammates expressed their happiness for Moss after the game Friday, with starting forward Tyler Cook saying Moss could be “super dangerous. We tell Isaiah to go hoop. That’s what he does best, get buckets.”
Granted, having a night like that against Chicago State isn’t the same as having it against Michigan State. But his teammates have plenty of reasons to believe Friday was a preview and not just a flash.
“That’s what we want him to do on a game-to-game basis, and he’s been absolutely killing it in practice,” guard Jordan Bohannon said. “We want him to be that Pete-type player. You saw how confident he is in his shot, and when it’s falling, he just spreads the defense even more.
“He had some big games last season, but it’s all about gaining confidence for him. It’s definitely going to translate to later in the season.”
Moss wasn’t the only guard to have a solid night — because let’s be honest, all of them should’ve against that Cougars team. It was the Hawkeyes’ spacing and movement that was the first part of the equation. The second was the aforementioned 11 frontcourt assists and the exit passing that led to them.
Starting forwards Cook, Luka Garza and Ahmad Wagner had eight assists to two turnovers combined. Their court vision and — perhaps most important — willingness to pass to each other and the open shooters is a skill that’s a little underrated and a lot important for how the Hawkeyes want to play.
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McCaffery lauded Garza’s team-leading 16 points and five rebounds, Cook’s 12 points on 4 of 4 shooting — making him 22 of his last 22 in games that count, dating back to March 9 — Bohannon’s 12 points on 4 of 7 3-point shooting and Jack Nunge’s 10 points, four rebounds and four steals. But it was the way in which the offense flowed that is going to keep the train moving.
“It’s just us making the correct reads,” Cook said. “What’s most important, along with exit passes, is having guys moving off the ball. When we get the ball in the post and have guys open like that, you want to have cutters and guys on the weak side to give us a target. Our guards did a good job of that. I think if we can continue to do that, whenever teams decide to double us, they’ll have to pay.”
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