College hoops is back, and as of Friday, it was just in time for many Hawkeyes fans. While the Michigan football win makes the end of the season seem less dismal, what everyone saw in the first pair of Iowa men’s basketball games likely will be enough to keep everyone busy with both. Lots of good, some not so good, but here’s a look at the opening weekend of Hawkeyes hoops.
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 Games 1 and 2 against Kennesaw State and Savannah State.
Iowa vs Kennesaw State; W, 91-74
Iowa vs Savannah State; W, 116-84
A Why: When everyone involved with the Iowa men’s basketball team said before this season offense wouldn’t be a concern, it seemed very believable. While, yes, it’s very early and the competition level is what it is, the Hawkeyes have backed up what they said.
Iowa faced two very different looks defensively in Kennesaw State and Savannah State, with mostly man defense in Game 1 and mostly 2-3 zone in Game 2. In the opener, Iowa used a strong side ball screen to initiate their actions on a number of occasions, with off-ball guards rotating into space while Williams or Bohannon looked for an angle. The drive-and-kick was effective, with Iowa’s spacing keeping guys open more often than not.
In both games, ball movement was crisp and decisive on average. There were moments where guys got themselves in bad spots — more so in the opener — and a few of the turnovers were needless and a product of players attempting too much or getting ahead of themselves. But that movement was especially effective against Savannah State, where the Tigers played all that zone. The Hawkeyes worked themselves open nearly every possession, and assisted on 33 of 42 made shots. Their ability to adjust and be successful in zone offense — without, McCaffery said, a specific plan — this early is a good sign.
Iowa sits at 1.089 points per possession after Week 1, good for a top 50 ranking. Effective field goal percentage sits at 57.5 percent, which is a number that will increase if Iowa continues to rely and cash in beyond the arc.
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B Why: : Let’s start with the good, because despite what we’ll get to, there was plenty of it in the opening two games.
When Iowa was together, focused and communicating well on defense, it was able to stifle both Kennesaw State and Savannah State. For the majority of both games — specifically in the first half against Kennesaw State and second half against Savannah State — the Hawkeyes’ defensive rotations were good. Switches on screens were quick as well. Iowa ran some soft full court pressure to set up a trap just past midcourt that, while not resulting in a load of turnovers, disrupted both offenses enough that Iowa had a favorable shot clock defensively. In total, they were above average in Week 1, allowing 0.965 points per possession defensively.
Now for the bad.
As McCaffery pointed out Friday night, the defensive lapse to start the second half against Kennesaw State was poor. A much less talented team was able to run the ball with relative ease. Nick Masterson burned the Hawkeyes for 29 points on 7 of 10 shooting from 3-point range, and got open a ton off screens. Perhaps worst defensively was how often and easily defenders were beaten off the dribble during that stretch. Kennesaw State found the lane far too much. Against Savannah State, the first half was poor rebounding-wise. The Tigers controlled the glass even as Iowa led, and even on the offensive boards. The good news on both is that Iowa corrected itself. The last 10 minutes of the second half were strong defensively against Kennesaw State, and Iowa out-rebounded Savannah State in the second half 34-14.
The Hawkeyes showed improvement from Game 1 to Game 2, which is the primary ask of a team this young, this early.
Players (in last two games)
Peter Jok, guard — Given how he played in the exhibition and opener, it seemed reasonable to assume Jok might not miss more than one shot back-to-back all season. He came back to earth a bit offensively against Savannah State, but made up for that — believe it or not — on the boards, when no one else could rebound. And while he only has two steals so far, his defense was one of the few that didn’t totally relax individually during the spurt against Kennesaw State. This is his team. These games were just the first example.
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Cordell Pemsl, forward — Wrote after the game Sunday that maybe we should have paid more attention to this guy coming into the season. Upon rewatch of the first two games? This freshman plays like a much older player. The way he played in space, his court vision and his comfort in the post already made his defenders look lost and far outmatched. He’s also the leading rebounder despite playing the seventh-most minutes. About the roughest part of his opening pair of games was free throw shooting — which he corrected in Game 2.
Brady Ellingson, guard — Ellingson’s first half against Savannah State was genuinely impressive and, though he’s a man of very few words, had to be cathartic. Last season was a letdown for Ellingson, and while his opener was forgettable — no points on 0 for 1 shooting — the Savannah State game made him look like he was throwing darts. He shot without hesitation — wouldn’t you? — and looked fully healthy.
Tyler Cook, forward — To be fair, about the only way he could’ve lived up to the hype that most of us put on him in the first two games was to go for 25 and 10 both games. No, that didn’t happen. Yes, he struggled offensively against Kennesaw State, but not in a way that appears to have long-term implications. He missed shots he made (and will continue to make) in Game 2, and like Pemsl carried himself like a mature player. Like many, he was part of the defensive lull, but for the most part carried himself very well on defense and the boards in the first two games.
Nicholas Baer, guard — For my money, his best moment in the first two games came against Kennesaw State. He took a pass on a drive-and-kick from Christian Williams and launched from the corner. It was a no-doubter, and Jok knew it right as he let it go. The senior flexed his arm for Baer before the ball was even out of his hands completely. Baer picked up right where he left off last year — plus added flashes of a slashing game he worked on in the offseason.
Ahmad Wagner, forward — Wagner was the one who first suggested Iowa could be the “showtime Hawkeyes.” He led a few fast breaks in that effort, but his best contribution came in Game 1. Midway through the first half he blocked a shot by Kennesaw State’s Tyler Hooker that was taken quickly by Jok and lobbed to Williams for a dunk. Elsewhere, he spent time as the 5 against Savannah State’s zone, and seemed comfortable in the small lineup.
Ryan Kriener, forward — Kriener hasn’t had the same minutes as the other frontcourt players, but McCaffery was working him back from a preseason injury. McCaffery likes him a lot, and the way he works for rebounds makes that clear. Everything players said from preseason practices had him leading rebounding, and he showed why in his limited action in the first two games. He was strong with the ball and wasn’t pushed around.
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Maishe Dailey, guard — He said after making his debut against Savannah State that it was his decision not to redshirt. McCaffery seemed to genuinely fret over that decision because the rotation is already deep, but Dailey wants to play and McCaffery has a scholarship situation to worry about later. Not redshirting him doesn’t hurt Iowa. He shot the ball well and after a nervous break-in, finished confident Sunday.
Jordan Bohannon, guard — Speaking of confidence, that is something this kid does not lack at all. He’s not been at all afraid to pull the trigger from any part of the floor. While there were moments in the passing game he rushed his decisions in the opener, he looked better in Game 2 and was more purposeful in his decision-making, evidenced by seven assists Sunday. A 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is a very good start.
Dom Uhl, forward — The inconsistency that plagued him for parts of last season seems to have come back to start this season — at least offensively. He’s made just two shots — one a smooth post move in the opener, the other a 3-pointer Sunday — and his shot has looked rough otherwise. But he’s impacted the game well on defense and on the boards, averaging 4.5 per game. His off-ball defense has improved, too.
Isaiah Moss, guard — Moss got 19 minutes against Savannah State — compared to just four in the opener — and made them all count. He attacked the rim (his missed dunk looked like he was trying to break the backboard with one hand) and didn’t hesitate from outside. He started with a flurry, had a rough middle, and finished well.
Christian Williams, guard — Williams looked confident and consistent running the break early against Kennesaw State, and had control of the offense when they slowed it down. His court vision looked improved over last year as well. In working against full-court pressure against Savannah State, he took very good care of the ball, and very well played the role of facilitator. His scoring will probably be up and down, but that’s not his primary role.
Iowa vs Seton Hall, 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Iowa vs UT-Rio Grande Valley, 4:35 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena
*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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