After facing the most difficult start to Big Ten play of any team in the conference, Rutgers has a major opportunity on Wednesday night against the Iowa Hawkeyes (10-9; 1-5). Both teams are tied for 12th place at the moment and winner will move ahead of the other, as well as hold the first tie breaker in the standings, which is head to head record. This is the lone regular season meeting between the two programs.
Iowa enters this game against Rutgers well rested, as they haven’t played since last Thursday’s overtime win over Illinois, which was the first conference win of the season for the Hawkeyes. While Iowa has struggled in Big Ten play so far, this team averages 82 points a game and can score in a variety of ways.
I was fortunate to speak with BoilerHawk of SB Nation’s Iowa site, BlackHeartGoldPants. I asked him about the Hawkeyes’ struggles in conference play, life after Peter Jok, as well as what makes this team dangerous offensively. Let’s tip things off!
OTB: It’s been a struggle this season for Iowa, who sit tied with Rutgers at 1-5 in Big Ten play. What were expectations entering this year after the departure of star Peter Jok and how has the deep sophomore class developed?
BH: In various Q&As, I’ve been the first to admit my preseason prediction of Iowa as a dark horse challenger for a spot in the Big Ten’s top four was incredibly off. Along with the more established Iowa media, I figured they would continue their streak of 10 conference win seasons and push for a tournament berth, at the very least.
Peter Jok’s departure is certainly played a part in it, as Iowa hasn’t really replaced his scoring from the wing in a significant way but the intangibles are probably what are missed most. There’s no clear leader on the floor, which is something to be expected with a team which is still among the youngest in the country (currently 333rd according to KenPom). The sophomore class you mention has relied heavily on Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss, and Tyler Cook to be starters. Bohannon and Cook have marginally increased their scoring through efficiency, not volume, and Moss has shown flashes of greatness but struggled with consistency and assertiveness.
Maishe Dailey has looked good as a backup in Iowa’s shallow backcourt after limited minutes his freshman year while posts Ryan Kriener and Cordell Pemsl have had their roles so massaged, it’s tough to identify what they need to do. Kriener, however, was instrumental in Iowa’s comeback win over Illinois.
OTB: Iowa has been good offensively, currently 47th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. There are four players in the rotation shooting above 50% from the floor, the team is shooting 38% from three-point range and the team is scoring 82 points a game. Which players are key in making the offense tick and has consistency been an issue this season?
BH: Though Tyler Cook’s raw output has only marginally increased, his game has really flourished this season. He is showing much more confidence on the wing, though he makes most of his hay down low. During an Iowa broadcast, Tom Crean said Iowa’s best when Cook is being efficient with his dribbles, which is the most succinct way to put his progress. When he pounds the rock too much, he’ll struggle with turnovers.
Freshman Luka Garza has shown the highest ceiling/lowest floor of any Iowa player so far. He’s nearly seven feet tall and is incredibly talented offensively but ran into a bit of a rut confidence-wise, displayed most clearly in his free throw shooting. His father helped him break the slump with a Jordan-like drill and he’s looked better ever since.
Bohannon has been the brunt of a lot of fan frustration due to his limited defense and “lack of true PG skills” but I’d hardly say he’s regressed, as he’s improved his efficiency and maintained his assist and turnover percentages despite being challenged more as Iowa’s best shooter.
OTB: Iowa has struggled with turnovers, averaging 14 per game and have been vulnerable to takeaways (277th in steal rate). How much has this issue hurt the Hawkeyes on defense and what are the root of their struggles on that end of the court (168th in adjusted defensive efficiency) ?
BH: This has been the thing during most of Iowa’s losses: defense. They struggle with their activity, especially in zone, and too often let their offense dictate their defensive effort. They showed a lot of improvement in the Illinois game as they stuck with a zone which gave Illinois fits. Tyler Cook even snagged a couple steals in passing lanes which is a pleasant sign. It was just one game - one half, really - but there were a lot of signs to show Iowa can be better there.
OTB: Iowa has 11 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game. Has this helped them stay fresh at this point in the season or does this hurt continuity on the court as the competition has ramped up in league play?
BH: One of the biggest reasons for the Illinois win (I’m sorry I keep bringing it up but it’s the one positive data point they have in conference), is because Fran McCaffery really tightened his rotation in the second half. He stuck with seven guys while sprinkling in three more instead of trying to get everyone in. They’ve been good with Cook in, typically at power forward, but that’s where all of Iowa’s depth lies, so guys are stuck playing out of position.
Jack Nunge and Pemsl are probably going to be odd men out if they go to a shorter rotation. Nunge, another near-seven foot freshman, is best suited as a stretch 4 but he’s been playing much of the season at the 3, where he’s just too slow. Pemsl is more of an undersized 5 than a 4, where he’s been playing as Cook’s backup. It’s a bit of a crapshoot to see what Fran will do, since his rhetoric is typically about being deep and playing everyone.
OTB: What is your prediction for this game?
BH: I’m optimistic Iowa can turn the season around a bit and the injury to Mike Williams and Rutgers limited offense lend me to believe Iowa can add another to the win column. It won’t be easy, though. 77-71, Iowa
Thanks again to BoilerHawk for taking the time to give us great insight on Iowa basketball ahead of Wednesday’s game. You can follow him on twitter here. For more on Iowa athletics, visit Black Heart Gold Pants here. To read my take on Rutgers and how I see this game playing out, click here.