By Mike Hlas, The Gazette
With last week?s news that Tyler Cook was remaining a Hawkeye for another season, we can put Iowa men?s basketball off to the side for a while. But first ...
This isn?t a prediction. It?s an opinion. The Hawkeyes should be good enough to reach the 2019 NCAA tournament and even contend for the Big Ten championship.
That?s right, a team that went 4-14 in the conference last season and was awful defensively should be a factor in the conference title race.
Before offering reasons, here are comments Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery made last Thursday:
?Everybody has to know and understand that change has to be made. We have to do some things differently.
?When you have a losing record, there are a lot of factors. The first thing we look at is defense. Yeah, the numbers tell you the defense wasn?t good. The offensive numbers were good.
?We had a young team, we had some goofy injuries. What we have to do is recommit to each other. I?ve said from Day One we?ve got to get stronger, we?re working on that. We?ll work on breaking things down. You break it down and put it back together. So you do a lot more fundamental work, whether it be one-on-one defense, one-on-one moves, things of that nature. We?ll have a lot of competitive one-on-one stuff, then two-on-two, three-on-three. Then you put it all together, five-on-five.?
OK, so why should we expect improvement?
1. Experience. No Big Ten team will have as much returning experience (or roster-stability) as Iowa. Experience matters. This will be a team with a lot of juniors, who are elder statesmen in today?s college basketball. Which ties into ...
2. Defense. The Hawkeyes were horrible at this last season. They allowed 83.1 points in Big Ten play, while scoring 76.1. But a lot of collegians become competent and even quite good defenders as upperclassmen.
McCaffery?s Iowa teams have seldom been known as stoppers, but we?ve seen several of his best players make big strides defensively as juniors and seniors. Did I mention experience matters?
The current Hawkeyes just need to not be lousy defensively, since they should be above-average on offense.
3. Cook. It?s not as if 6-foot-9 juniors coming off 15-point-per-game seasons are plentiful. There have been nights in which this player was dominant, mostly at home. With more consistency, this player has the tools to be first-team All-Big Ten.
4. Luka Garza. The 6-11 Garza didn?t do what freshmen big men typically do, which is wear down as the season grew long. In fact, he averaged 17.7 points over the season?s final six games.
And, he made 55.7 percent of his shots. And, he averaged 6.4 rebounds in 21.7 minutes per game. Best of all, he is a gamer.
5. Scorers. It?s not just Cook and Garza. Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss have shown they can score. Bohannon made 43 percent of his 3-pointers last season, Moss 38.6 percent. So you have four players who averaged over 11 points a game last season joined by ...
6. Joe Wieskamp. As a Muscatine High senior, Wieskamp was like a prep version of LeBron James with this season?s Cleveland Cavaliers in terms of carrying his team to the state tournament.
That?s meant with no disrespect to Muscatine?s other players, who played hard and admirably. But without Wieskamp, they would have had as much a chance of reaching Des Moines as the Cavs would have had getting to the NBA Finals sans James.
Wieskamp can score inside and outside. He isn?t a gunner, and he likes to rebound. He?ll be an asset, sooner rather than later.
7. Depth. Big men Ryan Kriener and Jack Nunge have shown potential. Senior-to-be Nicholas Baer?s been at his best on this team as a sixth-man, and can return to that role. Cordell Pemsl and Maishe Dailey averaged 16 minutes last season. Connor McCaffery adds point guard depth.
This isn?t intended to be a smoke-blowing, buy-tickets-now essay. I?m just saying if Iowa can?t successfully compete over the Big Ten?s 20-game conference schedule next winter, something has gone badly and weirdly wrong.