Hawk Talk 03/20/17

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After a prolonged absence, I am back to provide my final thoughts on the Hawkeye men’s basketball season, and provide a glimpse into my expectations for next season.

I am going to be blunt, I think this season was an overwhelming success. I realize that the Hawks got bounced (again) in round one of the B1G tournament. I also understand that they failed to make the NCAA tournament, and only made it to round two of the NIT. Those are valid arguments if you want to say this wasn’t a successful season. I tend to look at the season as a whole, look at the talent and experience we returned to start the year, and gauge success levels based upon improvement, or lack thereof. In this area, it is hard to argue that the season wasn’t a success on many fronts.

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Coming in to the season, Peter Jok was really the only known commodity for the Hawks, and he turned into an absolute star. His defense still left a bit to be desired, and at times he had a propensity to turn it over, but overall, I’d say 20 points per game and First Team All-Big Ten warrants a huge thank you from the Hawkeye faithful.

Dom Uhl, Brady Ellingson, Ahmad Wagner, Christian Williams, and Nicholas Baer all returned from last season with a decent amount of playing time, but there was still a lot of question marks surrounding parts of their game. Here are my thoughts on each this season:

  • Uhl – His season, at least offensively, was a bit of a disappointment. After a torrid start from deep last season, he slowed down in the second half, and subsequently struggled to regain his form this entire season. Dom seemed to see his minutes decrease as the season wore on. I was impressed many times with his defense, but until he can find either his outside shot, or can finish at the rim, Dom’s game appears to have topped out.
  • Ellingson – Brady showed some flashes during Jok’s absence with his back injury, which I am hoping is a sign of things to come for the sharpshooting guard. The last few weeks seemed to be more of a struggle in the scoring department. I do think that he looked more comfortable on the floor this year compared to last, and entering his junior year, I hope Brady can maintain the form he flashed around the midway point of the year.
  • Wagner – Back in the preseason, it was heard from the Hawkeye players that Wagner has the quickest first step on the team. There were times when this was highlighted, as Ahmad made several attempts to get to the rim. A lack of a consistent shot, and a slightly undersized frame for his position did hold him back a bit this year. I feel like Wagner brings a nice burst of energy to the team, and wonder what his game would look like if he could develop a 15-17 foot jumper.
  • Williams – I am still not sold on Williams as a point guard, and I hope that with Connor McCaffery joining the fold next year, perhaps Williams can move to the guard position. I love his length on defense, and there were several games where Christian caused havoc at the point of Fran’s 1-2-2 press. His ball handling just doesn’t seem to be consistent enough to run the point, and the lack of an outside shot hurts the spacing with our offense. I love his ability to get to the rim, and if he can finish more often than not, I still think he can be a factor for this team.
  • Baer – The B1G’s Sixth Man of the Year Award recipient had another all-around performance for Iowa this year. I love Baer coming off the bench, and have always felt that with Coach McCaffery, who finishes the game is a better indication of status than who starts the game, and without fail, in crunch time, Baer was on the floor. His intensity and motor bring a special bolt of energy to this team, and I love to he always seems to be at the right place at the right time. Towards the end of the season, the outside shot really started falling, and if that continues into next year, it will be hard to argue that he isn’t one of the top three scoring threats on the team.

Everyone knew from the time that last season ended that this year would be a pretty green team for the Hawks. Jordan Bohannon, Tyler Cook, Cordell Pemsl, Isiah Moss, and Ryan Kriener all saw a lot of minutes as freshmen this year, and they have this Hawkeye fan excited about the future. Each player struggled at different times throughout the season, but overall, each man showed exactly why Fran wanted them the come to Iowa.

Bohannon has shown to be more than capable of running the point for this team. Despite many fans crying out for a point guard who can get to the rim and create his own shot, I believe Jordan is exactly what this offense needs. Fran’s offense relies on crisp, on-time passes, good outside shooting, and heady decision making. Jordan brings all of those things to the table. In the last three games of this season, Jordan posted a double-double in each, scoring over 60 points, and dishing out over 30 assists in that span. I expect him to work diligently on his defense during the offseason to solidify that part of his game. I fully expect Bohannon to go down as one of the best point guards in program history by the team he hangs up the high tops.

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Cook came in with the highest expectations of any Iowa recruit in quite some time, and he didn’t disappoint. Hampered early on with a hand injury, it took Cook a little time in conference play to find his game, but when he did, he become tough to handle inside for other teams. His quickness up to the hoop, coupled with his ability to control tip-ins resulted in multiple double-digit scoring performances from Tyler. As the season wore on, his rebounding numbers improved as well. This, I believe, was simply a matter of understanding defense and positioning a little better. Much like Wagner, I believe the key to Cook’s growth offensively will be to settle down just a touch, and develop more of a mid-range threat. If he can do that, we are in for some exciting times ahead.

Cordell Pemsl gives the Hawks another high energy, crafty player in the paint. His bulky frame reminds me of the typical player you see at Michigan State. The further away Pemsl gets from his previous leg injuries, the more impressive I believe he will become. I don’t expect Cordell to ever be a “star” in the conventional sense, but I do think he will be the type of player that other teams can’t wait to see graduate in a few years.

Ryan Kriener worked to crack the lineup several weeks into the season, and when he did, he showed a nice versatility to his game. What our other bigs lack in outside shooting, Ryan has in spades. The front court will be quite crowded in Iowa City for a few years, so to continue to see his minutes increase, Ryan will need to steady up his defense and limit his fouls.

Isiah Moss might have the most raw potential on this team, and he showed it multiple times throughout the year. My hope for Moss is that some of the Baer Motor wears off on him, and he can bring solid energy to every game. This season, there were games were Moss looked like the best player on the court, and there were many other times where he looked a bit lost out there. If he can bring his A game every night, expect big things from Mr. Moss.

At the end of the season, 19-15 was a success for this team. The task now is to make sure that the foundation that was built this year is solidified in the offseason. Many fans are excited about the incoming recruiting class, which boasts PG Connor McCaffery, fresh off his state championship at Iowa City West, Luka Garza, the 6’10” Player of the Year in the D.C. area, and Jack Nunge, the 6’11” Indiana prospect that is already drawing comparisons to Jarrod Uthoff. There is a lot there to be excited about, but I caution fans to realize that often times freshmen players, no matter how talented, experience growing pains in their maiden season.

When predicting future success, I typically stick to evaluating potential based upon the current roster. If everyone improves in their areas of weakness, and Fran can find the right mix of lineups, I see this team being a top-tier team in what looks to be a tough B1G in 2017-2018. The league touts many young teams that bring back a lot of talent, so Iowa is not alone in that regard. I do think that Iowa only losing one player (albeit Peter Jok) will pay huge dividends for the team and their chemistry together.

So in closing for this season, my way-way-way-way to early prediction for next year: 21 regular season wins, and a 7 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Hawk Talk 02/01/17

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AP Photo

Excuse me while I take a moment to exhale. The roller coaster that is the 2016-17 Hawkeye basketball season continues, with the latest twist and turn being back-to-back blowout victories over Ohio State and Rutgers. Did I mention that both of those wins came without Peter Jok in the lineup? I won’t even entertain the tired “Oh yeah, well you beat a bad Rutgers team and a down Ohio State squad” discussion. For this young team, two wins in a row without your star is a big deal.

After the recent three game skid, I was really starting to worry about this team. They looked as though regression mode was in full effect. Their defense looked lazy and confused, much like it did in early December. The offense wasn’t exactly clicking either. It was during those games that I had to remind myself of my expectations coming in to the year. Like most fans, I hope for a win every game, but I also realize that with a young team in the B1G, there will be some bad losses along the way.

So now that the Hawks are riding high again, I spent a little time assessing where they stand in the regards to the big picture. Iowa is 5-5 in the B1G, and 13-10 overall. Not bad, not bad at all. If you are anything like me, you keep looking back at that terrible loss to UNO, as well as the double-OT loss to Nebraska and think about what could have been. 15-8 with 8 games to play would actually have the Hawks in decent position to make an NCAA run. Alas, the Hawks are what their record says they are, and I don’t own a time machine, so it looks like we will have to be ok with 13 wins and 10 losses.

I still believe that postseason play is very possible, if not probable, this season. Right now the Hawks are in the upper half of the conference, and if they can finish with 5-3 in their last 8, they should easily finish in the top 6 or 7 teams. That means 18 wins to 13 losses prior to the B1G tournament. I think that will already be good enough to get them a birth to the NIT. Would 2 wins in the conference tournament punch a ticket to the NCAA? I have no idea. I do know that Iowa’s RPI is awful, and barring a win at Wisconsin or Maryland, it is unlikely to improve too much. I also know the bubble looks like it will be very soft this year, so if ever a team with a so-so resume had a chance to get in, this might be that year.

To be clear, my expectations are not that Iowa makes the NCAA tournament. I also don’t expect them to finish 5-3. Clearly I am rooting for an 8-0 finish, but realistically, I still think 4-4 is the likely finish. This would give them a .500 record in conference, and in a rebuilding year, there is no shame in that. So as I continue to say, enjoy the ride this year. The lows can be expected, and the highs can provide quite the rush!

 

Hawk Talk 01/13/17

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William J. Adams / For the Press-Citizen

William J. Adams / For the Press-Citizen

Shortly after Nicholas Baer and Jordan Bohannon knocked down their free throws to put the finishes touches on Iowa’s biggest win of the season Thursday night I found myself thinking if this was the most fun I had watching an Iowa basketball game in quite some time. My mind quickly jumped to the first half last year against Iowa State, but we all know how that turned out. Then I thought about the Hawks beating the Cyclones when Aaron White was a sophomore. No, still doesn’t quite do it for me. This game, Iowa vs. Purdue, Round Two, was one for the ages. It might very well end up being the best game in the B1G all year. I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, but it featured something around 20 lead changes! That is just preposterous! In my mind, this game had it all.

Before the game started I was predicting a nine point loss for Iowa. If I am being honest, nine points was what I was hoping for, but I was expecting something close to a 15 point deficit. As is the case frequently for me, I was wrong, thankfully so. The young Iowa team didn’t look too young on this night, and they took everything that the Boilermakers could throw at them, and ended up on top. Now this wasn’t exactly David versus Goliath here, but it was a monumental stepping stone for the Hawkeyes. This game should prove to the players and the fans that this young group, on some nights, can go toe to toe with anyone in the conference.

What type of effort did it take to beat Purdue? A complete team effort, for starters. Fran played 11 guys, and 10 of those players scored. The stars had to be stars, and they were. Peter Jok filled the stat sheet, with 29 points, 6 rebounds, and 8 assists. Tyler Cook score 16 points on only 10 shots, and pulled down 6 boards. Bohannon scored 12, and dished out 9 dimes.

What else was needed? How about an unexpected jolt from freshman Ryan Kriener? In just 8 minutes of play, most of which came in the second half, Kriener made 3 quick buckets in succession, and pulled down 2 rebounds. Christian Williams, who saw only a few minutes in the first half, scored two quick buckets on breaks to the basket.

Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports

Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports

Even with all that, Iowa needed more. The Hawks played a solid offensive game in the first half, scoring 38 points. Unfortunately Purdue torched the defense to the tune of 47 points. It seemed like this would be the same old story. Not on this night, however. In the second half the Hawks tightened the defensive rotations, fought through some screens, and forced Purdue into some contested shots. The Boilermakers only score 31 points in the games second stanza.

Does this win mean that Iowa is suddenly a top-tier B1G team? I doubt it, but the Hawks have won eight of their last ten, and are currently playing their best ball of the season. I am personally extremely excited to see if this young team can take their show on the road against Northwestern this Sunday. Pick up a win in Evanston and I might, just might, start to believe this team has something special brewing for the conference season. Until then, I will continue to enjoy the ups, and not concern myself with the downs, as this team has shown us that the future is indeed quite bright for the Hawkeyes.

Hawk Talk 01/10/17

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David Scrivner/Iowa City Press-Citizen

David Scrivner/Iowa City Press-Citizen

Sometimes in life things happen fast. For yours truly, no more than 30 minutes after I finished my previous Hawk Talk post, in which I hoped for a major shift in the Iowa offensive scheme, Greg Davis announced his retirement from football. Then, just a few days after Davis’ announcement, Kirk Ferentz scheduled a press conference to announce that our current Offensive line coach/run game coordinator would be promoted to the role of offensive coordinator. Oh yeah, did I mention that person also happens to be his son, Brian Ferentz?

I didn’t want to write an article immediately, because I wanted to give myself time to process what I think this means for the Hawkeye program, both now and in the future. I’ll cut to the chase right now: I think this was a good hire. If Brian’s last name was Smith or Jones, rather than Ferentz, fans would be able to only judge this hire on the resume of the employee, and that resume is pretty darned solid.

Brian was a heck of a player at Iowa while his Dad was the coach. He went on to move through the coaching ranks with quite a bit of success. Brian has been able to coach with Bill Belichick, Bill O’Brien, and of course, his Dad, Kirk Ferentz. He has ascended through the ranks at a solid pace, and at 33 years old is now poised to take the reins of the entire offense for the first time in his career.

Anyone claiming nepotism played a role in the hire may be right, but let’s not discount Brian’s resume and ability. We also need to stop pretending like this doesn’t happen all throughout the athletic and professional world. There is a very true adage that goes “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I think in this case, we can be relatively certain that for Brian, it is actually BOTH what he knows, and who he knows.

So I like the hire right now. I expect Coach B. Ferentz to re-energize our offense. I fully expect the pro-style to stay, but I think we will see much more creativity in the game plan. I expect the offense to take more shots downfield, and not be so predictable on every possible down and distance. I expect the wide receiver routes to be straightforward, and easier for our players to understand. (It was a commonly held belief that Davis’ scheme for receivers was so complex that many players couldn’t grasp them until late in their careers)

I also expect the offense to be more aggressive. In his press conference immediately after the announcement of his promotion, Brian used the term ‘attack’ a few times. In the five years under Greg Davis, I am not sure attack is a word I would use to describe the Hawk offense, even if I had to come up with 1,000 different descriptors. We will continue to see a power running scheme, but here’s to hoping we also see more passes from under center, more play-action, and for the love of the vertical passing game, more passes downfield!

In the long term, does this move set up the good Captain to ride off into the sunset in a few years as he hands the program off to Brian? I sure hope so, because if that is the case, it will mean that the next few years of Iowa football have been a success, and what Brian is doing is working. On the flip side, as if it wasn’t already, Hawkeye football has completely hitched its wagon to the Ferentz family. If things go well, we are poised to have a Ferentz at the helm for years and years to come. If things don’t, well, I think we will see both father and son take their exit together. For the sake of Hawkeye fans everywhere, here’s to hoping we see many more years of a Ferentz-led team.

Hawk Talk 01/06/17

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Talk about a mixed bag of emotions from the past week for all of us Hawkeye fans. In the final days of 2016, and the first couple of 2017, we got to ride one heck of an emotional roller coaster, starting with the low of Purdue pounding Coach McCaffery’s young basketball squad, and ending with Florida blowing out the football team in the Outback Bowl. Fortunately, sandwiched in between those two debacles was a pretty solid win over Michigan for the basketball squad. Some might want noted that the Wrestlers also took the team title at the Midlands, but since I know next to nothing about wrestling, I will say congrats to the team, and move on.

John Terhune/Journal & Courier

John Terhune/Journal & Courier

First, I want to briefly talk about where I see the basketball team right now. The loss at Purdue didn’t really bother me all that much. After perusing a few message boards after the game, it appears as though many Hawkeye fans were already frustrated with this squad. My question is this: Why? Fran is starting the youngest Iowa team in decades, and you would be blind, or just not paying attention, if you can’t see that this team is much more talented, and has much more potential, than any of the previous teams under Coach McCaffery. So I didn’t get worked up. Young teams lose games. They tend to lose some games by a lot, and look really bad doing it. Iowa lost to a veteran Purdue team with a potential Player of the Year candidate in Caleb Swanigan. It happens.

I was very impressed by how the team bounced back when they played Michigan at home just a few days later. I still have concerns about the defense right now. It appears to me (Disclaimer: I am not a basketball expert, nor do I claim to be. I am simply a diehard fan) that the rotations are off on defensive mostly due to over hedging on the screen at the top of the key. Iowa has rotated good to cover the first pass, but the next rotation isn’t able to cover the man in the corner, who seemingly has had 1,000,000 open looks against the Hawks this year. I have faith that the coaching staff will work through these issues as the year progresses.

That wraps up the positive portion of this post. On to the massive egg-laying that was the 2017 Outback Bowl. I am going to keep this very short, very bitter. As a fan, I absolutely love to watch the Hawkeye’s offense when it is clicking. A pro-style offense with an excellent running game is a thing of beauty. The issue, however, is that very seldom does the offense click perfectly, and this is due to a number of reasons, and I believe talent level is one of them. So what does this mean for Iowa? It means that they need to spice things up offensively. I am not advocating for a switch to a spread offense, but something has to change.

Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Brian Blanco/Getty Images

After the Outback Bowl, Florida players were quoted as saying that they already knew what plays Iowa was going to run before the snap. I’m no expert, but that doesn’t seem like a good thing. When Iowa is matched up against a talented defense, the talent gap shows, and Iowa can’t win games by simply out-executing the opposition. Sure, you can beat some teams even if they know what is coming. Some teams are just helpless to stop you. Most teams, however, will do exactly what Florida did to Iowa if they are basically handed the playbook.

So after the crushing defeat put a bow on an otherwise mediocre year, what is on my wish list? It’s very simple: Iowa needs a new offensive coordinator, and Kirk needs to let that individual have full control of the offense. Bring in someone who will continue with the pro-style offense, but also bring a pro caliber of play calling to the position! Will it happen? I highly doubt it, but a man can dream.

Hawk Talk 12/20/16

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Justin Hayworth/AP Photo

Justin Hayworth/AP Photo

A lot has transpired since I last wrote about the men’s basketball team. In a span of 9 days, Iowa picked up two very big wins for a young team looking to build some momentum heading into conference play. First, the team ran the Cyclones out of Carver, winning by 14 points. Iowa followed up that performance by trouncing Northern Iowa by 23 in the Hy-Vee Classic in Des Moines. I’d say that is one great way to start building some mo’ going forward!

At this point there is no reason to recap those games. I’m sure by now you have heard plenty about the different players stat lines, what went well, and what still can be improved upon. With that in mind, I am going to use this time to look at the team’s progress so far, and try to put into words what I think I may know about the current version of the Hawkeyes.

First, I am hopeful that this group of players is capable of closing out games down the stretch. If you are anything like me, I almost watched the last five minutes of the Iowa State game through my half-shut eyes, as I was waiting for the collapse down the home stretch. Fran’s teams have done similar antics over the past few years. Expectations are built up, the team looks great, then, just when it is time to put the final nail in, suddenly nobody on the team can make a shot, and the defense becomes suspect. At this point we have a very small sample size, but I am hopeful that between Jok, Moss, Pemsl, and Bohannon, Iowa has enough players who would relish the opportunity to deliver a final dagger at the end of any game.

Next, I absolutely love the recent defensive play of this group. Many people, both experts and novices alike, were concerned about Iowa’s lack of intensity and cohesion on the defensive end of the floor early in the year, but those same people would also reference how defense can improve when a team starts to gel. I again am hopeful that we are starting to see this team become more comfortable with each other, and have the trust in one another that each man will succeed in his assignment. We know this team can score, and if they continue to defend the way they did against UNI and ISU, they just might surprise a few teams this year.

Cliff Jette/The Gazette

Cliff Jette/The Gazette

Lastly, I am pleased with the in-game coaching that I am seeing from Coach McCaffery. In my opinion, he is doing an excellent job of managing his timeouts during play, which hasn’t always been the case during his time at Iowa, in my opinion. Against ISU, McCaffery put a stop to a couple potential Cyclone runs by calling well-timed timeouts.

Fran is also managing his rotation extremely well. There have been few times as of late where I have looked at the court and wondered where the points were going to come from. I love the move of bringing Baer in off the bench. His energy and aggressive style of play provides a phenomenal boost for the team. I also like that Coach is getting Ryan Kriener spot minutes on the floor. Kriener has the makings of a player who will be a key piece for Iowa in the future, and getting him some experience now is vital.

Are there things that Iowa still can improve upon? Absolutely, but right now, I know that I feel a whole lot better about the prospects going forward than I did two weeks ago. Avoid stubbing your toe against your next two opponents, and the Hawks will enter B1G play at 8-5, and the owners of a whole lot of momentum.

Hawk Talk 12/09/16

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Pardon me while I take a few moments to enjoy Iowa’s multiple victories over Iowa State this week. For the first time since I don’t know when, the Iowa basketball programs won the women’s, men’s and manager’s games against instate rival Iowa State. These wins in the most recent edition of the CyHawk series was extra sweet for many reasons, and one of the biggest reasons was the comments made pregame by the Cyclones’ Monte Morris.

Stephen Mally/The Gazette

Stephen Mally/The Gazette

Every Hawkeye fan remembers the Georges Niang kiss to the Carver crowd two years ago. Morris promised to deliver something even more memorable towards the end of this game. The problem, however, was that Iowa State needed to win the game first. The young Hawkeyes really never gave Iowa State a chance to celebrate much of anything. After the 5-1 lead that ISU held very early, the Hawks hit the gas, and never looked back.

So what did we learn from this game? For starters, we might finally have a team to cheer for that can actually close out games. If you are anything like me, when the Clones cut the lead to seven late in the second half, I thought Iowa was finished. We have seen that script playout before. Just last year Iowa built a 20-point lead in the first half, only to completely collapse in the second half. Even before that debacle, Iowa had a chance to finish the ISU by hitting late free throws, and they couldn’t get it done. This year was different though. Immediately after the lead dwindled to seven, Jordan Bohannon drilled a deep three and Iowa pulled the momentum right back, and never gave it up.

We also learned that Iowa can actually play a little bit of defense. The intensity was light years ahead of where it has been on that side of the ball. Iowa protected the rim, and for the most part, pulled down the rebounds they needed to so Iowa State couldn’t get second chance points. The three point defense was still a bit suspect at times, but fortunately, ISU wasn’t hitting their open looks.

I was very please again with the play of many of Iowa’s freshmen in this game. Bohannon is proving to be a solid point guard. I compare him favorably to Mike Gesell. Bohannon already shows poise when handling the ball, appears to have a pretty good grasp on the offense already, and the best part is that he can stretch the defense by forcing them to guard him outside the arc, something Gesell was never able to do. Cordell Pemsl continued to do Cordell Pemsl things. He just keeps showing a savvy that most Hawkeye freshmen don’t normally possess.

Then there is Nicholas Baer. Baer is back in his comfort zone, bringing tons of energy off the bench and being a spark for the team on both ends. I only ask one thing of the media and other fans…Can we please stop continually beating the “Nicholas Baer is a grinder, works hard, constant motor” rhetoric. Are all of those things true? Yes, but let’s give the kid the credit he deserves. He is flat out a good basketball player. Had he not been a walk-on, we would speak about him in a different light. Baer has done enough to prove he belongs on the court with most anyone at this level.

Stephen Mally/The Gazette

Stephen Mally/The Gazette

Who am I forgetting? Oh yes! Peter Jok! Reportedly NBA scouts told Jok that he needed to prove that he could get his own shot. Well, I think he is starting to show that he can get it done when he needs to. 23 points scored at a 53% clip was impressive enough, but many of those were contested shots, and included a couple next-level type step backs. It was pretty clear from the tip that Jok was the best player on the court on this night.

So is this the game that kick starts Iowa’s season? Who knows? What I do know is that Iowa is a young team that just knocked off a top 25 opponent in impressive fashion. I also know that the team appreciated the support it received inside Carver. Seeing the images of them joining the student section to celebrate was flat out awesome. I also know that this week served one very big reminder: This is, was, and always will be The Hawkeye State!

Hawk Talk 12/06/16

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It is always darkest just before dawn. This is a phrase that most of us Hawkeye fans are clinging to right now when it comes to the men’s basketball team. After Iowa dropped its fifth game of the season on Saturday to the University of Nebraska-Omaha (yes, you read that right), the outlook for the season is looking fairly bleak.

Matthew Holst/AP Photo

Matthew Holst/AP Photo

Word broke that after the team met with the coaching staff after allowing Nebraska-Omaha to notch its first ever win against a Big Ten opponent, the players held a “players only” meeting. Before I continue, I must say that in my opinion, these type of meetings are often over-hyped by the general media, and are often looked at as a sign that the team is panicking a little bit. I tend to look at it from a slightly different angle.

I think the players only meeting is a signal to everyone that the team knows that something has to change, and they are aware that they are the only people who can enact that change. The troubling part for me is that the Hawks are in the easiest part of their schedule, and things are going bad enough that the team felt the need to hold such a meeting. One can only guess what exactly was said in the meeting, but much of the conversation, presumably, would have centered around defensive effort.

Will the player’s only meeting make any impact on this team? Maybe, but only if each player, to a man, decides that their current level of play on the defensive side of the ball is unacceptable. Iowa has given up over 90 points several times this year, and has allowed the 100 point barrier to be cracked as well. This isn’t good considered the Hawks still have ISU, UNI, and an entire slate of Big Ten games still on their schedule.

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Fran McCaffery’s up-tempo style of play will always be susceptible to giving up a lot of points defensively, but right now things are getting a bit ridiculous. The team has to play better defense, that much is obvious. How to get the job done, now that is much more subtle. In my humble, non-expert opinion, there are a few things that they need to do. First, for the love of basketball, grab some rebounds. Iowa is getting out-rebounded by just about everybody. I missed the garbage can with a banana peel this morning, and when I went in for the put-back, I think I jumped into the top five for Iowa rebounding this year. Second, they need to stop ball penetration. Opposing teams are getting a lot of easy lay-ups with very little resistance from Iowa guards. Finally, I’d love to see Iowa get have more active hands. What drives me crazy is watching them play zone defense, and so many times I see hands down. Then I watch Syracuse and Jim Boeheim’s zone, which has to be the gold-standard for zone defenses, and I see every player with hands out wide and in the shooter’s face. Iowa has a long team, so why not get your arms out and make the most of your length?

These three things all clearly leave out a lot of important things that need to be improved, like timely rotations, proper recovery after hedging a screen, and guarding the pick and roll, but you have to start somewhere. These are things that each player can change individually, and a lot of it is improved simply through better effort and attention to fundamentals.

I’ve read on a lot of message boards that the fans are already becoming restless. Some even feel that a slide like Iowa is having is unacceptable when your coach is in his seventh year. Don’t count me in with that group. Obviously, I am not loving this season so far, but I also realize that McCaffery brought in one of this best group of freshmen ever this year, and he has good classes lined up for the next several years. We need to remember that Iowa graduated four starters last year, and had a play get drafted in each of the two years prior. That is a lot of talent and experience to leave a team in a short period of time.

What we are seeing right now is a young team that is struggling to find its way. In reality, it may struggle all year, but I for one am not giving up on them. I see a lot of potential now and down the road. I have faith in Fran, and trust his process. Now my hope is that soon the sun will start to rise for the Hawkeyes!

Hawk Talk 11/30/16

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I’ll be honest, my already mid-level expectations for this year’s men’s basketball team were lowered quite significantly after the Hawks could only muster 41 points against Virginia on Black Friday. I realize that Virginia is a top ten team, and a potential Final Four squad, but this game was just flat out demoralizing. The Hawks started to build my confidence when they scored 92 points against Memphis, but those expectations were again tempered, thanks in part to the leaky defense giving up 100.

This brings us to Tuesday night, when the Hawks met a 6-0 Notre Dame team in the ACC-BIG 10 challenge. My expectations for this game? Improvement. Coming in to this season, my thoughts were that Iowa would take some lumps throughout the season, but they would also win a few games that would surprise some people. Thus far, the lumps have come, but not yet the surprises. So improvement it had to be, and in many ways, that’s what I saw.

Robert Franklin/AP Photo

Robert Franklin/AP Photo

Even though Iowa still gave up 92 points, 30 of those (30!) came from the free-throw line. Notre Dame shot a salty 90% from the line, converting on all but three of their 33 shots!   On the flip side, Iowa only attempted 16 shots, but did show some improvement from the stripe, converting 12 of those. So the defense had some bright spots. Many times, the rotations looked more cohesive, and the Irish were forced to work deep in to the shot clock. Unfortunately, there were still far too many uncontested, barely-contested shots. There are too many times were certain players for the Hawks looked indifferent to actually hustling to get the hand in the face of a shooter. If this continues, Iowa’s defense will continue to struggle.

Offensively, I loved the lineup changes that Coach McCaffery made. Without the help of star freshmen Tyler Cook (Out approx. three weeks with a finger injury), McCaffery had to mix up the starting lineup, and look elsewhere for production. The starting five of Bohannon, Jok, Moss, Baer, and Pemsl worked out pretty well. I have been itching to see Moss get more floor time, and when he had the opportunity for extended minutes, he didn’t disappoint. Moss scored five points on 2 of 4 shooting, and added two rebounds, five assists, and a block. That’s a pretty good stat line for your first start against a quality opponent.

Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports

Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports

Now that I have officially buried the lede, let’s talk a bit about the huge nights by Pemsl and Bohannon. Cordell Pemsl showed the savvy of a veteran player, and took advantage of a mismatch in size all night on the offensive end. His 18 points came in an extremely efficient manner, as only one shot didn’t fall! Pemsl also showed me something that I loved last night, and it will show up in the stat sheet as a technical foul. The double-technical that he received after scoring a bucket showed me that Iowa finally has a team that will play with some fire, and won’t be pushed around by other teams. Woodbury showed some of this throughout his career, but in my opinion, he wasn’t enough of a threat offensively to let this fire carry over to the rest of the team. Pemsl looks like he could turn in to a player that will have nights where you just need to feed the beast. My only major complain with Pemsl’s game was that he only managed to pull down two rebounds. Iowa will need more from him if they expect to compete in the Big Ten season.

Jordan Bohannon also deserves high praise after his effort last night. His 23 points led the Hawks in scoring, and most of those points came on seven three pointers, many of which were well behind the arc. His performance excited me for a few reasons. First, he was able to get some of his shots off with a hand in his face, showing that he has a quick release. Second, if Bohannon is able to consistently hit from downtown, Iowa will finally have a point guard that can use that deep ball to force the defense out on him, thus giving Iowa much more space on the floor to operate Fran’s offense.

So all in all, I am encouraged after the loss. This team will continue to take some beatings, but the pieces are in place to make some noise. Right now, Iowa can’t afford to have Jok struggle like he did last night, but I suspect those games will be few and hopefully far between. As this group of players continues to put it all together, I think we, as Iowa fans, are in for a real treat down the road.