For quite some time it’s been apparent that the most interesting thing about this year’s Iowa’s men’s basketball team is its prospects for next year.
The Hawkeyes lost (again) Saturday night, this time to Ohio State. The final score, 82-64, reminded us that the 2017-18 Hawkeyes are bugs on a windshield to the Big Ten’s top teams: Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan State. Iowa is pretty much the same thing to the Big Ten’s mediocre teams, too: Northwestern, Rutgers, Penn State.
Five games remain in this retched season – six if Iowa somehow wins a game in the Big Ten Tournament, but that rarely happens even when they’re good, which this year they most certainly are not. There will be no NIT. Please, Lord, don’t let them somehow sneak into the NIT. The sooner this season is over, the better.
Let’s instead focus our time and energy on something more constructive. Let’s look ahead to 2018-19. Let’s look at each current Iowa player and pick out one or two things that need to happen before next season to help them – and their team – make significant leaps.
We’ll take it alphabetically, along with what year in school they’ll be next season:
Nicholas Baer, senior. It’s time, Nicholas. It’s time to embrace your inner Ryan Bowen. Your inner Scottie Pippen and Draymond Greene. Maybe you’ll score 14 points a game and maybe you’ll score two, but it doesn’t matter, because you’re going to be the best defensive player in the Big Ten. You’re going to be such an aggressive nuisance that out of frustration opposing players will get themselves teed-up.
Jordan Bohannon, junior. Bohannon needs to kick down Fran McCaffery’s door during the off-season and be like, “Look, it’s not my fault you can’t recruit a point guard. I’m a shooting guard, not the starting point guard. If you’re serious about winning, move me to the two and let me fire away without having to worry about ball distribution.”
Tyler Cook, junior. There’s not much more we should ask Cook to do. He’s just one man. But if he wants to make opponents pay, he’s got to consistently be able to pass to the open teammate when he’s double-teamed.
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Maishe Dailey, junior. Fun fact: Dailey is scoring less than six points a game this year, but he’s shooting 42 percent from three-point range. Like Bohannon, Dailey is a shooting guard being asked to play point. Unlike Bohannon, Dailey is 6-foot-6, which means he could just as easily play small forward as shooting guard. If we’re ever going to see Dailey reach his full potential, he’s going to have be the primary backup at the swing position for Bohannon and Isaiah Moss, not at the point. Set him free beyond the three-point line.
Brady Ellingson, senior. Stay positive. Don’t stop shooting. Ellingson doesn’t get a lot of minutes, but when he does he’s at his best when he contributes on defense and doesn’t let a couple of missed shots affect him.
Luka Garza, sophomore. He needs to move his feet better on defense and stop swiping at the ball. I’m about the 50th person to publicly write this, but it is what it is at this point. His teammates should demand that he play smarter defensively.
Ryan Kriener, junior. Kriener just needs to play more consistently. He’s a solid role player, but one game he scores 4-6 points and grabs all the loose rebounds, while the next he looks like Frank Drebin investigating Ludwig’s office.
Connor McCaffery, (hopefully) redshirt freshman. Just stay healthy. That’s it. Stay healthy.
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Isaiah Moss, junior. Run, Isaiah, run. Become the unstoppable force in transition we all know you can be. Let Cook and Garza bang down low, Bohannon and Dailey fire from downtown, and Moss be the one who makes opponents pay when the Hawks make a defensive stop and take off running as Fran McCaffery wants them to do.
Jack Nunge, sophomore. Ask my wife and she’ll vouch for me that this is true: At least a half-dozen times this year I’ve turned to her during a game and asked, “Who’s number 2?” His game is totally nondescript, even when he plays well. Nunge came in as one of Iowa’s better recruits, and he’s been a solid contributor at times, but when he’s on the floor he looks more like a guy they pulled out of the stands to play with the Hawkeyes than a Hawkeye. I don’t know what the remedy for that is, or even if there is a remedy. Honestly, this might be all in my head.
Cordell Pemsl, junior. This year’s winner of the honorary Adam Woodbury Award for Big Man Who is Least Willing to Dunk, Pemsl should be the player off the bench who makes opposing coaches adjust their game plan. Pemsl could be a menace. Currently, he’s just the guy who sleeps on a mattress filled with potential.
Ahmad Wagner, senior. Wagner’s teammates hold deep respect for the center in a forward’s body. In addition to improving his all-around game, Wagner must embrace his role. Every team needs a teammate like Kendrick Perkins or Charles Oakley, the undersized big man who has his teammates’ backs while also holding them accountable for their own actions.