Preview: Hawkeyes Hoping to Straighten Things Out Against Iowa State

December 5, 2018

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa started the season in style, winning its first three games against Power 5 opponents. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, they’ve dropped their last two.

They’ll face their final high-major, non-conference foe on Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Rival Iowa State comes to town, giving Iowa a chance to turn things around against a quality challenger.

No. 18 Iowa sits at 0-2 in the Big Ten after falling to No. 10 Michigan State and No. 12 Wisconsin. They won’t play another league game until Jan. 2 (at Purdue). The going will be tough in a stacked conference, making Thursday night’s contest (7 p.m. CT, FS1) against the Cyclones a key one in building towards what it hopes is a postseason appearance.

“I think of it as just another big game, just another game that we’ve got to get, a big resume win, a home game that we need to take advantage of. Hopefully we can get it,” point guard Connor McCaffery said.

The Hawkeyes (6-2) could be without standout freshman Joe Wieskamp, who rolled his ankle on a teammate’s foot during Monday’s game at Michigan State. The Muscatine product is the team’s second leading rebounder (4.9 RPG) and is averaging 10.5 points. He’s one of the squad’s better defenders. He’ll be a game-time decision.

“It’s getting better. Just there isn’t a lot of time between games. Would be better if there was a little more time,” coach Fran McCaffery said of Wieskamp’s ankle.

Senior Nicholas Baer likely would start in Wieskamp’s place, Fran McCaffery said.

Iowa looked awful in losing 90-68 against the Spartans on Monday. It broke down in just about every way imaginable in its worst performance of the season.

The Cyclones (7-1) could be without one of their top players in point guard Lindell Wigginton, who has missed the first eight contests with a foot injury. The sophomore scored a game-high 24 points in his team’s 84-78 win against the Hawkeyes last December in Ames.

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Even if Wigginton isn’t able to return, Iowa State still boasts plenty of firepower. This group owns wins against Missouri, Illinois and San Diego State with its only loss coming against Arizona, 71-66 in Maui.

“I’ve been really impressed with their team,” Fran McCaffery said. “I think in particular their ball movement. They’ve got a lot of weapons, and they have some new guys, some that were there last year but didn’t play because they were sitting out. But when you have that many weapons, you’ve got some freshmen, you’ve got transfers, they play together.”

A pair of transfers are leading the way for the Cyclones after sitting out last season. Former Virginia guard Marial Shayok paces the team with 19.4 points per game to go with 6.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists. Forward Michael Jacobson, who played for Waukee High and for two seasons at Nebraska, is pulling down a squad-best 8.0 rebounds a game and adding 16.8 points.

Freshman Talen Horton-Tucker is off to a great start, averaging 14.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists. Senior Nick Weiler-Babb continues being an all-around threat with 9.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and a team-best 4.5 assists.

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“Jacobson has looked really good, Shayok has been terrific, Horton-Tucker, Weiler-Babb has always been really solid. He kind of goes and scores when he has to and then moves it, keeps everybody involved,” Fran McCaffery said.

Iowa State is averaging 80.0 points a game while allowing just 61.9. It ranks 24th nationally in scoring margin.

“We know Iowa State loves to run and we want to run, too,” Baer said.

The Cyclones welcomed back a pair of suspended players on Monday against North Dakota State. Cameron Lard (6-9) and Zoran Talley (6-7) provided more size for a team that had been playing small ball before their return.

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“They present challenges. They can go big if they want to now with some guys back, but they can also go small, play four guards. Anybody can take it off the glass and go. So you know, they’ve got drivers, but they’ve also got shooters. But most importantly, seemingly it’s an unselfish group,” Fran McCaffery said.

Iowa has been struggling with its shooting the last two games. In losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State, it connected on just 44 of 123 (35.8 percent) field goal attempts, including just 12 of 46 (26.1 percent) from behind the three-point arc.

Fran McCaffery would like to see better ball movement from his team in hopes of finding easier shots.

“I think we’ve got a lot of different players who can score, so sometimes they take it on their own. It is a fine line there because you want them to have the confidence and the freedom to do that, and sometimes you’re better off just moving it, maybe get something better. But I’m always going to be a guy that kind of gives my guys some freedom to play because I think anything short of that and they’ll never play to their capability,” he said.

Thursday will be Iowa’s final game before facing Northern Iowa in the Big Four Classic in Des Moines on Dec. 15. It will take the next week off for finals. The Hawkeyes would like to go into the break with a win instead of having to stew on a loss.

“This is another game where we’re trying to build a foundation for ourselves,” point guard Jordan Bohannon said. “This is a game we really want to win knowing that break is coming and we want to end on a high note going into the next game.”

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