IOWA CITY, Iowa - Joe Wieskamp is making the game of basketball look easy. It’s almost like he’s back at Muscatine High School, using his superior talent to stuff the scorebook. But he’s not in high school anymore. He’s in the Big Ten. And Wieskamp is playing at the highest level of his three-season Hawkeye career.
During the telecast of Iowa’s 30-point win Saturday at the Breslin Center, a Hawkeye House of Horrors for more than two decades, FOX announcers Gus Johnson and Jimmy Jackson touched on the elephant in the room: watch out, Iowa fans, Wieskamp’s playing so good that he might not be back for a highly anticipated senior season.
Wieskamp entered the NBA Draft after his freshman season, received feedback and decided to return to college. He skipped a look at the NBA altogether after his sophomore season, when he realized that he needed to improve his game to make the next step.
What Wieskamp does after this season will bear watching. But for now, the best thing to do is sit back and enjoy the show.
During his sophomore season some teams were able to hold Wieskamp in check with a hands-on physical style of play, making it hard for him to cut through the lane, rub off screens and get open. Wieskamp knew that was an area he needed to improve on. Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery expected big things from Wieskamp this season. The first question asked of the coach at the team’s media day on Nov. 9 was how he thought Wieskamp would be a better player this season.
“The thing about Joe, he’s an incredibly hard worker and he’s smart,” McCaffery said. “What you’re going to see now is a guy as a junior who started for two years, he’s been a really good player, not only in our league but nationally, and he’s just going to be better. He’s stronger. He’s really worked on his ball handling, his attacking the basket, his shooting. He’s a great shooter, but he really works on it, so he’s even shooting the ball better. He’s just going to be a really aggressive offensive player in his junior year, and now he’s physically ready to be one of the elite players in the country.”
Wieskamp has played at the level McCaffery predicted in the last three games. In a four-point loss to an Ohio State team that is now No. 4 nationally and wins over No. 25 Rutgers and Michigan State, Wieskamp has averaged 21.6 points. That includes a season-high 26 against the Scarlet Knights.
In those three games, Wieskamp has made 14 of 22 3-point attempts and shot 53.6 percent from the floor (22 for 41).
It might be the best three-game stretch for an Iowa player since another two-guard and native Iowan, Matt Gatens, during the 2011-12 season.
Gatens, now an assistant coach at Drake, made 19 of 27 3-point attempts in a loss at Penn State and home wins against No. 18 Indiana and No. 16 Wisconsin. He shot 57.1 percent from the floor in that run, making 28 of 47 shots and averaging 28 points.
Gatens started his run at Penn State, scoring 21 points and making five straight 3-pointers in the second half after missing his only two attempts in the first.
He then scored a career-high 30 points against Indiana, after former Iowa and NBA shooting guard and now radio analyst Bobby Hansen gave him a shooting tip at halftime. Hansen noticed that the ball was coming out funny when Gatens released it. Hansen told him to concentrate on releasing the ball with his index finger and middle finger.
Gatens made five straight 3-pointers in the final 8 minutes to secure the upset, even though the short-handed Hawkeyes were playing without injured point guard Bryce Cartwright and forward Eric May.
Gatens made seven of 10 triples for the game, and 10 of 18 shots overall. “He just took it to another level,” Indiana Coach Tom Crean said.
Four nights later, in the same building, Gatens made seven of 10 three-pointers again, was 12 of 18 overall and scored a career-high 33 points in Iowa’s 67-66 upset of the Badgers. Before the Indiana game, the senior had never scored 30 points or made more than nine field goals in a college game.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” teammate Aaron White said. “Not even on TV.” Gatens also made two free throws with 3.8 seconds remaining to secure the victory. “One of the most incredible things I’ve seen,” McCaffery said of Gatens’ performance. Wieskamp’s effort against Michigan State is impressive because of his track record against Tom Izzo-coached teams in the past.
In four previous games against the Spartans, Wieskamp had made just two of 15 3-point attempts, seven of 26 shots from the field overall, six of nine free throws and scored a collective 23 points.
“I think I’ve learned a lot throughout the years, ways in which I can attack them differently and just continue to play aggressively through that physicality,” said after Saturday’s victory. There was one sequence Saturday that was a great example of Wieskamp’s offensive maturity. Michigan State was showing some signs of life early in the second half, cutting the deficit to 46-31 on Aaron Henry’s drive to the basket with more than 17 minutes remaining. Wieskamp took the legs out of any rally by making 3-pointers on Iowa’s next two possessions. He did it in just 34 seconds, equaling the number of 3s he had made in 110 minutes of those four previous games.
The first of those two showed where he’s taken his game. Wieskamp started the play on the left side of the floor, near the baseline. He ran his defender, Joshua Langford, into a Conner McCaffery screen, then got bumped by Malik Hall in the middle of the lane. Wieskamp darted past him to the right wing, got his feet set behind the 3-point line, took Jordan Bohannon’s pass and nailed the triple as Hall ran at him.
The next trip down, Wieskamp made a well-guarded 3 from the other side of the floor in front of the Iowa bench.
And McCaffery, whose 2015-16 team also won at Michigan State, joined Purdue’s Matt Painter and former Michigan coaches John Beilein and Steve Fisher as the only men to sweep Izzo’s teams in multiple seasons.