Welcome back Husker fans to another edition of the Nebrasketball opponent questions and answers article. I hope you’ve enjoyed the past few because we have a fun one for you today.
The Huskers take on the Hawkeyes of Iowa on Thursday and we went to our fellow SB Nation blog Black Heart Gold Pants for a rundown of this years team. With us today is Max Brekke.
Corn Nation: Iowa lost a lot of talent at the end of last year. What was the perception from the fans of what could happen going into this year with such a young team?
Max Brekke: No one had any idea what to expect from this team because other than Peter Jok, none of last year’s starters returned. Most reasonable people expected this team to be NIT bound, but I think the most optimistic view had these Hawks as a bubble team heading into March. Everyone knew that this team was adding a lot of talented freshmen, but also were aware that they’d have their ups and downs throughout the season.
Where we stand now, it’s definitely shaping up to be a year where the NIT looks like the best possible outcome. Unless this team puts it together and finishes the Big Ten season in fifth place or higher, I don’t think that this team has what it takes to be a tournament team. They could definitely make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament, however, if the young guys can get hot.
CN: This season has had some pretty tough losses for the Hawkeyes before the win over Michigan on January 1st. Why has Iowa struggled this season and what do they need to do to improve?
MB: Iowa’s biggest struggle early on was an inability to play consistently good defense. The Hawks gave up a hundred to Memphis and followed that up by giving up 98 to Nebraska-Omaha. That’s just not going to cut it, especially against a team like UNO that is definitely inferior. It was expected for Purdue to take advantage of Iowa in West Lafayette, as they might very well be the best team in the Big Ten, but if this team wants to have any shot at having a respectable season, they need to play more tenacious defense.
In order to improve, Iowa really needs to stay more consistent. They’re not going to beat anyone because of their size, as they don’t have anyone taller than 6’9”, but if they can play the kind of ball that they’ve shown they’re capable of at times this season, they’d be a lot better. This is going to come from experience - four of Iowa’s starters are freshmen, and once they get more comfortable with the speed of Big Ten basketball, they should find that consistency. They also need to work on getting rebounds, as they’re not one of the better rebounding teams in the country right now.
CN: Peter Jok is the most identifiable talent on the team this year. Who else should Husker fans be looking for on Thursday?
MB: I’m going to give you three players, all of whom are freshmen starters this season, just because they’re probably players Nebraska fans haven’t seen play before.
Jordan Bohannon: This freshman point guard is going to be legit. He had his coming out party against the Wolverines, dropping 17 points and hitting some clutch shots right in the face of defenders towards the end of the game. He started the season by making too many turnovers, but has since improved his decision making in his past two games with a 10-0 TO-assist ratio. His strength is definitely his shooting, though, as he has some serious range on his jump shot.
Cordell Pemsl: Pemsl has cooled off a bit in his past couple games, but that only has decreased his FG% on the season to 72%. The lefty forward is a force on the block and has some really impressive post moves for a freshman which lead to easy shots. He doesn’t take many bad shots and consistently finds a way to at least draw defenders into fouling him, although his 53.4% free throw shooting isn’t inspiring.
Tyler Cook: The fact that I’m talking about Cook last just goes to show how good the other two players are. Iowa’s most highly touted freshman coming into the season, Cook was a monster before going down with an injury for a month. Since coming back, he’s scored in double-digits in both games he’s played and thrown down some monster dunks. He could use a bit of seasoning on defense and could also stand to improve his free throw shooting (59.4%), but he has a ton of talent when he uses it right.
CN: Give us one thing that Iowa does really well on the court and one thing they really need to improve upon.
MB: Iowa is a really good offensive team this year, although they’ve done some of their best work against inferior competition. The Hawkeyes have scored at least 78 points in 12 of 15 games this season and are ranked 50th in Kenpom on offense. They find their shots and know where they’re best from, and I think they more or less know their role in the offense.
Iowa’s biggest improvement needs to come on defense, but since I talked about that a bit already, I’ll continue with the offense theme. Iowa needs to find a scorer outside of their starting lineup in the worst way. When the bench mob is on the floor, the Hawks are really limited offensively. Christian Williams hasn’t shown an ability to score, while Ahmad Wagner and Dom Uhl have shown that they’re not shooters. This leaves Brady Ellingson, who’s a terrific shooter when he’s allowed to catch and shoot, and Nicholas Baer, who has an ability to make shots but probably isn’t someone you want to revolve your offense around at this point in his career. One of these guys (or the deeper cuts from the bench) needs to step up as a scorer or else this lineup is extremely limited.
CN: Where will Iowa end up at the end of the year? Will they fare better during conference play?
MB: As previously stated, Iowa’s best shot is at the NIT. I don’t think they’ll perform poorly enough that they’ll be CIT bound or that they’ll do well enough to make the NCAA Tournament. Their best shot at the big dance is to win the Big Ten Tournament, which isn’t impossible but also unlikely.
As for conference play, I think Iowa is ultimately a team that will finish in the 7-8 range at the end of the Big Ten season. It’s still too early to predict where each team will finish, as who knows how good teams like Nebraska and Minnesota truly are, but I think that no matter what happens, Iowa will be a middle of the pack team in the conference this year.
CN: Final question, what will happen on Thursday night in Lincoln and what will the final score be?
MB: I think Peter Jok is going to show up and have a really good game, but he’s going to need a lot of help from his freshmen sidekicks in order to keep up with Tai Webster and Glynn Watson. This game will likely be decided by defense. If Iowa is able to stay consistent on defense and pressure the Huskers into taking tough shots, they have a really good chance at victory. On the other end, the Huskers are going to have to shut down the Iowa starters, which could prove difficult since they’re all scorers.
I’m going to take Iowa in this one in a high scoring affair. 83-78.
Thanks again to Max for taking time out of his day to answer our questions. You can follow him on twitter at @GospelOfMax.