On Thursday, No. 2 Michigan State trounced Maryland men’s basketball 91-61 in East Lansing. On Sunday, the Terps face Iowa — which is 0-4 in the Big Ten — in College Park. To get the scoop on the Hawkeyes, we talked to Adam Hensley of the Daily Iowan. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Iowa has really struggled in the Big Ten this year, losing its first four conference games by an average of 8.3 points. What’s gone wrong for the Hawkeyes after they went 9-4 in nonconference play?
Defense has always been Iowa’s Achilles’ heel. Fran McCaffery’s teams aren’t known for their lock-down defense, and this season isn’t different. While the Hawkeyes have improved since last season defensively in some categories, it’s been hard to tell.
Iowa’s defense in its 75-68 loss to Michigan was nonexistent — the Wolverines knocked down shots at 62 percent and drained 8 3-pointers in the first half. To put that into perspective, the Hawkeyes entered that game giving up just over 7 3-pointers a game.
Falling into black holes has been a problem for Iowa this season as well. In the Michigan game, the Hawkeyes held a three-point lead opening the game, but they trailed by 17 at halftime. Iowa’s defense collapsed and its offense was not able to match the frenzied scoring.
It was the same story in the team’s 92-81 loss to Ohio State, too; the Hawkeyes kept things close but had to sit Tyler Cook, as he committed two early fouls. When he exited, Iowa found itself down 10 in the blink of an eye (the Hawkeyes trailed by 2 when McCaffery sat him), and Ohio State’s lead rose to 17 by halftime.
With Peter Jok gone, Tyler Cook has taken on a larger role in the Iowa offense as a sophomore. How has he responded to that increased scoring load?
He’s responded very well. Cook’s athleticism and strength are the foundation to his game, but he’s really revamped his offensive game this season. Last year, Cook did the majority of his work on the block, bullying defenders in the paint. While he continues to do that, he can also hurt teams from around the perimeter. Cook’s outside game, something he rarely demonstrated consistently last season, is a part of his game this season, as opponents rely heavily on double-teams when he camps down low.
Even without Jok, who was second on the team in rebounds last season, the Hawkeyes have been one of the better rebounding teams in the Big Ten. How have they made up for his absence?
It’s a rebounding-by-committee approach. Cook leads the way, but Luka Garza, Nicholas Baer and Cordell Pemsl each average five or more boards per game. McCaffery likes to play 12-deep, and 11 Hawkeyes have picked up at least two rebounds a game. While Cook’s rebounding numbers are pretty consistent, Garza and Baer have boomed in certain games. Garza’s grabbed 13 rebounds twice this season, and Baer cranked out a 14-rebound performance against Drake in mid-December.
Jordan Bohannon hasn’t missed a beat this year — he’s still making a ton of threes and dishing out a ton of assists. What makes the 6-foot guard so dangerous on offense?
He’s a very intelligent passer, better than people like to give him credit for. In Iowa’s loss to Ohio State, he dished out 10 assists for his fourth double-double in a Hawkeye uniform. Bohannon’s quick trigger keeps defenses honest as well. He can pull up from just about anywhere on the court and hit shots from deep, and when he’s in rhythm, he’s hard to stop (Maryland fans know this all too well).
Fill in the blank: Iowa wins this game if ________.
It can answer back with runs of its own. As I said earlier, Iowa’s had a tough time this season punching back when opponents click on offense. The Hawkeyes need an all-around consistent offensive performance against the Terps if they want any shot at snagging a win, and they can’t fall into another black hole.
Maryland wins this game if ________.
It gets Cook in foul trouble early in the game. With Cook not on the floor, Iowa’s struggled to find any rhythm offensively. As much as the Hawkeyes pride themselves on having a balanced offense, Cook is the center of it. When he’s not out there or playing tentatively, Iowa looks lost at times.