By Adam Hensley
There’s no love lost when Iowa and Iowa State clash in basketball. Last season, Cyclone point guard Monte Morris told the Des Moines Register that Iowa State wanted to go into Carver-Hawkeye and “beat [Iowa] badly.”
Contrary to Morris’ wish, Iowa came out with a 14-point victory. However, this season — just as with every season — is different from the one before it. Iowa doesn’t have Peter Jok, it’s go-to scorer, and Iowa State doesn’t have Morris.
It’s a new era to the rivalry, as two relatively young squads go head-to-head tonight in Ames in Hilton Coliseum.
“I think [the Cyclones] are playing really well right now,” head coach Fran McCaffery said. “It obviously starts with the three perimeter guys who are terrific. They give it up easy, they can put it on the deck, and they make 3s … they all do everything. They move the ball very well. They’re unselfish.”
Those three athletes McCaffery referred to (Donovan Jackson, Lindell Wigginton, and Nick Weiler Babb) are instant offense for the Cyclones. Jackson (17 points per game), Wigginton (15.1), and Babb (13.7) are all shooting 42.6 percent or better from beyond the 3-point line.
Meanwhile, Iowa’s once-high-powered offense hasn’t been anywhere near what it was last season. Through nine games in 2016, the Hawkeyes averaged 86.6 points per game, and that factored in a 41-point scoring performance against Virginia. This season, the Black and Gold sit at 78 points per game and have yet to play a team on par with last season’s Cavalier squad.
McCaffery said that he doesn’t think it’s anything other than players trying to make plays but just trying to go on their own.
“They’re trying to be aggressive, and they’re trying to do something positive,” he said. “I don’t look at it as a complete negative, like they’re just dismissing something. I think they’re trying to go, and do something positive, and be a player, and be a competitor. There’s a fine line there. You always want that, while at the same time, remember the game plan, the scouting report, and all the things we’ve prepared them for. We’ve got to do a better job of locking in.”
McCaffery hinted that he may have found his lineup in Iowa’s 77-64 loss to Indiana on Dec. 4 in Bloomington.
“I like the lineup we started the other night,” he said. “I like that group, but [there’s] a possibility [for change].”
The biggest question for Iowa remains the revolving door of the 3-position. Ahmad Wagner, Nicholas Baer, and — as recently as the loss to Indiana — Jack Nunge have all received starts at the position this season, but no one has locked anything down quite yet.
McCaffery noted that he didn’t quite understand the fouls called on Baer, who started against Penn State. The four fouls caused McCaffery to sit the redshirt junior.
This paved the way for Wagner and Nunge, who McCaffery tabbed “terrific” in the loss to the Hoosiers.
Regardless of who McCaffery starts at the 3, the second unit has its struggles as well, especially in guard play. But against the Hoosiers, Brady Ellingson and Maishe Dailey sparked Iowa’s second-half run.
“I thought in particular, Brady and Maishe were really good moving the ball,” he said. “You look at the end of the game, they both had 4 assists, no turns. They were looking for each other, and they were looking for other people.”
Hawkeye fans can agree, this season hasn’t shaped up to preseason expectations.
But looking back at last season, that win over Iowa State sparked an Iowa squad riding the heels of a four-game losing streak. This season’s Hawkeyes, having lost five of their last six contests, are in dire need for a momentum-building win, and a victory in Hilton would be just what the doctor ordered.
Although, it might take a little Hilton Magic.