Through the first two games of 2013-14 the Iowa basketball team has experienced a mixed bag of results.
After opening up the season with a resounding 82-39 victory over North Carolina-Wilmington, the Hawkeyes played far less proficiently in game two while being fortunate to come away with an eight point win over Nebraska-Omaha.
It’s still extremely early in the college basketball season, but with that being said here’s a quick rundown of the positive developments and areas for improvement on this Iowa team through two games.
Game 1, UNC-Wilmington:
The Hawkeyes got off to a great start to begin the season, jumping on the visiting Seahawks right from the opening tip. Iowa was relentless in pressuring their opponent on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. By halftime they had opened up a 48-12 lead, and went on to cruise to a comfortable victory thereafter.
The most impressive aspect of Iowa’s play was probably their execution on the defensive end of the floor. The Hawkeyes were harassing ball handlers and contesting nearly every shot, leading to field goal and three point percentage defenses of 22.2 percent and 8.7 percent respectively. Even near the rim Iowa stymied UNC-Wilmington, finishing with 12 blocks on the night.
Two Iowa newcomers were another one of the big stories on the night. Both redshirt sophomore Jarrod Uthoff and true freshman Peter Jok were aggressive from the outset and led the Hawkeyes in scoring. Uthoff played especially well, becoming just the second Big Ten player since the 1996-97 season alongside former number one overall pick Greg Oden to post at least 14 points, 7 rebounds, and four blocks in their first career game.
Coming into the season Iowa expected to have more depth than virtually every opponent on its schedule. That proved to be true against the Seahawks, as the Hawkeyes had all ten of its major contributors score before the half. For the game Jok, Uthoff, Devyn Marble, Aaron White, Melsahn Basabe, and Gabe Olaseni each finished with eight points or more for the Hawkeyes in a balanced effort.
An injury to junior Josh Oglesby (broken foot) suffered in practice two days prior to the opener was one of the few negatives experienced by the Hawkeyes. Other than that, three point (4-12) and free throw shooting (16-24) are probably the two main areas in which Iowa will look to improve.
Game 2, Nebraska-Omaha:
The second contest of the young season for Iowa certainly proved to be a greater test than they expected. The pesky Mavericks of Nebraska-Omaha played much of the game with a greater sense of urgency, and took advantage of extremely sloppy play on the part of the Hawkeyes.
Turnovers were the biggest issue for Iowa on Sunday afternoon. Losing out on a possession and opportunity to score 18 times in one game shouldn’t happen again a Top 25 caliber team, much less Nebraska-Omaha. The Hawkeyes shot themselves in the foot on numerous occasions, allowing their opponent to stay very much in the game.
Two Hawkeye sophomores with big expectations this year were both almost nonexistent in guard Mike Gesell and center Adam Woodbury. Each player was benched for significant portions of the game, and the two played only 25 combined minutes. Gesell just doesn’t seem to have found his usual rhythm early in the season, but Woodbury has continued a troubling past trend of playing much smaller than his 7-1 frame.
On-ball defense was another area that Iowa struggled to execute in against the Mavericks. They continually allowed Omaha’s three small guards to get penetration and create space to knock down outside jump shots. Late in the game the Hawkeyes somewhat solved the issue, but prior to that it was a major problem.
Another issue that is simply unacceptable for this Iowa team to experience against an opponent of this caliber was defensive rebounding. The Hawkeyes may have pulled down 29 boards on the defensive end, but they also inexcusably gave up 17 offensive rebounds to a team whose tallest player stands only 6-8. This needs to be an area of focus and improvement as the season progresses.
After so many negatives it is somewhat surprising that Iowa managed to pull out a win in this game at all. Thankfully a few players woke up in time to bring the Hawkeyes back from a seven point halftime deficit and lead the team to an eight point victory.
Aaron White earns player of the game honors for Iowa and it wasn’t even close. The junior forward played through some of his own sloppy mistakes, but was in attack mode throughout the game. White finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds on the afternoon, and his energy and relentlessness on both ends probably kept the Hawkeyes from going down in defeat.
The other major positive for Iowa was the continued production from its bench. With numerous starters struggling, redshirt sophomore Jarrod Uthoff, senior forward Zach McCabe, and sophomore guard Anthony Clemmons gave the Hawkeyes a huge boost with 32 combined points. Uthoff in particular continues to impress as his length and skill allow him to affect the game on both ends of the floor.
Maybe more than anything else free throw shooting is what kept Iowa close enough in this game to gather its bearings and pull out the victory. A 38-49 performance at the line (77.6%) was exactly what the Hawkeyes needed in a game where almost nothing else seemed to be going right. It was also a significant jump in percentage from game one, which is another positive sign for this team.
All in all Iowa and its fans should be relatively satisfied after the season’s first two games. Undefeated is undefeated no matter how it happens, and the Hawkeye coaching staff has plenty of areas to point out on film and in practice for this team to improve upon. Iowa next takes the court this Thursday night against Maryland-Eastern Shore seeking its third straight win.