Iowa State sits at 6-2 overall and their next game comes against in-state rival Iowa in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes have struggled so far this season, winning just four of their first nine games. I chatted with GospelOfMax from BlackHeartGoldPants about tonight’s game and got his thoughts about some of the reasons behind the slow start for the Hawks this year.
Kevin: Peter Jok is currently the 5th leading scorer in all of college basketball at 23.9 points per game. However, with Tyler Cook out with an injury, Batman seems to have lost his Robin on offense for the Hawkeyes. Who else has the potential to step up on offense and give Iowa a boost on that end of the floor?
Max: Since Tyler Cook's injury, Cordell Pemsl has been the major force in Iowa's offense. The next question revolves around him though, so I'll go into that in a bit.
Isaiah Moss has really stepped up in the past couple of games. A complete afterthought at the beginning of the season (a lot of people thought he'd end up transferring because it was suspected he'd fallen out of favor with Fran), he's put together a few pretty solid games since Cook went down. He scored 21 against Stetson on Monday and has shot 43% from 3-point range, so he's the offensive threat the Hawks need.
And honestly, Jok needs to step up. Dude has been straight up ice cold since Cook went down, which isn't what Iowa has needed. In his past three games, he's shot 29% (16 of 54) which is completely not conducive to Iowa winning. He's been a bit better in his all-around game, but if he's going to be shooting as frequently as he has been, they have to start going in for Iowa to have any chance.
Kevin: I've heard a lot about Cordell Pemsl and have seen more than a few comparisons to Georges Niang. Can you give some more insight into who this guy is, and if you agree/disagree with the Niang comparison, explain why/why not?
Max: Pemsl was initially a pretty well-touted recruit, but after suffering a couple of meniscus tears and a subsequent knee osteotomy, went largely unnoticed and was only offered by Iowa, UNI, and Creighton. This season, however, he has been an absolute monster this season. He's shot 78% from the field, and 85% in the three games since Cook went down with an injury. He's left a little bit to be desired on defense thus far, but no one has found an answer for him in the post, and it's been fun to watch a player who can really finish at the rim after four years of Adam Woodbury.
I've seen the Niang comparisons, and I think there's something to them. Pemsl isn't as good of a shooter at this point in his career, but they both play below the rim and know how to use their bodies to get into position. As one of our other writers put it, "Pemsl is really effective in the post with great footwork and 'old man moves,' which was something Niang was solid at given his physical limitations. They have similar bodies and despite being pretty tall, neither will ever be above the rim guys but seem fine at scoring around the rim." Pemsl also has a similar kind of confidence and swagger to him that is reminiscent of Niang when he was at Iowa State.
I suppose Iowa State fans will be watching and will get their chance to decide for themselves if they'd agree with the comparison. If his past few games are any indication, he'll put on a show.
Kevin: Iowa has been atrocious on defense so far this year and are currently 174th in the nation in AdjD according to KenPom. For a comparison, Iowa State -- who has widely been regarded as a team that doesn't play much defense since Fred Hoiberg was hired -- has only finished lower than that once since KenPom became a thing (185th in 2002). What's going wrong for the Hawks on D?
Max: Everything, man. There's not a whole lot to like about the Iowa defense this season. There have been a lot of breakdowns and miscommunication, and I'd chalk that up to a lot of inexperienced guys playing big minutes together. Jok is the senior leader of this team, but he's never been particularly known for his ability to play defense, and I think that the team has kind of taken to that identity a bit. It doesn't help that Woodbury, Uthoff, and Clemmons aren't around anymore, as they were all very capable defenders.
I think this team will definitely improve on the defensive end, but they need to work on stopping dribble penetration. Teams have been able to penetrate the defense with ease and from there, do pretty much whatever they want. The good thing is that defense is mostly chemistry based, and this team will get more comfortable together as the season progresses. They showed some signs of improvement, albeit against Stetson University - regardless, improvement. Isaiah Moss played some really good D, so I'm hopeful they'll take that good performance and try to build off it against Iowa State.
Kevin: It's year seven of the McCaffery era and the Hawkeyes seem to be in rebuilding mode. Is McCaffery's seat hot at all, or does the fan base trust that he's got the program on the right track?
Max: He's definitely got the program on the right track. How often do teams graduate four starters in one year? It was inevitably going to be a rebuilding year this season after last, even if the bench guys stepped up.
Despite the 4-5 record, this is a very good, young team. Jok and Dale Jones will graduate this year, but next year's team will revolve around all of the young guys this year. Pemsl, Cook, and sharpshooting point guard Jordan Bohannon will all have a year of experience under their belts, and Ahmad Wagner and Nicholas Baer will be more than capable junior pieces. The role players will also have a better idea of where they fit into Iowa's plans, as this year's team has played 13 players in various situations and there have been a lot of moving pieces. Hell, even this year's team could get much better once the rotation stabalizes, and could be dangerous come the Big Ten Tournament.
I'm not ready to hit the panic button on Fran yet, and I don't think most Iowa fans are, either. There are also some good recruits coming in, with 3/4 star center Luka Garza and potentially Connor McCaffery slated to join the Hawks next season. What Fran has done since he arrived is pretty remarkable when you think of where the program was after Lickliter and that other guy reigned in Carver, and this is the first time Iowa's had a losing record since his inaugural season in Iowa City. Things will be fine!
Kevin: Prediction time. Let's hear how you see the game playing out and your best guess at the final score...
Max: I'm going to have to go with Iowa State in this one. Iowa's defense has improved marginally, but Iowa State can play some defense AND has a bunch of guys who are capable of scoring on any given night. I think this one stays close for a while because Iowa State has a lot of the same problems the Hawks do (FT shooting and rebounding, for example), but because of their experience, they're able to get it done. Pemsl scores 25, but it's not enough in a high scoring affair - I'll take the Cyclones 88-76.
Kevin: BONUS QUESTION - I realize I probably just put you through a lot of trauma having to talk about Iowa basketball, so I'll be nice and give you a football-related question. Are you secretly rooting for Florida to win the Outback Bowl since blooming onions are vastly superior to coconut shrimp?
Max: You know, the people who made this decision hedged my happiness for me, which is pretty great. If Iowa wins the bowl, obviously I (and many other fans) will be pretty stoked because bowl wins are awesome and it'll be a really nice exclamation point on the season. If they lose, then whatever, I'll just go get myself a free bloomin' onion, which is a lot better than free coconut shrimp, which is bad. I'd rather see Iowa win the game, but a free bloomin' onion is a pretty good consolation IMO.
Thanks to Max for answering our questions. Good luck, but not too much luck tbh, to the Hawkeyes tonight.