Iowa Basketball Media Day Recap

By RossWB on October 10, 2018 at 4:07 pm
Tyler Cook in action

© Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

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Hey, basketball! We're less than a month away from Iowa basketball returning to the court for the 2018-19 season -- Iowa hosts Guilford College in an exhibition on 11/4 and opens the season for real against UMKC on 11/8 -- which means it's time to start thinking about hoopyball. It helps that Iowa held their Media Day on Monday, which included a few news bits among the usual Media Day fluff. 

THE YOUNG MAN AND THE CYST

Let's start with the elephant in the room -- the health of Luka Garza. 

Also

The cyst that was removed from Garza’s abdomen Sept. 7 weighed nine pounds and produced 4.3 liters of fluid. It was the size of a basketball, Garza told reporters at the Hawkeyes’ media day.

Holy crap! I'm no doctor (nor do I play one on TV), but having a 9-lb cyst the size of a basketball on your spleen doesn't seem like a good thing. That certainly seems to be a little more significant than early reports about Garza's medical situation had us thinking. Still, Garza indicated that he hopes to be back for the opener and Fran said that he recently started running again for the first time since his operation, so overall the news about his health seems positive. Hopefully they can ease him back into the mix. 

D-FENSE! D-FENSE! 

One of the main talking points from Media Day was, unsurprisingly, Iowa's defense. It was horrendous last season and the main reason they sputtered to a 14-19 campaign, their first losing season since 2010-11 (Fran's inaugural season). They players acknowledge how bad the defense was: 

And Fran is saying the right things about putting more emphasis on defense in practice: 

“Our defensive numbers were not (good),” McCaffery said, “so, OK, we have to spend more time in practice — whether it's breaking drills down, one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three, four-on-four, and then ultimately five-on-five. ‘OK, how do we transition defensively? What have we been teaching?’

“We have to reorganize how we teach that. Ball-screen defense —  you could go staff-by-staff throughout the country — and you might have staffs that spend four hours a day talking about ball screens. It's just one of those things. So many teams are running ball-screen offenses. … We really have spent a lot more time talking about defense, and defensive drills, and emphasizing defense, and trying to hold them accountable.”  

That said, after watching that trainwreck for 33 games last year, we're definitely in "show, don't tell" mode when it comes to Iowa's defense. It's one thing to identify the problem, but it's another thing entirely to prove that you've fixed it on the court -- and we need to see a better defense in actual games before we're going to totally buy in. 

NOW WE'RE COOKIN'

In other news, we now know why Tyler Cook switched from #5 to #25: 

I wrote about this back in June and now we finally have an answer. The actual explanation is a little long to summarize, so just go and watch the video (it's about 90 seconds). In related news, I'm quite amused that one of my guesses was (partly) right!

8) 25 IS 5 X 5.

Speaking of math... 25 is literally five times more than five. So obviously Cook is trying to tell us that he's going to be five times better than he was as a freshman and sophomore. Again, it's just simple math, folks. The numbers don't lie. 

Cook was the big story of Iowa's summer, between transfer rumors and taking part in the NBA Draft process. Cook said he never considered transferring to another program, but he was apparently very close to remaining in the NBA Draft

The night before the deadline to decide whether to stay in college or go pro, Tyler Cook went to sleep in his hometown of St. Louis still not knowing what he would do.

The 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward prayed about it. He considered the NBA opportunity his mother said he had. And, just hours before the deadline, the decision finally became clear.

Still, the decision caught teammates off guard — underscoring just how close he came to leaving.

“It was surprising,” forward and junior classmate Cordell Pemsl said. “I knew that he felt like he was ready. He looked great to me. But I’m excited to have him back.”

But Cook's back for one more year in Iowa City and, per McCaffery, he's embraced a leadership role within the program. Strong on-court leadership was definitely in short supply for Iowa last year (it probably didn't help that the program had just one senior, Dom Uhl, who barely played) and Cook seems determined to change that -- and turn around the Iowa program as a whole. 

"We have unfinished business here in Iowa City, and I want to help the program turn the corner," Cook wrote in a recent article published for a faith-based website for athletes. "I want to be here when we change the way people view Iowa basketball."

“I’m not necessarily focused on what I need to do to get (to the NBA)," Cook said. "I’m just focused on what I need to do for us to win games. (To) do whatever we can do to make sure what happened last year doesn’t happen this year."

Of course, the things Cook needs to work on to improve his NBA stock -- his rebounding, his defense (especially at the rim), his jump shot, the consistency of his effort -- are all things that will also help Iowa win more games this season. We've seen flashes of brilliance from Cook through his first two years here; if he's able to turn those flashes into more sustained stretches of excellence -- and if he's able to influence games beyond dropping a few thunderous dunks -- then odds are good that this season will turn out very well for Cook -- and for Iowa overall. 

THE WIESKAMP ERA COMETH

One other key storyline coming out of Media Day? The barely contained excitement surrounding Joe Wieskamp. Iowa hasn't had a freshman prospect like him since, well, Cook, but the buzz around Wieskamp might be even higher given his local boy pedigree and his shooting prowess. Oh, and he can throw it down too: 

McCaffery talked up Wieskamp's all around skills as well: 

“He's a really good defender. He's a really good ball-handler,” McCaffery said.

“He can guard a number of different positions, so it gives us some flexibility there. … I think he kind of views himself as somebody who can really help our team, even if his shot is not falling on any particular day — and that's because he's got such a complete game.

Wieskamp's defensive ability is an intriguing aspect of his game. He was a prolific scorer and rebounder in high school, but that was also out of necessity -- he needed to score and rebound a lot for Muscatine to have any prayer in pretty much all of their games. His ability to score (especially from deep) and rebound will be important at Iowa, too, but he's going to have much more help in those departments at Iowa -- Iowa was pretty good at scoring the ball (and collecting rebounds) last year. If he's able to come in and make an impact on defense, though, that could be an enormous boost to Iowa. 

TO START OR NOT TO START

One thing that didn't emerge from the Media Day discussions was a solidified starting lineup, though we can make some educated guesses. Bohannon and Cook are locks to start. Wieskamp said he hasn't been told he'll be a starter, but based on the buzz around him from his coach and his teammates, I'd be flat-out shocked if he wasn't a starter. That leaves two spots remaining. Fran indicated that Baer will once again play a lot off the bench; we've certainly seen him be effective in that sixth man role. Moss and Garza were regular starters last season and are probably favorites to do so again this year (health permitting in Garza's case). The slimmed-down Cordell Pemsl may also be an option to start in place of Garza up front, especially early in the season. Interesting options abound. 

CHI-TOWN RUMBLE

Meanwhile, in other hoops news, the 2019-20 non-conference schedule is starting to shape up. 

Were you perhaps hoping that the demise of the Big Four would result in Iowa playing a non-conference opponent with a pulse (not named Iowa State) at CHA? Ha! You poor deluded fool. This ought to be a good game for Iowa's SOS -- Cincinnati has been a Top 40 team per KenPom for the last 8 years -- and it will be a nice treat for Iowa fans in the Chicago area. But it's another kick in the jimmies for Iowa fans hoping to see better non-conference opponents in the games at Caver-Hawkeye Arena.

PRESEASON POLLIN'

Brandon Quinn at The Athletic released an unofficial preseason Big Ten media poll, compiled from polling beat writers from every team in the conference. Iowa checks in at #10, which feels about right at this point. There was not a great range in where they were selected by the pollsters, either; almost all of them had Iowa between #8 and #11. After last year's faceplant, Iowa is going to need to go out and prove they deserve respect this year. Michigan State and Michigan topped the poll, followed by Indiana and *checks notes* Nebrasketball? Shit is getting weird, folks. 

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