Ryan Kriener showed a lot of potential as a freshman, but Iowa's forward-heavy roster made it difficult for him to really break through.
Bio: Freshman F, 6'9", 247 lbs. (Spirit Lake, Iowa)
2017 Season: 28 Games Played, 8.4 MPG, 3.1 PPG, 2.2 RPG
Season in Review
Top 5 Games by Opponent Adjusted Game Score Per Minute
- 1) vs. North Dakota 1.65 -- 2 points and 1 steal in 2 minutes
- 2) at Northwestern 1.14 -- 14 points and 2 rebounds in 22 minutes
- 3) vs. Ohio State 0.86 -- 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists in 21 minutes
- 4) vs. Purdue 0.70 -- 6 points and 2 rebounds in 8 minutes
- 5) vs. Kennesaw State 0.67 -- 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 steal in 9 minutes
Bottom 5 Games by Opponent Adjusted Game Score Per Minute
- 1) at Notre Dame -0.91 -- 0 points, 1 turnover, and 2 fouls in 2 minutes
- 2) at Maryland -0.58 -- 0 points and 1 turnover in 2 minutes
- 3) vs. Virginia -0.47 -- 0 points (0-1 shooting) in 5 minutes
- 4) at Wisconsin -0.41 -- 0 points, 1 turnover, and 1 foul in 5 minutes
- 5) at Minnesota -0.39 -- 0 points (0-3 shooting) and 1 foul in 5 minutes
Heading into the season, Ryan Kriener was a guy I thought would certainly redshirt. He was the last big man in the incoming recruiting class to get an offer, Iowa's roster was full of guys who could play his positions, and he battled some mystery illness over the summer that caused him to lose 11 lbs. and miss out on most of the Prime Time League. It's not that I didn't think Kriener couldn't be a useful player. To me, Kriener looked like the typical big man that Ben Jacobson gets into the program at UNI (the Panthers were Kriener's best scholarship offer after Iowa), and after a couple of years of development, he turns into a fundamentally sound big man that can shoot from anywhere on the court and rebounds everything under the sun. But any projection like that was still a few years away.
Needless to say, what I thought didn't matter as Fran put any redshirt notions (for anyone) to bed by playing Kriener in the first game of the season. Based on the nine minutes he played, he was clearly at the bottom of the rotation, but Kriener did produce six points and three rebounds in that opener against Kennesaw State. He even scored eight points in the next game and corralled five more rebounds vs. Savannah State. The only issue was that he turned the ball over three times and had two fouls in just ten minutes of play. The potential in his game was evident, but fouls and turnovers would be two of the issues that would plague him throughout the rest of the season.
Kriener saw his playing time drop as the competition stiffened and the end of November moved into the beginning of December. And even with the injury to Tyler Cook, Kriener's minutes still didn't see much of a spike. After the November 20th game against Texas Rio Grande Valley, Kriener would not see double-digit minutes again until the very last non-conference game against lowly Delaware State. He did score five points and haul in six rebounds, but again he had three fouls in 14 minutes of play.
Then Big Ten play started and Kriener didn't look much different on the road against Purdue. As a result, Fran appeared to tighten his rotation over the next couple of games, and Kriener did not play in home games vs. Michigan and Rutgers or on the road at Nebraska. And when it seemed like he was about to be buried on the end of the bench for the remainder of the season, Kriener suddenly showed signs of life.
In the home win against Purdue, Kriener only played eight minutes, but he scored six points and grabbed two rebounds. He had two fouls in those eight minutes, but he showed off some nice footwork and an ability to finish at the rim, no matter how difficult the shot was.
And in the very next game -- a game in which basically the whole team played terribly -- Kriener had one of his best games of the season, scoring 14 points on 5-5 shooting. Most importantly, he gave us a glimpse of that three-point range we had heard so much about.
Kriener saw double-digit minutes over the next three games. And while he only scored four points and got in foul trouble vs. Maryland and at Illinois, he did continue to show that he was probably one of Iowa's best rebounders when he was given the playing time. And then came the clubbing of Ohio State, which was probably the best game of Kriener's young career. Against the Buckeyes, he tied his career-high 14-point outburst at Northwestern, but this time shot 6-7 from the field, tallying seven rebounds, and showing a willingness to pass the ball.
After the Ohio State game, Kriener's minutes dropped off for the rest of the season. He saw just seven in the blowout of Rutgers -- a game in which he would have definitely saw more playing time had he not been whistled for four fouls. Kriener would only play double-figure minutes in a game twice the rest of the season. He had four points, three rebounds, and three blocks in 18 minutes in the overtime win vs. Indiana, and ended the season with two points, three rebounds, and an assist in the loss to TCU in the NIT.
Overall, it was a pretty standard freshman year. We certainly saw the promise of some intriguing skillsets. Yet, we also saw the usual things that freshmen big men tend to struggle with.
57.8% -- Kriener's percentage of two-point field goals made this year. He finished behind only Cordell Pemsl (and Maishe Dailey, who doesn't count, since he only took 10 two-point shots all year) in that category. And that's pretty impressive for Kriener to even come close to Pemsl, since the former only took 30% of his attempts at the rim this season, while Pemsl had 73% of his tries come at the cylinder.
48.8% -- The field goal percentage on two-point jump shots by Kriener this season. That percentage led the team, with Peter Jok in second place at 41.3%. We are, of course, talking about a small sample here, as Kriener only attempted 43 shots that were classified by Hoop-Math as "jumpers" and Jok had 179. And then there is the caveat that more of Kriener's jumpers likely happened closer to the rim than Peter Jok's did. But stop trying to ruin my point. The point being, Kriener certainly appears to have one of the best mid-range jumpers on the team.
20.2% -- Kriener was an outstanding defensive rebounder this season, as is highlighted by his 20.2% defensive rebounding rate. Only Dale Jones' was higher, but he's discounted by the fact that he played all of 15 minutes this season. Not only was Kriener a good defensive rebounder, but he led the team in total rebounding rate, just narrowly edging out Pemsl 13.9% to 13.8%. (Of course, Pemsl's total is a bit more impressive, since he played 400 more minutes this year.)
22.6% -- Kriener was also one of the team leaders in turnovers this season, which isn't exactly quite the same accomplishment that leading the team in rebounding was. Only Christian Williams' 24.3% was higher. But turnovers are something that most freshmen -- especially freshmen bigs -- tend to struggle with, so it's something that we certainly can have faith that it will improve over the rest of his career.
6.6 -- The same thing has to be said about his fouling issues. 6.6 fouls called per 40 minutes led the team and was a big part of why he didn't get as many minutes as he probably wanted this season. Again, though, it's a pretty common problem for freshmen post players, so this should also improve as he gets more experience at the college level.
Kriener is a bit of a wild card for next year. After writing about guys like Tyler Cook and Cordell Pemsl -- both of which are guaranteed locks for major playing time, barring injury or some other unforeseen circumstance -- Kriener's situation is one that makes you want to just type a shrug emoji and call it a day. That said, I'm a glutton for punishment so here's a crack at trying to figure it out, nonetheless.
Kriener was a center this season, and that's where he will play likely most of his minutes for Iowa. However, he does have the range to play as a stretch four in certain lineups. That leaves him competing with guys already on the roster like Tyler Cook, Cordell Pemsl, Ahmad Wagner, Dom Uhl, and Nicholas Baer (when he's not mostly playing at the three). Then you have incoming freshman like big man, Luka Garza, and versatile forward, Jack Nunge, who will certainly get thrown in the mix next season.
Kriener ended his freshman year essentially right where he started: at the bottom of the big man rotation. He was ahead of Dale Jones because of Jones' assortment of injuries, and while he came close to passing Dom Uhl in the rotation for playing time, he never consistently got over that hump. And next season, things only get more difficult. The one guy that Kriener was certainly ahead of in the rotation is gone, and Iowa is adding another player with Kriener's skillset in Luka Garza, and bringing in another who people are already labeling "Jarrod Uthoff lite." I've mentioned my suspicion that Garza could start next season, as Iowa badly needs a long body that can protect the rim on defense, and while that's not guaranteed to happen, I think it highlights the competition that Kriener is facing for playing time next season.
That leaves the question, how does Kriener separate himself and not only move up in the rotation next year, but also keep the young guys from jumping him?
Well, first of all, cutting down on those fouls and turnovers are the first step. Fouls and turnovers are two of the easiest ways to get a player pulled from the game, and are one of the easiest ways for a coach to determine which players get playing time. Kriener should get better, but the question really is: how much better? Fouls and turnovers certainly decrease with experience, but they may not get to acceptable levels after just one year. Of course, his counterparts also struggled with these same problems, so making a drastic improvement in these areas could be one of his better shots at distinguishing himself from the pack.
Then there is his defense. Again, this is another area in which basically every young Iowa big struggled this season. Kriener has the weight and strength to go up against big guys in the post, but his height puts him at a bit of a disadvantage. His 3.9% block rate was decent as a freshman, and second on the team, but it's not much to get excited about. This was Fran's worst team over the last five seasons at blocking shots, so if Kriener can improve in that area, that would also give him an advantage over other guys, especially since he seems to have a real knack for rebounding the ball.
Moreover, Kriener just needs to get more sound, overall, on defense. He isn't the most fleet of foot, so he struggled to defend quicker, more explosive bigs this past season. The bigger overall problem, though, was that there was a steep learning curve going from high school to the Big Ten in one year.
Just getting more fundamentally sound on defense would be a huge plus for him, and would also help him cut down on the fouls. Of course, these things come with experience, and asking him to just flip a switch next season is easier said than done.
On offense, Kriener really just needs to show that he can put up similar numbers with more playing time, and against Big Ten competition. Kriener was first on the team in field goal percentage on two-point jumpers, but he also finished in second place -- just ever-so-slightly behind Nicholas Baer -- when it came to finishing at the rim.
If he can pair all that with the three-point shot that we heard so much about prior to the season (he shot just 1-5 as a freshman), he would be difficult to keep off the court. That would also make him a double threat when setting ball screens, as he could not only roll to the basket, but his man would have to worry about him popping out for a mid-range jumper or a three-pointer.
All together, Kriener has the tools to be a big contributor for Iowa over the coming years. The only question is how quickly can he put it all together? The offensive side of the ball seems like it could come pretty quickly, but how much playing time Kriener gets next season probably comes down to how much better he is on defense and at avoiding fouls.