Bio: Sophomore 6'7", 235 LBS. (Yellow Springs, OH)
Last Season: 2.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG (Freshman)
What We Saw Last Season
Do you know who played the most minutes of Iowa's large incoming class of newcomers last season? Well, it was Nicholas Baer, who played 477 minutes, or 14.5 minutes per game. But among scholarship newbies, it was Iowa's headband warrior who played the most minutes -- Wagner saw action in 32 games and played a total of 322 minutes, or 10.2 minutes per game. Those minutes weren't all against weaker non-conference opponents, either -- Wagner played 10 or more minutes in 11 of Iowa's 18 Big Ten games. He also played 10 or more minutes in both of Iowa's NCAA Tournament games.
Wagner's crowning moment last year came in Iowa's narrow 81-78 loss to Indiana in Iowa City, when he scored 11 points (on 5/6 shooting), grabbed nine rebounds in 17 minutes of action, and held his own against Indiana's highly touted young big, Thomas Bryant (12 points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes). Wagner's role last year was to be a sparkplug off the bench and to provide a low-post presence for Iowa when Adam Woodbury was off the floor. He filled that role admirably and showed us enough to be excited about what he might be able to do with a year of experience under his belt (or headband, if you prefer).
What We Need To See This Season
Wagner's role for Iowa is going to switch from sparkplug to anchor this year -- in the "very important player" sense, not in the "dragging the team down" sense. In the offseason there were stories that noted the growth in Wagner's game -- and the leadership role that he was embracing with Iowa's very young team. We're going to need to see more of that leadership from him because this is going to be a very young team -- Dale Jones and Dom Uhl are the only juniors and Jok is the only senior. Jok will be a leader as well, but he might be more of the lead-by-example type. Wagner may be more vocal and more of an on-court leader, as well as the figure who helps organize Iowa's defense.
In addition to his more intangible qualities, though, we're going to need to see Wagner consistently make significant tangible impacts on the box score. The good news is that he seems equipped to do so. He only averaged 2.6 ppg and 2.6 rpg last year, but that was in limited action -- his playing time is set to double (if not triple) this season. He shot a sizzling 68% from the field last year, but that was on just 47 attempts, so holy sample size alert, Batman. Still, he finishes well around the rim and while Prime Time League displays should always be taken with a grain of salt, the range that Wagner showed there is definitely encouraging -- he can do more than just be a garbageman in Iowa's offense. I don't expect him to start shooting many 3s, but if he can make shots around the elbow with some consistency, that will help Iowa's spacing on offense a lot.
Wagner also figures to have a key role to play on defense for Iowa. Adam Woodbury was a sometimes divisive figure among Iowa fans and while his offensive production could be frustrating, his defensive acumen was superb. That defensive prowess is going to be missed by this year's Iowa team and, along with Tyler Cook, Wagner is probably the favorite to fill in that void. How well he's able to organize Iowa's defense on the court and maintain his positioning may go a long way to determining how successful Iowa is on defense this year.
Best Case Scenario
Wagner's jump shot really has developed as well as the summer buzz suggests and he develops a solid inside-out game to become Iowa's second leading scorer behind Jok. Wagner becomes a fixture in the Iowa lineup, plays almost 30 minutes a game, and averages 12-13 ppg and 9-10 rpg while also further establishing his leadership bona fides and contending for a spot on an All-Big Ten team. Look, we're talking best case scenario here, right?
Most Likely Scenario
Wagner really does seem like a lock to play quite a bit this year. In fact, outside of Peter Jok, I think he'll play the most minutes of any Iowa player this season. The leadership talk about Wagner is real -- his teammates really appear to have tremendous respect for him, which is impressive for a true sophomore. He's going to be a key presence for Iowa on offense, as well as possibly the lynchpin of Iowa's interior defense. Teams are likely to sag off Wagner, so we'll need to see if he really can nail jumpers consistently, but whether he can or not, he's going to score in put-back opportunities, off pick and rolls, and in transition. He was an inconsistent presence on the glass for Iowa last year, but I think he'll be solid there as well. I think Wagner averages 8-9 ppg and 7-8 rpg, shoots in the high 50s, percentage-wise, plays with great energy and becomes a legit fan favorite for his dunks and hustle plays. Think a young Jarryd Cole.
Please, please, please keep the headband. It makes every emphatic block and put-back dunk just that much more entertaining, frankly.