It’s no secret this was the major problem for the Hawkeyes last season and a major point of emphasis in the off-season. Iowa was 242nd in the country in defensive efficiency in the KenPom national rankings, second lowest of all power-6 conference teams. If they do that again, it’s not going to be a pleasant season. There were signs of progress in a 103-46 exhibition victory over Guilford College on Sunday. The Hawkeyes held the Quakers to 29.7-percent shooting and made 15 steals, five more than in any regular-season game a year ago. Maybe the best news was that the Hawkeyes generally were critical of their defensive efforts in the game, recognizing that handling an undersized, middle-of-the-road NCAA Division III team is a lot different than facing Michigan State and Purdue. They know they need to work on this.
It wasn’t always clearly visible but there were lapses in the on-court leadership at times last year. The only senior scholarship player on the team (Dom Uhl) played very little and spoke even less. While junior Nicholas Baer tried to step into that role, it can be tough to do when you’re sometimes not starting and often not playing that many minutes. Baer is now the only senior, but there are six juniors on the roster who have combined for 195 career starts and who need to emerge as stronger leaders. Jordan Bohannon, as the point guard, is the obvious choice to be the on-court floor general, and he seems ready to do that after being occasionally reluctant earlier in his career. Tyler Cook also has shown strong leadership qualities since the end of last season.
The 6-foot-9 junior power forward may be ready to take his game to the next level and become the multi-faceted go-to guy the Hawkeyes need instead of just a spectacular dunk artist. There are signs that last spring’s flirtation with the NBA helped Cook from both a developmental and motivational standpoint, and he could be ready to take a giant step into a starring role much the way Keita Bates-Diop did with Ohio State last season. It looked that way against Guilford as Cook collected 12 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and showed a willingness to make plays for others and to launch 3-point field goals. Again, that was against an opponent nowhere near as gifted as what the Hawkeyes will face over the next four or five months, but it was encouraging.
As good as the Hawkeyes were offensively last season — they averaged 79.7 points per game — they could have been even more potent if they limited turnovers. They finished the season with an average of 13.4 turnovers per game compared to 11.1 for their opponents, and that frequently spelled the difference between victory and defeat. Not surprisingly, the problem was much more acute on the road, where they averaged 14.9 per game. Cook was the biggest culprit with 82 turnovers (against only 58 assists), but it was a team-wide issue. Taking better care of the ball could easily translate to more wins this season.
The 6-6 freshman from Muscatine is the only new scholarship player who will play for the Hawkeyes this season, and he may be exactly what they need. He has a poker-faced toughness this program occasionally has lacked, he gives them one additional topflight offensive weapon and another 3-point shooter, but perhaps of greater consequence is what he brings at the opposite end of the court. McCaffery has said Wieskamp is a much better defensive player than anyone realizes and likely will end up being one of the team’s primary defensive stoppers. The Hawkeyes often had trouble guarding quick, athletic perimeter players last season, and the kid could be an upgrade in that area.