Last year's Iowa Hawkeyes team was the definition of solid. Although they could never pull off a major upset in Big Ten play, they kept almost every single game close, pushing many of those games into OT. After only graduating one major contributor in captain Eric May, people assumed this year's Haweyes team would pick up where they left off, and improve on their NIT-runner-up season. So far, they have not disappointed, starting their season with a 5-0 record.
Two major factors in this hot start did not play last year. That would be Sophomore transfer Jarrod Uthoff and Freshman Peter Jok. These two rookies have seen big minutes early this season, and have yet to struggle. Let's look at how these two players have fit into Fran McCaffery's rotation so far, and how they'll keep up this hot streak throughout the year.
Jarrod Uthoff's story is a fascinating one. He spent his first year at Wisconsin, but attempted to transfer after that one year. Drama ensued when coach Bo Ryan blocked him from transferring to the entire Big Ten, entire ACC, Marquette, Iowa State, and Florida. It became a very strange situation, where Bo Ryan turned into a villain. But eventually, Wisconsin eased up on their restrictions, allowing Uthoff to transfer to Iowa. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa product was forced to redshirt last year, making the 2013-14 season his first opportunity at the big time.
So far, Uthoff has exceeded all expectations for the Hawkeyes. As the first big man off the bench, he's averaged 20.8 minutes of playing time. Obviously, one could credit his increased minutes to the fact that Iowa has not played a real opponent yet, and McCaffery wants to get him as much experience as possible, but he's made the most of his minutes. He's currently putting up 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks so far.
His game against the Penn Quakers has been his best so far. He dropped 19 points on 6-7 shooting, getting to the foul line 6 times. That's very impressive for a big guy who has had his strength down low questioned. He also did this, which if I'm being honest, I did not think he could do:
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Fran McCaffery really likes what he's seen so far from Uthoff, and raved about his versatility:
"He’s got a really unique game, and he has strengths in every area," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "So the key for him and what I try to tell him is just go do all the things that you do. So sometimes it’s 3‑point shooting, sometimes it’s driving, sometimes it’s rebounding in traffic, pushing the ball on the break, making a play for somebody else. Sometimes it’s blocking a shot.
I think it's unlikely for Uthoff to steal a starting role this season. Aaron White and Adam Woodbury are too skilled and experienced to come off the bench. But he makes their already deep bench a force to be reckoned with. His minutes probably won't increase too much as the season progresses, but his number will be called a lot during the season. So far, he's looked like he can answer that call.
Freshman guard Peter Jok has an equally fascinating path to Iowa City, but in an entirely different way. Chronicled beautifully in this story from the Quad-City Times, we learn about Peter and his brother Dau (current senior on Penn's basketball team), as they moved from war-torn South Sudan to a Sudanese refugee community in Iowa in 2003. There, the two brothers used basketball as a way to adapt to the American way of life. Basketball is in the Jok blood, as they count NBA legend Manute Bol and current Bulls forward Luol Deng as relatives. Peter Jok was a 3-star recruit, and was named the 2013 Mr. Basketball in Iowa, eventually singing with the Hawkeyes.
Like Uthoff, Jok has provided a major spark off the bench thus far. He's averaging 9.4 points in 17.4 minutes, and looks good from both behind the arc and at the foul line. He and Sophomore Anthony Clements have established themselves as the primary backcourt backups, and have looked great so far. As the season carries on, look for Jok to play foil to Roy Devyn Marble. Jok's athleticism and outside shooting will fit great for this year's Hawkeyes squad.
It seems that Fran McCaffery has lucked out so far with these two youngsters. Both have played with poise, and will only improve as the season advances. Iowa faces their first major test this coming week, sparring with Xavier in Atlantis, and then with Notre Dame at home. While neither of those two teams are perceived as legitimate contenders, both are experienced and tough. Will Uthoff and Jok come to play in those two games? I think so. Will they keep this hot streak going once Big Ten play starts? I don't know, but their success will be huge for Iowa as they make a run to the NCAA Tournament.
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