In the weeks leading up to the 2016-’17 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing its preview series breaking down each Big Ten team. These will come in a set of series previewing the overall team, the team’s backcourt, wings, and big men, and the team’s schedule. Each post will take a look at its top in-depth and give predictions on the upcoming season.
This is going to sound bombastically Trump-like, but nobody — and I mean NOBODY — is more beside themselves in pure, unadulterated excitement than I am for this Iowa Hawkeyes frontcourt. It’s all I think about. It’s all I dream about. When my fiance asks me who I want to usher our wedding ceremony next July, my response is always, “Tyler Cook and Ahmad Wagner”. When she asks me who else I want to add to our guest list, I emphatically yell out “Cordell Pemsl and his guest” (which will obviously go to Ryan Kriener).
I even have my ultimate Iowa Hawkeyes/The Walking Dead lineup that features two of the aforementioned post monsters as integral members of the sanctuary we built deep in the swamps of Florida.
There is just something about the talk that’s coming out of practice about this group that is raising my expectations on the daily. Maybe its because this is the most athletic the position has been since Kurt Looby and Cyrus Tate were wandering around Iowa City. Maybe it’s because I don’t have to stand firm on the “Adam Woodbury is better than you think” argument. Maybe it’s because Tyler Cook might actually be Batman. Maybe it’s because Ahmad Wagner could be an NFL caliber tight end that Bill Belichick would draft and turn into a perennial Pro Bowler.
Maybe it’s all of the above.
'BTPowerhouse Preview' - Iowa Hawkeyes Frontcourt:
- Departures: Adam Woodbury, Jarrod Uthoff
- Additions: Cordell Pemsl, Ryan Kriener, Tyler Cook and due to injury, Dale Jones
- Top Player: Tyler Cook
Losing Uthoff and Woodbury sucks. It sucks so hard. But you know what they say about losing someone you love, “when they move on, you move up”. And it looks like McCaffery has done just that; exchanging the “holy balls, Uthoff might keep taking heat checks on his way to 40 tonight” feelings we once had in for the “holy balls, Tyler Cook just turned that dude into a Pogo-stick after he dunked on him” stylistic upgrade.
When looking at the frontcourt, it all starts with the true freshman out of St. Louis. Everything that Iowa is or isn’t will more than likely come from his ability to play above his age. Cook, a 4-star forward who was also ranked 38th in ESPN’s Top-100 from 2016, is the cornerstone that will defy what the next three or four years of Hawkeye basketball will look like. He, along with the rest of this roster, is extremely versatile. He was/is Iowa’s best rebounder walking onto campus and he can score in bunches on the block. He’s like the Energizer Bunny, he never stops moving on offense and he doesn’t necessarily need the ball to be effective.
Bottom line, he’s going to be a star:
“Well, I think he's capable of being a star. I really do. You guys that have been around me know that I say what I think typically, so it's not like let's go easy and not push him. I have a responsibility to be honest, and I think he's an impact player, certainly on our team, in our league, and on a national level. I think he's that good.”
I’ve probably read this quote from McCaffery from Big Ten Media Days 100-times and it still has a lasting affect on my mood.
But wait, there’s more:
Q. Where do you see Cook playing on the floor, what position?
FRAN McCAFFERY: You know, he'll line up in the forward position, but you'll see him bring it down. You'll see him post-up. You'll see him shoot threes, attack the rim, playing ball screen action, and that's what I told him when we recruited him, that we'll utilize him that way.
He has typically been a prototype 4 man with that body, and he can do that. The key for us and the key for him is going to be to making sure that while he's dribbling the ball and shooting threes, he still gets after it on the glass and is up around 10 rebounds a game, which is not easy.
Q. In terms of potential or ceiling, where is he at as far as players you've brought in?FRAN McCAFFERY: He probably has the highest ceiling.
In all honesty, Tyler Cook has been the sole reason I’ve been able to make it through this policy-ridden Iowa Football season.
Of course, Cook isn’t alone in his venture of taking over “A Big Ten Lane Near You” as he has his bash brother with him in the often forgotten Ahmad Wagner. If you’re looking for the most improved player for the 2016-17 season, I’m here to tell you that it’s going to be a coin flip between Nicholas Baer and Wagner. Thankfully, the sophomore forward won’t be a glorified road block on offense this season; doomed to set screens and take up space. His offensive game has grown up with the addition of an outside shot and some handles that should force defenders to stick to him when he ventures away from the block.
If Iowa plans on scoring effectively, spacing will be the most important aspect to their offense and as long as Wagner can consistently knock down open jumpers while making slower defenders pay off the dribble, his minutes on the floor will more than likely double in his second campaign as a Hawkeye.
That also means that there is a good chance that Wagner will see a good chunk of those minutes as a “wing” this season with Cook and Uhl manning the post while Peter Jok and some combination of Christian Williams/Isaiah Moss/Jordan Bohannon run wild up and down the perimeter in what should be one of the most exciting, athletic, super human lineups McCaffery has ever assembled.
But the big man train doesn’t stop with those two. There are also two unknowns that will join the frontcourt fray in true freshman Ryan Kriener and Cordell Pemsl.
Here’s what McCaffery has said about the two:
Q. How about Cordell Pemsl? He looks like he's got some quickness back and he's already got the Big Ten body.
FRAN McCAFFERY: He's been really impressive. What you saw there is pretty much what we've seen in practices in June, July, August and now. I mean, he's a guy that has real good feel for how to play the game, and when you're 6'8", 250, and you know how to play, you can dribble, pass and shoot, you know how to post-up, you know how to use angles, that's a guy who can really help you, and I'm really excited about him
Q. Ryan Kriener had a slow start with illness this summer. Has he caught up?
FRAN McCAFFERY: He's more than caught up. What was interesting about him was the day he was diagnosed, he completed a practice with as much energy as anybody else, and then we shut him down after the diagnosis and he didn't play for a while, then he came back and finished I thought pretty strong in the Prime Time League. I think he played two or three games. He didn't play the first couple.
He's 6'10", 240. He'll get stronger but he's got a 7'2", 7'3" wingspan, so he's blocking shots, dunking the ball with that length.
When you get a big guy that is as active as he is with his feet, I mean, he sprints back. He runs down the floor. He's constantly moving. He's up, he's back, he's over. It's hard to get those guys to do that sometimes because they get tired. He's got incredible stamina for a guy that big. It would be nice if he was 10 or 15 pounds heavier, but he might be better leaner because of his activity level.
Do you see why I’m so excited? This frontcourt finally has the versatility needed to play under McCaffery. It’s not all on one guy’s shoulders any more. The days of needing Woodbury to play 30 minutes to be successful defensively — as well as on the boards — are over. There are four legit big men that will deserve minutes (along with two other hybrids that can come play down low in a pinch and small ball lineups).
I’m by no means claiming that it’s going to be pretty all the time or that Iowa is going to change the way we look at post play forever more. But it’s intriguing to have watched McCaffery build this fickle “down-low” beast that should mold together into one exciting bunch that Iowa fans can depend on to actually be a major part of the offensive game plan and not just a defensive anchor.