Two weeks ago many people were questioning whether or not Iowa’s postseason chances were already over. After rattling off three wins due to improved defense, Iowa still has some life left.
After knocking off Iowa State (78-43) last week, the Hawkeyes continued their stellar improvement against Northern Iowa, winning 69-43 on Saturday. The team has now held their opponents under 70 points in three consecutive games. And against Northern Iowa the Hawks once again looked nothing like the team that lost to Nebraska-Omaha 98-89 on Dec. 3.
The Iowa guards harassed Northern Iowa's shooters out of their comfort zone, covered up driving lanes, which led to Iowa getting stops. Disrupting Northern Iowa’s offense let Iowa run in transition and get easy buckets. Playing an up-and-down game allowed the Hawkeyes to dictate the pace, and that is exactly what Northern Iowa didn't want to happen.
Iowa playing at their pace allowed Peter Jok to find ways to get open in transition. The senior shooting guard only needs a little bit of space to let it fly; and he let it fly often, knocking down three three-pointers. He finished the game with 21 points and 8 rebounds on 9-15 shooting. Nicholas Baer was the second leading scorer for the Hawks with 11 points. Baer added 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and a steal in a crucial performance off the bench.
In the recent three-game winning streak Iowa’s defense has been much better. In their previous losses before the winning streak Iowa allowed 90 points or more in each game. Along with better effort on defense, Iowa has also been better on the glass, out-rebounding their opponents during the winning streak.
Individually for the Hawks, Jok has been on fire. He led the way in scoring in both crucial wins over in-state rivals. Freshman Cordell Pemsl has continued his near perfect shooting stretch, connecting on all four of his shots against Northern Iowa. He finished with 10 points and five rebounds in just 18 minutes of action. Another freshman who stepped up was Isaiah Moss. The shooting guard out of Chicago averaged 14 points during the winning streak -- which doubles his season average of 7 points per game.
The Tyler Cook Situation
Cook, who has sat out the last month with a broken finger, is a game time decision for tonight’s game against North Dakota. He is averaging 13.7 points and 5.3 rebounds on the season. The challenge now is how will Fran McCaffery find ways to insert Cook into the lineup without disrupting his team's momentum?
The good news for McCaffery is that Iowa’s schedule is soft this week, so that should leave some room for error if Cook is rusty coming back from injury. If Iowa can continue to play like it has the last three games while incorporating Cook back into the lineup, the upcoming Big Ten season doesn't look as daunting as it did two weeks ago.
Iowa hosts North Dakota tonight and Delaware State on Thursday to close out non-conference play. Both opponents are ranked outside KenPom’s Top-100 teams. Both games are must wins for the Hawkeyes. Expect Iowa to keep the momentum rolling into Big Ten conference play.