Nicholas Baer was definitely the surprise of the winter for the Iowa Basketball program and their fan base.
Baer, who was a walk-on redshirt freshman last season, was a huge contributor on an Iowa bench that at times looked like one of the best benches around. He was normally the first guy off the bench and really brought a spark to an Iowa team that sometimes had the problem of getting off to a slow start.
He played like any other freshman would play. He was brilliant for stretches and then there were times that you were left scratching your head wondering what he was thinking at that particular moment. I think, for me, that most of the time I was left impressed by the things Baer brought to the table as opposed to wondering what on earth he was doing.
We got a nice look at him in Iowa's non-conference drubbing of UMKC when he played 15 minutes and totaled 14 points. A few games later, at the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic against Drake was when he really had his coming out party. He scored 13 points and seven rebounds, while blocking nearly everything an offense player hoisted up there. He ended the game with six blocks in 30 minutes of floor time.
He added 19 points a few days later against Tennessee Tech in Iowa's final tune up before welcoming the number one ranked Michigan State Spartans to Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Baer totaled 11 points and five rebounds in 21 minutes of action as Iowa downed the number one team in the land.
He hit a dry spell as the winter wore on, as did the entire team. There were games where he wasn't scoring and just plain not playing much. He was part of a bench that had nearly disappeared late in the season as Iowa slid from the number three ranked team in the country to 16th in a matter of weeks.
But Baer was one of the lone bright spots in Iowa's postseason. He nearly willed Iowa to victory in a loss to Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament, scoring eight points and grabbing five boards in 17 minutes. He didn't play a huge role in Iowa's win over Temple, but seemed like the only guy with a pulse in Iowa's second round loss to Villanova. Baer ended that game with 15 points and four rebounds in 25 minutes of action.
Many people want to see Baer inserted into the starting lineup this winter, but I am one of the few that don't think this should happen. To me, Baer isn't a guy that needs to start. He should be used exactly the way he was last year. Bring him in if the offense is struggling early on, or bring him in when your first guy needs a breather.
He's instant energy and spark, that's what you want off the bench. He can still play 25 minutes per game coming off the bench.
His hustle and determination are what helped him a lot in his RS Freshman season. He earned a scholarship this spring and will look to carry over from a really nice full first season as a Hawkeye. He's going to need to get a little stronger in the summer time to try and bulk up and be ready to play more minutes for Fran McCaffery.
I would really like to see him try to attack the rim more and get to the free throw line. The way I see Iowa's lineup shaping up this season, it's either he or Dom Uhl that will need to be the guy that gets to the line quite often. Baer visited the charity stripe just 15 times last season.
There isn't much outside of the getting stronger and becoming more aggressive this off-season. Iowa will likely be counting on him as one of the main contributors behind Peter Jok, because we saw flashes last year that could prove that he could be a consistent 10-12 point scorer in this league.