This years Iowa basketball team lacks a lot of Big Ten experience. With the exception of Peter Jok and Dom Uhl, Iowa doesn't have anyone on their roster that has been through the Big Ten grind more than once. However, Ahmad Wagner, who has improved as the year has progressed, gained some valuable experience as a true freshman last year.
He played in all 18 conference games last season for the Hawkeyes and logged double digit minutes in 11. He was part of the Iowa bench mob that was so crucial to the early season success, averaging 2.6 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in Big Ten contests.
"Each game is going to be a dogfight, you know, it doesn't matter if it's the top of the Big Ten or the bottom, each game is going to be hard and everybody is going to want to win," Wagner said about the grueling Big Ten conference slate.
Iowa is coming off a season in which they went 12-6 on the conference and finished 3rd, but they lost some key contributors from that team. With new faces in the mix, Iowa will be quite the mystery as we make our way through conference play.
"I think that our team has been clicking lately and I think we're only going to get better from here," he said about Iowa's recent success. "It's good to go into Big Ten play clicking like we are, especially defensively. I think as the year goes on we are going to keep improving," admitted Wagner.
Wagner has been a big reason why this team has started clicking. Ever since their loss to Omaha in early December, Ahmad is averaging 7.6 points and 3.8 rebounds in about 20 minutes per game. He's become more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor and has been a rock on the defensive side. He's going to need to start getting those free throw's to drop otherwise he will lose minutes at the end of close games. And that is a spot that Iowa needs to have him on the court. He is shooting 42% from the charity stripe in Iowa's last five games.
It has been ever since standout freshman, Tyler Cook, went down with a finger injury that Wagner has taken his game to another level. And with Cook's return set for this Wednesday, Wagner does not think that will disrupt any flow the Hawkeyes have gotten into.
"He'll be fine. He's been running, working out, and keeping his conditioning up," he admitted about Cook's rehab. "He's been sitting in on practices, watching our defense and how it's improved, so I don't think we're going to miss a beat when Tyler comes back. I think we're going to continue clicking and get better," he said confidently.
Cook will certainly be a welcomed addition to Iowa's lineup. Before the injury the freshman was averaging 14 points and 5 rebounds in 6 games. He was Iowa's second best player early on in the season, but we've since seen guys like Cordell Pemsl, Jordan Bohannon, and Isaiah Moss step up and fill that role.
As far as minutes go, Wagner thinks the trio of himself, Cook, and Pemsl will have no problem playing together.
"I feel like we're all pretty versatile players, so we can all play with each other," he admitted about Cook's return. "I think we can all play together and work off each other," he said.
Certainly getting Cook back into the mix of a front court that has performed well over the last five games is going to make Iowa better. Pemsl has shown he can be a real problem for opposing teams on the block and Cook is about as athletic as they come so throwing him into the mix with Pemsl and Wagner is just going to give Iowa another weapon.
"We haven't even talked about it. It doesn't matter, we're all going to get our opportunity to play on the court and when we come in we have to just affect the game, so that's what we're looking to do," he said about starting roles going into the future.
It wouldn't surprise me to see Cook come off the bench for the first couple of games, but head coach Fran McCaffery stated that it doesn't matter if he starts or not, he will play starters minutes.