Back on November 29th, Fran McCaffery took a chance with his ball club.
After news broke that standout freshman, Tyler Cook, was going to be sidelined for a few weeks due to an injured finger, McCaffery threw us a curveball with the Hawkeyes visiting South Bend, IN to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
He turned to Cordell Pemsl, Jordan Bohannon, and Isaiah Moss tabbing them starters for the game along with Nicholas Baer and Peter Jok. It was a move not many expected.
However, I am willing to bet that even less expected what McCaffery got from those youngsters on the road that night. The Hawkeyes lost, 92-78, but they took far more good away from that game than bad.
Bohannon finished with a team high 23 points, burying 7 of his 15 three point attempts. And Cordell Pemsl finished right behind him with 18 points on 8-9 shooting. Throw in 7 assists from Bohannon and it looked like Iowa had found their point guard.
For Pemsl, that was game one of a five game stretch where he scored in double figures. This made the Tyler Cook loss look less glaring, even though the Hawkeyes were missing a terrific playmaker.
On a smaller level, even though Moss had just 5 points and 5 assists in 24 minutes, Fran was able to get a look at what Moss would give him in a starting role. That paved the way for a couple 30+ minute games in mid-December from Moss, one of which came against the Iowa State Cyclones. He had 14 points in 31 minutes as he helped the Hawkeyes defeat ISU at home.
However, it seems as we near February, and the halfway point of the Big ten season, that these talented freshman are sort of hitting that proverbial freshman wall that people have been talking about.
Bohannon, you could argue, is the only one of the bunch not hitting said wall. Before last night against Illinois he had played 29 or more minutes in the last 6 games. Against the Illini, he played just 21 minutes, but was battling sickness for most of the game and it was clear he was not his normal self.
He still ranks near the top in assists per game in the Big Ten and is always a threat to hit from the outside. But his on-ball defense is what is giving the Hawkeyes trouble. He's been unable to keep Anthony Cowan and Te'Jon Lucas in front of him in the last few games and it's hurting the Hawkeyes defensively. Whether they are in man or zone, the opposing point guard always seems to find a way into the middle of the floor to either score, or dish it off.
With that being said, Bohannon is just too good on the offensive side of the ball for him to have a seat. And the fact that Iowa doesn't really have anyone else that has shown they can be consistently productive at the point guard spot, is also at play here. Bohannon is set in that starting lineup, barring his sickness getting any worse.
On the flip side, with guys like Moss and Pemsl, who were both virtually MIA on Wednesday against Illinois, something might need to change. They are the two starters that I've pegged as guys that take a while to get into the flow of the game. We've seen these slow starts time and time again from the Hawkeyes and it seems like these are the two guys that take the longest to get their minds in the game. Fran McCaffery yanked Pemsl just a minute and a half into the Maryland game because he wasn't prepared to play.
During his teleconference earlier this week, McCaffery stated that he was thinking about changing up his starting lineup Wednesday against Illinois. That did not end up happening.
Many speculated as to who would be thrust into the starting lineup. For me, it was Nicholas Baer and Ahmad Wagner, who, coincidentally, were the two best Hawkeyes that played on Wednesday night. They brought their usual energy and both finished with 12 points in a very underwhelming performance for the Hawkeyes.
I'm sure McCaffery will look at things before this Saturday's game against Ohio State and I wouldn't be surprised if Baer and Wagner are starting in place of Moss and Pemsl. In fact, I think it needs to happen. The Hawkeyes can't keep digging these 10 point holes to start the game and if the issue is effort level to start, then throwing your two biggest effort guys into the game to start it seems like a sure fire way to nix that problem.
Peter Jok and his aching back is the other thing plaguing the Hawkeyes as we near February. It first started back in the Northwestern game when everyone could clearly tell he didn't look right at all. Then it carried over to the Maryland game and Pete actually admitted after the game that it was pretty sore. With almost a full week off, one thought that it might get better, but it clearly did not. He looked like a shell of himself down in Champaign. You could tell it was bothering him just by the way he was running.
If almost a full weeks rest isn't helping Jok's back heal up, is it time for Fran McCaffery to sit him down for a few games in hopes that Pete can get back to 100%? Because that's where he needs to be if this team is going to win. He isn't doing them any good playing injured. And he isn't doing his future any good on top of that.
If you're looking at a stretch where Iowa might be able to get by without Peter and his leadership, it's the next three games. They play at home against Ohio State, on the road against Rutgers, and at home against a depleted Nebraska team. That trio of games will be a lot easier to win as opposed to if he seriously injures it during the stretch where Iowa takes on Indiana, Maryland on the road, and at Wisconsin.
I'm not saying it needs to happen, because I don't know where Peter is at right now, but if it's as bad as it looks to the eye, he might need to shut it down for a few games.
The Hawkeyes are staring a series of issues in the eye as they go into Saturday night and a change of pace is necessary.