As I got comfy in my seat on press row inside Carver Hawkeye Arena about an hour before Iowa tipped off against Ohio State, I wondered two things: One; would we see a change in the starting lineup? And two; would hobbled super star, Peter Jok, continue to play through back pain?
Well, I got my answer to both questions after five minutes of sitting in my seat when I watched Jok emerge from the tunnel in a long sleeve shirt, sweatpants, and tennis shoes with the rest of his teammates partaking in warm up drills. Now, it had not officially been announced, but I could put two and two together.
The immediate thought for me was, "who was going to step up for Iowa if they had plans of winning without Jok?"
Well, we've gotten that answer in two consecutive games as the Hawkeyes have beaten both Ohio State and Rutgers fairly handily.
It's been the entire team producing and it's really about how difficult the Hawkeyes are making it on opposing defenses.
"You try to scheme your defense, but we've got all these different people scoring, so it makes it difficult. And that's what you want" said Fran McCaffery in regards to Iowa's unselfish play in the past 4 halves of basketball.
"But it only works if you're moving the ball, sharing the ball, and you put the team first. And that's what this group does," he added.
In the win over Ohio State, Iowa had 21 assists on 32 made field goals. And in the win over Rutgers, they had 24 assists on 30 made field goals. Those are staggering assist numbers and that is the biggest reason for Iowa's success without All-Big Ten guard, Peter Jok.
Both Nicholas Baer and Brady Ellingson lead the team in the past two contests with 8 total assists. Dom Uhl has 7, while Jordan Bohannon and Cordell Pemsl both have 5. This yet again speaks to the unselfish play these Hawkeyes are displaying.
When talking about both of the wins, McCaffery can't seem to pinpoint just one or two guys that have been outstanding. He's constantly referencing multiple guys each night out.
Isaiah Moss and Brady Ellingson are two guys that have really stepped up for Iowa as they take this next man up approach.
"The thing about him [Ellingson] is he's a very efficient person in terms of everything that he does," McCaffery suggested. "So, if he's curl cutting, if he's running the floor, defensively he's always in the right place, he's always talking, and if he's not open he's not going to shoot the ball. He's going to move it on because he knows we need to move the ball side to side," McCaffery admitted about his redshirt sophomore.
McCaffery also says he's seeing a lot more aggressiveness out of his guys with Jok sidelined.
"Look at Isaiah Moss, gets two quick ones [fouls], so Brady is outstanding," he said, referencing the first half against Ohio State. "Well, he was great in the second half, Isaiah was. And what you saw was just a lot more aggressiveness from other people, and that's what I want them to be," McCaffery said following Iowa's win over Ohio State.
With Jok out the Hawkeyes open up about 15 shots a game. And the guys that have stepped up and taken on the load that is left behind with Jok on the sideline have come through big time.
Even the front court options have stepped up. Ryan Kriener had 14 points and 7 rebounds against Ohio State. He then went on to struggle against Rutgers, but Cordell Pemsl picked up the load, scoring 15 points and grabbing 7 boards himself. It's really been impressive to watch this team play like one cohesive unit.
While the Jok injury is troubling and you never want to see a kid get hurt, this has given guys that have talent opportunities to showcase what they can bring to the table. That might be the biggest takeaway from all of this for me because we're able to get a small look at what next year's team will look like. And boy does it look good.
Everyone that has played in the last two games will be back - assuming no attrition occurs - and they've got Iowa fans juiced for what the future could hold with their great play over the last week of the season.
McCaffery did state before Iowa tipped off against Rutgers that Peter will probably be ready to go for the weekend, but with how well this team is playing right now you don't need to rush him back if you don't have to.
Nebraska is a team that is struggling a lot right now without their best front court player, Ed Morrow, and they lost by one to the Rutgers team that Iowa just beat by 20.
Jok has had about 9 days to rest and recover from his back injury, but we'll see what the final verdict is come Sunday afternoon. Either way, expect the Hawkeyes to compete for the full 40 minutes if they continue playing like this.