The Iowa Basketball team lost four seniors from their starting lineup about a year ago. They were welcoming in five freshmen and expectations weren't set extremely high. They returned a talented scorer in Peter Jok and role players like Dom Uhl, Brady Ellingson, Nicholas Baer, and Ahmad Wagner. The season was honestly going to depend on the play of the freshman class. And boy did they impress.
The Hawkeyes finished the season with a 19-15 record as they were able to shake early season defensive struggles and make one final push at an NCAA tournament berth. Iowa was among the first four teams out of the tournament in early March, which made them a one seed in the NIT.
They lost in the second round to a solid TCU team that gave them everything they could handle. The end to the season had the Hawkeye fan base buzzing about this team's future.
So, without further wait, lets get to the awards.
Brady Ellingson - With Cook, Pemsl, Kriener, Moss, Dailey, and Bohannon all getting their first action for the Hawkeyes, there wasn't a whole lot of options here. Jok was already established. There wasn't enough playing time for Dale Jones, Christian Williams, or Dom Uhl to really qualify. That left it up to Ahmad Wagner, Nicholas Baer or Ellingson.
All three are worthy of the distinction and it was really splitting hairs between Baer and Ellingson. But Baer contributed a season ago whereas Ellingson barely played during league action in 2015-2016. This season Ellingson contributed much more, was effective with his three-point shot which was a huge boost, and became an ace perimeter defender for the Hawkeyes. His evolution and improvement was much more drastic than anyone on the roster. Iowa has to be excited to have him around for two more years. I'm not sure if he's ever an every day starter in Iowa City but he's a guy that brings important traits off the bench.
Nicholas Baer - It really did come down to Ellingson and Baer here. Brady is a great candidate given his improvement in 3-point shooting and just his overall play. He became a better passer, a more patient player, and a better defender from his redshirt freshman season to his sophomore season, but I was extremely impressed with Baer this year.
His scoring average was up by almost 3 full points, he collected more rebounds, assists, and blocks. He simply did everything for Fran McCaffery and his team in just over 23 minutes per game as a sophomore. Baer had games last year where he showed flashes that he could be the type of player that he was this past season. He had big games down the stretch, notching two double-doubles in his last four ball games and you could definitely argue that he was one of Iowa's best players this year. I would argue he was the most improved as well. He got better in every facet of the game.
Newcomer of the Year
Jordan Bohannon - This is such a tough one because of all the options available in Bohannon, Cook, Pemsl and Isaiah Moss. There's a case to be made for all of them but I think the one that is most convincing is that of the freshman point guard. He set records all year for what he was doing in the Iowa offense from a three-point shot and assists angle, not just as a freshman but overall. Bohannon became lethal from distance once he became much more effective in creating his own shot, getting it off quick, and understanding how teams were defending him. As the year went on, he became better at valuing possessions and creating for others, though that won't ever be something that his game revolves around.
Jordan Bohannon - Unlike Derek, I don't really think this one was much of a contest given what Bohannon did down the stretch. You could argue that Tyler Cook was just as good towards the end of the season, but Bohannon recorded 3 straight double-doubles to end the year and became Iowa's best player down the stretch. He became the first Hawkeye ever to post 3-straight double-doubles with points and assists and the first Hawkeye in over 10 seasons to post 3-straight at all.
He racked up 175 assists, 372 points, and 89 3-point field goals during his freshman season, which is about as good of a first season that I can remember for any Hawkeye freshman. The averages come out to about 10 points and 5 assists per game. The one knock on Jordan has been his defense, but as long as he remains this good on the offensive side of the ball, you can deal with a little bit of defensive deficiency.
Defensive Player of the Year
Ahmad Wagner - I think the best defenders on this team were Wagner, Brady Ellingson, Christian Williams and even Isaiah Moss. Moss' defense probably wasn't as consistent as the others but it's just as good and was still present most of the time. Ellingson has quick feet on defense but is a bit limited on who he can guard still because of his size. Williams is probably their most dangerous defender on the perimeter just because of his length, effort and understanding but at the same time he's limited because of how slim he is.
Wagner is my winner of this award because he is the most complete defender on the team in my eyes and the most versatile. He's everything that Fran McCaffery wanted this team to be when building and forming the roster. He can practically guard all five positions because of his crazy athleticism, quickness, effort, and overall strength. He's a bit limited in terms of his offensive game but he has no limitation or ceiling when it comes to what he can do on the defensive end of the floor. He gives the Hawkeyes so much freedom to do other things and experiment with different combinations and rotations due to his flexibility.
Isaiah Moss - I honestly think it's a toss up between Moss and Wagner. I agree in a way that Ellingson and Williams can be cited here, but I don't know if they played enough for me to consider them. Nicholas Baer is another option as well, but overall I believe it was Moss. His long frame and incredible athleticism helped him keep guys in front as well as finish in transition on the offensive end - as we saw him do so often.
The Hawkeyes have a host of good defenders on this team, which sometimes wasn't evident, but Moss continually got the challenge of guarding the quickest guard on the court for the opposing team. He had just 19 steals on the season, but only averaged around 17 minutes per game. The exceptional lateral movement from Moss allows him to keep guards in front and his long arms and good size make it tough for them to get their shot off. Moss will continue to be one of the better defenders on this team for the foreseeable future.
Offensive Player of the Year
Peter Jok - It wasn't as consistent as they wanted because injuries caught up to him but he was still the best offensive player on the court for the Hawkeyes in almost every game they played and that can't really be debated. He was the Big Ten's leading scorer. Jok also almost broke the Big Ten record for free throw percentage in a season held by Steve Alford. Other than Bohannon at the end of the season, he was really the only Hawkeye that could create his own shot from the perimeter. This is a no-brainer to me.
Peter Jok - This one is pretty much a no brainer. He was a guy that could get hot at any moment. He could shoot the three, the mid-range jumper coming off screens, and even get to the rim on occasion. You could argue that Bohannon definitely made a push towards the end of the season, but Jok led the Big Ten in scoring during the season. It's hard to argue that. He was just about as complete of an offensive threat that Fran McCaffery could've asked for during his senior season and I think he really helped a young team mature throughout the year. Over the next couple of years there are a few guys that I could see fighting for this award.
Cordell Pemsl - This team was never lacking effort from anyone so this is the award that is the most difficult to name. I know folks would instinctively think about Nicholas Baer here, and there's no doubt that he's never lacking effort or hustle, but this year was really about him rounding out his game and becoming a more skilled basketball player I thought. He was more of just an effort guy his redshirt freshman season. This sophomore season he showcased some additional skill to his game and I think that's what should be remembered about him this past season. Baer is a better shooter from the perimeter, and a very good defender in the post actually despite giving up a bunch of weight in just about every matchup he faces.
I went with Cordell Pemsl because he's the guy diving around everywhere, and on the floor after a loose ball multiple times a game. He had some bad games, as they all do, and really had his minutes chopped on more than one occasion. He bounced back every single time and was never fragile about it. He kept coming. He kept working. He didn't make excuses or feel sorry for himself. He earned those minutes back and he was never shy about getting physical, getting into the middle of things, and doing whatever he had to do in order to get a loose ball. He hustled back on transition defense. I thought this award was meant for him the most this season.
Nicholas Baer - Although you could definitely make an argument for guys like Pemsl and even Ahmad Wagner, I think Baer edges them for this award. I really liked Derek's Pemsl pick because he was always a guy diving around looking for any way to help his team win, not to mention he was a guy that would stick his nose in there and get a little physical from time-to-time. However, there were occasions when Cordell didn't look like himself. Baer was the most consistent in this area, hustling down long rebounds, recovering to block a shot, you name it and Nicholas probably did it.
Fran McCaffery has talked about having to pull Nicholas from the game during stretches because he just goes so hard all the time that he gets gassed faster than the other guys. You want to leave him on the court for 35+ minutes, but you can't because of his effort level. He took the scoring up a notch this season along with the rebounding and he should only continue to get better for the Hawkeyes. If he can add in being a 10+ point per game scorer to all the hustle he'll become even more of a nightmare for the opposition than he already is.
Nicholas Baer - Crazy, right? My MVP for Iowa this year is the sophomore that comes off the bench. I think he was more so the vocal leader on this team, and the guy all the freshmen listened to the most. Jok, Dom Uhl, and Dale Jones may be older but they aren't as outspoken or as demonstrative on the court as Baer is. They all are a bit more laid back, and that's okay too. But Baer seems like the vocal leader, the energy guy, and the guy the youngsters leaned on the most.
I thought Baer kept everything together. An argument can be made that he was the most improved player on this team. He became an efficient perimeter shooter, a more complete offensive player, a hustle guy, a great defender, an elite shot blocker, and a guy with an extremely high basketball IQ. Iowa wasn't really lacking in any given area when he was on the floor just because he's able to contribute whatever that it is that they are lacking. Jok wasn't always 100 percent this season, and he wasn't always available, and that's when Baer came into his own the most. Jok is the far better scorer of the two but Baer probably has him beat in a lot of other areas. For that reason, he may not be the better overall basketball player on this team, but I thought that Baer was definitely the most valuable.
Peter Jok - Nicholas Baer is a fine pick from Derek. Peter Jok would certainly agree with that as well, but Jok was my MVP this year. He was the lone senior that saw regular minutes and was trying to lead a group of inexperienced guys back to the NCAA Tournament, and he almost did. He never got down on them or himself and always seemed to be striving to make his teammates better.
All of a sudden Jok wasn't just a scorer. He was rebounding, assisting, and playing a little bit of defense. Then came his back injury. He tried to fight through it, but it became too much. He sat for two games and was the young guys' biggest fan. He was laughing and cheering with Riley Till and Charlie Rose at the end of the bench and helped put his team through warm up drills in a suit on his off nights. That is when this became apparent for me.
He could've packed it in after Iowa missed the NCAA Tournament and headed to the NIT like we see so many veteran guys with NBA futures do, but he didn't. He was still giving all of his effort for a team that was one of the youngest in the entire nation. He was the teams best player and he was their leader. That earns him my MVP award.