NICHOLAS BAER'S TRACKS VS. MINNESOTA
9 minutes, 0-0 FG, 3 offensive rebounds, 0 points
AND THE BAER-OMETER SAYS:
This is less an indictment of Baer in particular and more a statement about Iowa's bench as a whole. The unit has gone into a deep sleep and has seen its minutes and production plunge in the last three games. After putting up 28 points against Penn State, Iowa's bench has produced eight, zero and six points in their last three games. Not surprisingly, the number of minutes given to the bench has fallen as well: after averaging 55.7 bench minutes in their first 10 Big Ten games, the unit has clocked 36, 31, and 38 minutes in the last three games.
Fran McCaffery tends to roll with players who are playing well and is equally willing to yank a lineup when it's struggling. And the bench has been struggling. The issue is not defense, it's offense: very few players on the bench are able to generate points on their own. From Dom Uhl to Baer to Ahmad Wagner to Brady Ellingson, no one on the bench seems to be able to reliably score points on anything but wide-open catch and shoot situations. Baer is getting fewer looks, as the word is probably out that he can make that shot (and is not a threat to do too much else), and Uhl is showing that he has a long way to go still as an offensive player. Wagner is fine in his role, but the real head-scratcher is Ellingson. He's the one bench player with the skills to score on his own, but he seems to be deep into Fran McCaffery's dog house. If there is one player who is suffering from Anthony Clemmons disease – the tendency to get yanked after a bonehead turnover or defensive error (and then get cursed out by Fran McCaffery on the bench) – it's Ellingson.
And to be fair, the team is doing okay riding its starters — I think we would all have taken an 11-2 conference record if it had been offered at the start of the year — but you can see the edges starting to fray. The effort on things like defense and offensive rebounding has started to lag just a little, and that is beginning to translate into poor defensive performances. The defensive effort against Indiana was plain bad (1.33 points per possession given up?!?) and giving up over a point a possession to the 201st best offensive team in the country (Minnesota) is not a good sign.
Iowa's defense, especially its press and its zone, relies on precise and quick rotations, and the loss of even a half-step can lead to an endless series of open shots and offensive rebounds. As the team comes down the stretch, the difference between wins and losses could come down to whether the bench can be even moderately productive on offense, just so the McCaffery can afford to rest the starters for five minutes at a time. This is where the team is really paying the piper for the injury of Dale Jones.*
* We'll see how the next few games turn out, but if the bench situation gets desperate, I wouldn't mind seeing McCaffery turn the keys of the offense over to Ellingson more. That sounds crazy given his current production, but he really is the one bench player who can score on his own. In fact, he may be a better shooter off the dribble and from the mid-range than he is as a spot-up shooter from three. Uhl, Wagner and Baer are all better as reactive scorers off of broken plays, so why not try giving Ellingson more of a scoring role, at least for a few minutes at a time? This may be a case where Fran needs to put away the flamethrower and, in the words of ESPN's David Thorpe, apply some royal jelly to Ellingson, by giving him trust, minutes and shots.
BAER ESSENTIAL PLAY OF THE NIGHT
There's not a lot to choose from, but one possession stands out. Baer stayed active on the boards and swooped in for two offensive rebounds on consecutive shots, giving Iowa two additional good looks at points. Of course, none of those shots went in – it was just that kind of night.
THE BAER FACTS
The North American black bear goes from consuming 5000-8000 kCal per day while active to just 4000 kCal per day while hibernating. It also does not eat, drink, urinate or defecate during the 4-7 months of hibernation, and its oxygen consumption and metabolic rate drops by half. In preparation for hibernation, bears undergo a process called hyperphagia, a period of excessive eating and drinking to fatten themselves up for the long winter months to come. During hyperphagia, bears consume up to 20,000 kCal per day. This process of hyperphagia is also observed in football fans of the upper midwest.