Do you know what’s one of the best parts about sports? Letting your expectations soar. Sure, most of us inevitably set ourselves up for disastrous failures, but we all share that ability to talk ourselves into just about anything during the offseason. Like Kevin Garnett so graciously put it, “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE,” even when it probably isn’t. So, as most of you (like clockwork) forget the many nuances that drove you nuts about the 2016-17 Iowa basketball season, I wanted to provide you with the moments and flashes you need to hang on to when it comes time to build up the 2017-18 season in your mind. Because whether it’s now or in November, we’re all going to come to the same conclusion anyway: This is THE year Iowa finally wins... a game in the Big Ten Tournament.
Isaiah Moss, Redshirt Sophomore, G
2016-17 Stats: 6.5 points (41.2 FG%), 1.6 rebounds, .9 assists, .4 blocks, .6 steals, in 17.1 minutes per game
Best Game of the Season: Yeah, it was that double-overtime debacle of a loss at Minnesota in February. Moss was 7-12 from the field (3-5 from long distance) and finished the night with 19 points, three rebounds, two assists and two blocks (along with three turnovers) in 24 minutes of playing time. More on this game later.
Next Best Game of the Season: It’s a toss up between Iowa’s home game against Stetson (21 points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals in 32 minutes) and the NIT game against South Dakota (16 points, four rebounds, one assist, two blocks and one steal in 27 minutes).
I’m not letting any of you in on some big secret when I tell you that Isaiah Moss’ best and worst quality is that he’s most confident when he has the rock in his hands. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I caught the redshirt freshman disappearing into the floor boards when he was seemingly the fourth or fifth option in an offensive set. He also had a tendency to become a bit anxious when the offense would sputter. Instead of trying to set a screen (or find one), he’d find himself clogging the space around a ball handler in hopes of receiving a pass to go to work himself.
But that's what young, super aggressive, do-it-all scorers tend to do.
I think it’s best to remember Moss’ season as if he were a Labrador puppy that you’ve spent a few weeks training. He knows what to do, but sometimes he gets so excited to just HAVE the tennis ball that all of those previous lessons fly out the window.
Take a look at the clip below, you’ll see what I mean. The set starts off with some two man basketball on the strong side of the court with Moss hanging out on the left wing. As much as he thinks that he’s wide open (he even gives us all a little “ooh-oooooh-oooooh” arm raise action to signify it), Wagner has his back completely turned to him.
After the initial motion, Moss is as much out of the play as Hawkeye Elvis is in the stands.
But then — and you can see it happen when Moss goes to raise his hand again but catches himself — the training kicks in. Moss realizes that he’s open on the wing for a reason... because there isn’t a soul around. Just as the ball gets worked into the heart of the paint, he finally makes a basketball move and gets rewarded with an easy bucket.
Things like this are acceptable when you’re dealing with a young player, and my hope is that those types of cuts become second nature this offseason with Moss seeing the light at the end of the Peter Jok tunnel.
But for him to take that next step and to make the most of his additional minutes next season, Moss has to stay involved even when he’s not THE focal point. Admittedly, that’s a hard thing to do for young players. So often guys that play like Moss feel like they have to score to be an effective asset to the team.
In his defense, I understand the mentality. The dude is a creator and probably has been for a very long time (you don’t get your number retired from your youth basketball team for not making plays).
Yet, the sooner he realizes the roster surrounding him will only continue to give him more room to operate, the better Iowa is going to be. Moss (if he hasn’t already) has got to trust that he can actually work his teammates, as well as himself, open off the dribble.
If I was a member of the coaching staff, I wouldn’t stop sending Moss text messages and emails letting him know that he’s more than just a scorer. I wouldn’t let him for one second think that he lacks the vision to see passing lanes ahead of time, or the athletic reaction to deliver:
Isn’t this the type of guy that March Madness runs are built on?
I know a lot of people continuously harp on the fact that McCaffery is missing that “take over point guard” type player. The type of guy that can get into the lane at will and put the team on his back when they need it most. Basically, we all want every Kentucky guard that John Calipari has ever had. But couldn’t Moss be THAT guy if McCaffery isn’t able to bring home the next De’Aaron Fox? I realize there is a fine line that Moss is going to have to continue to walk when it comes to being aggressive inside the offense without looking like he’s forcing things. But I think he can learn to walk that tightrope as he becomes more confident in his abilities as an all-around offensive basketball player.
His aggressiveness, when harnessed, is the cherry on top of the sundae.
And McCaffery has already admitted as much. The Iowa coaching staff knows that Moss’ mentality, makeup, athletic gifts, work ethic and aggressiveness can eventually all come together to form a player that can do just about anything on the court:
Doesn’t Moss play like that four-year player that Tom Izzo always seems to find?
It’s weird to write, but Moss doesn’t have the same look and feel as other Iowa basketball players. Honestly, it’s shocking I am even able to write that sentence because the path he’s taken to get to this point in his young Iowa career is unlike most in college basketball. But he’s scrapped and clawed and hung around and worked his tail off on the court and in the classroom to get to this upcoming season.
The season when the lid finally gets ripped all the way off the box.
And I’m not going to be the one that predicts that THAT kid doesn’t continue to make huge leaps in his game as the minutes tick by.
To me, it’s all just too right. Right coach. Right player. Right format. Right team. Right culture. Right family. Right work ethic. Right time. Right place.