It’s November, which means Iowa Hawkeyes basketball is HERE! While the Hawks played an exhibition match on Saturday, we’re still counting down the days until Iowa’s first official game tips off this Thursday. The countdown continues with… Jack Nunge.
55: Luka Garza
51: Nicholas Baer
35: Cordell Pemsl
30: Connor McCaffery
25: Tyler Cook
24: Nico Hobbs
20: Riley Till
15: Ryan Kriener
13: Austin Ash
10: Joe Wieskamp
5: C.J. Fredrick
4: Isaiah Moss
3: Jordan Bohannon
Forward, 6’11”, 235 lb
Sophomore, Newburgh, IN (Castle HS)
Entering his freshman season at Iowa, Jack Nunge was a pretty heralded recruit. Coming off a senior season in high school that saw him win Mr. Basketball in Indiana, it was hard not to buy into the hype. A 6’11” guy who could shoot? What wasn’t to love!?
Hell, he even drew comps to two pretty well-regarded Hawkeyes.
Word on Iowa commit Jack Nunge? 'The way that he plays will be very similar to Jarrod Uthoff and Aaron White.' https://t.co/HrNrftigD0— Hawk Central (@hawkcentral) September 13, 2016
IU gets a look tonight at Iowa's next Jarrod Uthoff, who comes from Castle, Indiana, and is 2 inches taller: freshman Jack Nunge. That guy is smooooooth and skilled and bouncy AND HE'S 6-11!!!— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelStar) December 5, 2017
Jack Nunge is going to be Jarrod Uthoff combined with Aaron White.— HARRISON (@HD_starr) July 21, 2017
Alright, that’s enough of that. He had a solid freshman season, if relatively unspectacular, and with as much depth as the Hawkeyes currently have at the 4 and 5, that’s perfectly fine. To be honest, comparing him to two of the best players to play under Fran McCaffery at Iowa was probably a bit unfair for a three-star kid out of high school who was always going to have to compete for minutes in a loaded front court. Hell, even Jarrod Uthoff didn’t play a collegiate basketball game until he was in his third year of school.
As for his solid, if inconsistent freshman season, Nunge averaged 5.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, and 1.0 apg while playing just under 16 minutes per game in 2017-18. He also shot 51% from inside the arc, but it his outside shooting which was so widely heralded that ended up actually being an issue for him in his first year as a Hawkeye - he shot just 33% from deep, bringing his field goal percentage down to a paltry 44%.
“At times, every shooter goes on a streak — you miss a few shots and then start doubting yourself,” he told the Des Moines Register’s Mark Emmert.
That was incredibly true for Nunge as a freshman, as he scored in double-figures three times during the month of December (including 16 points against Iowa State!), then wouldn’t reach double-digits again until February when he scored 18 in a blowout loss against Ohio State. In between, he looked lost - he passed up shots and often looked unsure of himself on the court as he took a while to adapt to the college game.
Outside of being a more consistent threat from deep, one place that Nunge needs to improve upon as a sophomore is his quickness. He’s not an incredibly fast athlete, but if McCaffery plans to utilize him against smaller lineups, he’ll need to be more agile on his feet in order to keep up, particularly on defense. In the same interview linked above, he acknowledges that he needs to play faster in order to play at the collegiate level, and he’s working on getting his shot off quicker in order to do that. Because of this, there’s reason to believe that he’s been working on his lateral quickness and agility, too, which would help pave way to more minutes off the bench.
With no notable departures from last season’s rotation, it’s going to continue to be difficult for Nunge to see the court regularly - that is, of course, unless he exhibits more consistent shooting as a sophomore. Iowa returns probable starters Tyler Cook and Luka Garza at the 4 and 5, respectively, and behind them, there will be a rotation that includes Nunge, Ryan Kriener, Cordell Pemsl, and occasionally Nicholas Baer, depending on opposing lineups. Last year, Nunge saw a decent amount of his playing time at the 3 (where he still struggled to keep up with smaller wings), but with the addition of a bonafide wing in Joe Wieskamp, playing time figures to be at a premium there, too. Of course, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a path to playing time.
While the comparisons to White and Uthoff didn’t come to fruition during his freshman year, there’s no reason to write off someone with a skill set like Jack Nunge’s, and there’s certainly no reason to think he can’t get there eventually. If Fran uses him in a role that he’s more comfortable in as a sophomore (say, at a position in which a big 6’11” guy will excel), and if he can find that consistency and confidence with his improved shooting stroke, there’s reason to believe that he can become a valuable, constant contributor playing about 20 minutes off the bench.