With the Hawkeyes somehow a mere fifteen days from the start of the 2019-2020 men’s basketball season, it’s time for another addition in our countdown to tipoff.
Power Forward/Center, 6’9”, 255 lbs.
Spirit Lake, IA (Spirit Lake HS)
While Ryan Kriener is expected to be one of the most important players on Iowa’s roster this season, his status as a key contributor was never guaranteed. Kriener came to Iowa as the third most college-ready big man in his recruiting class and was quickly eclipsed by strong debuts from fellow freshmen Tyler Cook and Cordell Pemsl. Kriener’s role became particularly unclear once Iowa locked up Luka Garza and Jack Nunge in the 2017 recruiting class, and it was easy to see him becoming an afterthought in Fran McCaffrey’s overcrowded frontcourt.
Kriener played sparingly during his first two years in Iowa City, and usually only saw extended minutes during stretches when Iowa’s other bigs ran into foul trouble. However, Kriener made the most of his limited action and proved that he could used his strong low post game to get buckets off the bench, stretch the defense with his midrange jumpers, and play solid defense on a team that was hardly known for their stregnth on that side of the ball.
Then a funny thing happened. Ahmad Wagner decided his athletic future lay in football instead of basketball, Pemsl and Nunge opted to redshirt, and low-post stars Cook and Garza each missed games last season due to injury. Kriener quickly transformed from forgotten man to essential role player during his junior year, playing in all 35 games and starting two of them. Kriener made the most of this expanded role and showed off his improved shooting percentages from the line (68.5% up from 38.1% as a sophomore) and from three (33% up from 20%). Kriener also had arguably the best performance of his career in during Iowa’s stunning upset over Michigan, exploding for 15 points and 10 rebounds off the bench while repeatedly showing up Michigan’s highly touted big men.
The return of Pemsl and Nunge could keep Kriener out of the starting lineup again, but there’s a real possibility that McCaffery decides that Nunge works best as a stretch five playing in relief of Garza and opts to rely on Kriener’s steady, veteran presence to start the game. Regardless of whether Kriener starts, his decision to stick it out and remain with the program despite being buried on the depth chart seems destined to be rewarded with a major role this season.