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Free-For-All Friday: The Iowa Basketball Injury Bug and NCAA Tournament Hopes

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Everyone is getting hurt and our pet’s heads are falling off.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Ohio State
Fran has to be screaming at his guys to stay away from all people and anything remotely dangerous.
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Friday everyone. It’s been a long one being the first full week back at work (for yours truly, that is) since the holidays and plenty of struggles keeping good on those New Year’s resolutions. Fortunately, everyone around here is still relatively healthy.

The same cannot be said for Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes. That’s where we start on this week’s edition of Free-For-All Friday. Where we end up, nobody knows.

JP: Jerry! This is a wellness check. Are you OK? Are you healthy? You haven’t nicked an ankle or caught some stomach bug or anything, have you? If not, did your eligibility clock run out yet? The Hawkeyes could use some depth buddy boy.

Jerry: Thankfully I am of perfect health despite the fact that my wife has been literally coughing on me for the better part of five days. I also played basketball for two hours outside on Sunday before the Eagles game as part of my 2020 Biggest Loser weight loss plan. Not going to lie, your boy’s still got it. In fact, my game has gotten more Euro than it was before and I haven’t picked up a basketball since the summer.

At the very least, I can hit an open three pointer if my big man is going 1-on-5. What about you Jonah? You still able to elbow your way into the lane and hit that little elbow jumper?

JP: You know what of the best things about aging from a young buck to an old dad? With the dad bod comes old man game. Buddy, I’ve got old man game. The last several years of noon ball at work has taught me nothing if not how to grab, hold, move on screens and use my body to create space.

Can I shoot well? No. Does that stop me from raining threes? No. Can I jump as high as I used to? No. Does that stop me from attacking the rim in the post? No. Am I slow? Yes. Does that mean I get more wide open layups for being slow down the court? Yes.

In all seriousness, a little hoops is a nice change of pace from the winter treadmill or the summer trail. The older I get the more I feel the tired in my legs. For Iowa’s handful of scholarship guys still standing, I can only imagine how dead those legs have to be feeling.

It showed something fierce on Tuesday with the horrific shooting performance. Now it sounds like Fredrick may be out 4-6 weeks. Where does Iowa go from here? Is the NCAA Tournament officially a pipe dream? If you were running the team, how would you adjust to what remains on the roster?

Jerry: How quickly the dream falls apart. Was it two, maybe three weeks ago we were talking about how Iowa was going to make the tournament this year and were destined for the Final Four next year... now you’re asking me if they’re dead in the water.

What a time.

My answer, in short, is no, the tournament is not a pipedream. At least not yet. Sure, Iowa has lost two games in a row to start the real Big Ten slate (something Champ and I said would never happen in our New Years Resolutions podcast) and No. 12 Maryland is looming tonight. That’s tough. Real tough. But let’s not sleep on Iowa now. I was told this is a tournament team and damnit, I still believe. Look, when looking at the Nebby game, you have to take into consideration the all time shooting disaster against Nebraska. It was so bad that the Hoi-skers were able to basically play 5 against 1 and keep Luka Garza from crushing them completely. That’s very smart... if it works. But I have to assume that it wont continue to be that way moving forward. If teams take the Huskers gameplan and start to pack the paint to the tenth degree, I have to assume that Iowa isn’t going to shoot that poorly again.

Plus, winning on the road is hard! It’s hard throughout the entire conference right now

With that said, losing Iowa’s next best 3-point shooter in CJ for the foreseeable future could be the straw that broke the camels back. While I don’t believe Iowa will shoot 12.1% from three again, they might only shoot 24% the next few weeks and is that good enough? I’m not sure. Maybe? Hopefully? I just keep looking up and down the lineup that Fran has at his disposal right now and there’s no Steph Curry’s here. It’s a bunch of uber athletes that need to get to the rim and McCaffery might need to push his offense to be the ultimate motion that gets this band of non-shooters better looks closer to the basket.. even if it means moving Garza outside as a decoy.

What say you?

JP: It’s definitely going to be a struggle. A real struggle. When Jordan Bohannon announced he was shutting it down, I worried the Hawkeyes might be one shooter short. But CJ Fredrick has shown flashes of being the next Bohannon. He has no qualms about taking the tough shot. And he was leading the team in 3-point percentage, better even than JoBo.

With the loss of Fredrick, I now worry we are two shooters short of being a good team. Which means you’re absolutely right – Fran is going to have to get creative to manufacture points and potentially change things up stylistically. During his tenure, he has always wanted to play at a high pace. That’s what he sold the fanbase on in his introduction. And we all lapped it up. With only 7 scholarship guys for the next several weeks, it’s time to try to slow things down.

I think Fran is going to need to stick with the zone almost exclusively to allow guys to cover space rather than chase players all over the floor. He’s going to have to really pick his spots for the press. And on the offensive end, I think he’s going to have to find a way to get open looks for guys not named Luka Garza inside the 3-point line. I have no doubt this team will get plenty of looks from deep, but outside of Joe Wieskamp, I don’t feel great about anyone taking them. Connor McCaffery and Bakari Evelyn are fine from deep, but I don’t feel good about it.

What I’d really like to see is Fran using his talent for drawing up set plays off the inbound to draw up some plays that he can run against a zone to get guys open looks in the paint.

That should be mixed with his more traditional offense, but he’s got to really press Joe Wieskamp to step up and be aggressive putting the ball on the floor. There are no problems with him shooting from deep, but he’s going to be one of the few guys who draws defenders outside and he’s got to take advantage of that by getting inside and getting better looks. I’d like to see Connor try to get into the post more. Even with a zone defense, he’s going to be a mismatch with the wing in a 2-3 (either quicker or taller). And then we have to see Joe Toussaint continue to be aggressive attacking the hoop. He’s been absorbing a lot of contact without getting to the free throw line, but at some point those are going to fall and the free throws are going to be granted.

If nothing else, all those guys are going to come out of this season with a much better game for next year when Fran gets the Death Star fully operational.

My question, though, is whether you think Fran and this team can make the adjustments and get enough rest to pull things together tonight. Maryland is no slouch, but they’ve had some hiccups. Can a severely shorthanded Iowa pull off the upset over the Terps tonight?

Jerry: Absolutely they can. Basketball, more than any other sport, is about a guy or two. Last I checked, Iowa still has two of the most talented players we’ve had at this university in the past 15 years in Weezy and Garza. If they both can put their games together and Fran can make some timely adjustments to help alleviate the pressure in the post for his Peacock, of course they can beat Turgeon.

As an East Coaster now, I have a buddy that’s a big time Maryland basketball fan. He wore a Steve Blake jersey to my wife’s 30th birthday party. On Christmas Eve, him and I were talking about the Terps and he told me that somehow Turgeon is a master recruiter, but when it comes to winning basketball games, it’s a roller coaster. Double time when Maryland has to go on the road. The Penn State and Seton Hall games are case and point.

Again, winning on the road in college basketball is hard... if only CHA was able to really rock.

In short, yes I think Iowa can win tonight and if they hope to keep these tournament hopes alive, they’re going to have to do everything in their power to get it done tonight. Going 1-4 in the conference cannot happen. And if that means these guys have to exude all the energy they have in their legs, thems be the breaks.

Oh, and don’t play Pemsl in crunch time anymore, Fran buddy. Trust me.

What say you JP?

JP: WARNING: You have me fully triggered. You pressed two of my buttons and I cannot abort. Apologies in advance.

1. “somehow Turgeon is a master recruiter”

This is not in any way, shape or form a mystery. He has long been rumored to be dirty and the fact he and Maryland were named in the FBI probe into college hoops for the payments made to former Terp Diamond Stone only confirmed what most people who follow recruiting already knew. It is not at all surprising he gets incredibly talented players and beats schools like Kansas, Arizona, Memphis, Kentucky, etc. etc. to get them.

2. “don’t play Pemsl in crunch time anymore, Fran buddy”

I am on record as not believing Cordell Pemsl is a Big Ten player. He seems like a great kid and a Hawkeye at heart, but his talent is a step below everyone else currently getting minutes not named Riley Till. He brings a toughness and fire that Fran teams in the past have needed. I don’t think this year’s team needs that. They need a guy who can shoot from outside or take his man off the dribble or put a move on someone in the post and play defense against quicker or taller opponents. That’s not Pemsl. It never will be.

I think he’d make a great player in the MVC, but right now he’s a warm body on a team desperately needing warm bodies. I wouldn’t expect him to play more than mop up minutes a year from now unless he goes elsewhere.

Now, can Joe Wieskamp please go all Jarrod Uthoff 1st half against ISU 2015 tonight? The universe owes Iowa hoops fans a little something after these injuries and that absurd shooting night on Tuesday.

Jerry: Perhaps I should’ve phrased the Turgeon observation as such: Somehow Turgeon is a “Master Recruiter” (HEAVY DR. EVIL HAND QUOTES)

You’re spot on. Pemsl is probably a great kid and he’s had a few moments, but it’s hard for me not to view him as the Iowa Hawkeyes version of the Bulls Cristiano Felicio. Take from that what you want... but for my Bulls fans out there, you know what I’m hinting at (aka The Human Gummy Bear).

Honestly though, Weezy should have multiple Uthoff-moments in him and it’s about time he takes the reigns and presses. This dude has NBA aspirations and the talent to back it up. But NBA execs what killers. Dudes that take over and put their team on their back when they are against the ropes. I don’t mean to go all Coach Taylor on you, but what better time than now for him to make us all forget about the JoBo and CJF injuries? Garza has already done that and needs help NOW. GO BE GREAT KID! And if you live up to the moment as soon as tonight by taking out the Terps, and continue that trend all the way to the NCAA Tournament, you might be on your way to a Donte DiVincenzo like NBA Cinderella Story.