Is it more accurate to call Ryan Kriener Iowa’s most improved player over the last four years, or Iowa’s secret weapon? I honestly can’t decide.
The answer is probably both. Or at least somewhere in the middle.
Kriener was never going to be Iowa’s biggest star. But if his effort was your only indication, it might have fooled you. I was never the biggest fan of Kriener, particularly in his first two seasons. It wasn’t personal, I just didn’t think he brought much to the floor besides being an additional body. His stats were fine: 3.1 points, 2 rebounds in 8 minutes a game as a freshman, 3.6 points, 2 rebounds and an assist over 10 minutes a game in his sophomore campaign.
And it’s not like he all the sudden made a huge statistical jump in his junior year, either: he averaged 5.7 ppg and 3 rebounds over 13 minutes. But his campaign was enough to earn him a share of his team’s Most Improved Player Award with Isaiah Moss, because the stats never told Kriener’s entire story. Like Nicholas Baer before him, Kriener could do just a little bit of everything, and he did it with 110 percent effort.
But it was his effort in his senior year where Kriener really stood out to me as one of Iowa’s X-factors. It’s hard to say exactly what it was, and it’s hard to pick one moment or game exactly where Kriener stood out as the defining moment of a game, because he was, to use an extremely cliche phrase, a glue guy. In a season for the Hawkeyes that should have been a lost cause after losing Jordan Bohannon to injury, Moss to transfer, Jack Nunge to injury as well, Nicholas Baer to graduation, Tyler Cook for the NBA and a difficult schedule, to boot.
Instead, Kriener as one of the team’s senior leaders and led by the rise of Luka Garza put together a solid, fun regular season (RIP to the postseason). But it wasn’t a perfect season — or a perfect team by any means. Twice, the 2019-20 Hawkeyes got demolished by Purdue. Kriener scored nine points in each. In Iowa’s 78-70 loss to Michigan State, Kriener logged his conference-season high 18 points and 7 rebounds, along with a block and a steal.
At times in that game in particular, he was the only Iowa player who was able to consistently score. It was surges like that, where Kriener, seemingly out of nowhere, came and played his best games, even when the players around him struggled, that made him into one of my favorite storylines of The Lost Season. The senior ended the year averaging 7.7 points, 4 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game. But again, the numbers don’t always tell the story, as they don’t for many players who wear the black and gold across the sports.
Kriener didn’t make much of an impact in what turned out to be his final game in an Iowa uniform. He scored 2 points and grabbed a couple rebounds. It’s tough to look at that season average of nearly 8 points and the 2-point loss and think that, had he been just a little closer to his average, Iowa would have ended the season — and his career — on at least a high note.
Instead, Kriener like so many other athletes before him, will move onto the next phase of his life with a different kind of heartbreak than the one that comes from any exit in the conference or NCAA tournaments.
And while his stats might not be at the top of the record books, we will remember him for being just the kind of player Iowa needed in the season where he was needed most.