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The Iowa Men Need Their Seniors to Save Their Season

For Iowa to have any hope of making the tournament, the Hawkeyes will need Tony Perkins to continue playing at an All-Big Ten level, and maybe convince his fellow seniors to join him at that plateau as well. 

NCAA Basketball: Alabama State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

While the Iowa women’s basketball team is on track to compete for another Final Four bid this season, the men’s squad has faced its share of challenges. The Hawkeye men currently hold a 13-9 record on the year, are only 5-6 in conference play, and are 0-6 in games against Quad 1 teams according to the NET rankings. Iowa’s struggles this season were not unexpected; the Hawkeyes were picked to finish ninth in the conference during the preseason, which is actually one spot below where they are rank in the current standings. However, while a neutral site win against Seton Hall, a competitive showing on the road against Creighton, and the excellent play of Iowa’s freshman had some fans believing the team could qualify for its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament, the Hawkeyes still have a way to go to earn a spot on the tournament bubble, to say nothing of making the field.

Yet all hope is not lost for the Hawkeye men. Iowa’s next three games are all winnable (at Penn State, home against Minnesota, and at Maryland), and remaining bouts against Wisconsin and Illinois will give the Hawks more opportunities to notch a signature win or two before the season’s end. If Iowa can win two-thirds of its remaining games, win at least one of its remaining matchups against the Badgers or Illini, and score a victory or two in the Big Ten Tournament, Iowa still has a chance to play its way into the field of 68.

For Iowa to make a late run at the NCAA Tournament, the Hawkeyes will need consistently excellent play from the three seniors in their regular rotation: Tony Perkins, Ben Krikke, and Patrick McCaffery. While Iowa’s underclassmen have shown flashes of brilliance throughout the season, they have also been prone to type of mistakes one expects to see from freshmen and sophomores in a league as competitive as the Big Ten. The best college basketball teams are usually those who regularly get big performances from their seniors come March, and Iowa will need to do the same if its hopes to stay in the hunt for a tournament berth.

Among Iowa’s upperclassmen, arguably no player has done more to keep the Hawkeyes competitive of late than Tony Perkins, who may be playing the best basketball of his career. Perkins is averaging a career high 15.7 points per game this season and has developed into an efficient scorer in both the paint and the midrange, shooting an impressive 51.2% from two despite taking more shots this season (11.7 per game) than he has at any point since joining the team. Perkins has been particularly efficient over his past five games, averaging 22 points on 60.3% shooting from two while also attempting 7.2 free throws per contest. In addition to his improved scoring, Perkins has also made significant strides as a playmaker, growing into the starting point guard role while averaging 4.1 assists per game (up from only 2.8 last season). Finally, Perkins has finally begun to show the level of defensive consistency Hawkeye fans have been hoping to see from him his entire career. At his best, Perkins has long been Iowa’s best backcourt defender, though his effort and focus seemed to waver considerably from game to game and sometime even from half to half. Over the past few months, however, Perkins has emerged as the high point of Iowa’s otherwise spotty perimeter defense, regularly matching up against the opponent’s best scorer and making plays as both an on-ball and help defender in the halfcourt. The Hawkeyes may not be playing at the level of an NCAA Tournament team, but Tony Perkins is certainly doing his part to get them there.

Meanwhile, power forward Ben Krikke has cooled off considerably after his hot start to the season. Over the past four games, Krikke is averaging only 6.5 points per game while shooting a woeful 27% from the field. Krikke hasn’t scored in double figures since Iowa’s home loss to Purdue, and the last game in which he shot over 50% from the field was all the way back on January 15th. Krikke’s midrange jumper, which was virtually automatic for the first two months of the season, has completely deserted him of late, and he has struggled to finish through contact at the rim. To make things worse, Krikke’s defense and rebounding, neither of which have ever been particular strengths of his game, have both fallen off as well amid his shooting slump.

Iowa desperately needs to get Krikke going again as soon as possible. The Hawkeyes will square off against several formidable post players over the next few weeks, including Minnesota’s Dawson Garcia and Wisconsin’s dangerous frontcourt duo of Steven Crowl and Tyler Wahl. Given Owen Freeman’s propensity for getting into foul trouble, Iowa may need to rely on Krikke to play a bigger role not only as a scoring power forward, but also as a center to help anchor its interior defense. Even if Krikke continues to struggle with this jump shot, Iowa will still need more from him as a defender and rebounder for the Hawkeyes to go on a winning streak. To his credit, Krikke was in on a few important defensive possessions in Iowa’s victory over Ohio State on Friday, walling up to prevent ballhandlers from getting clear paths to the lane and holding his own in contesting jumpers away from the basket. Maybe Krikke can build on plays like that to help him rediscover his high level of play from earlier this season.

Speaking of players needing to get their swagger back, Patrick McCaffery has struggled to find his role on the Iowa team this year, though one could arguably trace these challenges back to him being forced to take a leave of absence last season to prioritize his mental health. Since returning to the court in late January 2023, he has floated in and out of the starting five without establishing a rhythm coming off the bench or finding his footing next to his fellow frontcourt starters in Krikke and Freeman, with whom he is not a great fit due to the lack of lateral quickness and shooting Iowa suffers from in its three-big lineups. This season, McCaffery has dealt with illness, an ankle injury, and the emergence of Josh Dix in the starting lineup, which has shifted Payton Sandfort from shooting guard to small forward and relegated Patrick to the role of sixth man. McCaffery has shot only 18.2% from the field over his past three games, has scored in double figures only once in calendar year 2024, and has made multiple three pointers in only three games this season, with the last such game taking place on December 10. McCaffery’s ideal role on this team might be as a stretch four who can provide a scoring spark off the bench, but his poor shooting this season (McCaffery is making 25.5% of his threes this year after shooting 34.3% from deep last season) has made that a tough sell.

Patrick McCaffery is the longest tenured Hawkeye on the current roster and deserves to have a stellar senior season after all he has given to the program and the challenges he has overcome to remain on the court over the years. Furthermore, Iowa will need his veteran leadership and experience if it hopes to make a run at the NCAA Tournament; Patrick hit several clutch free throws to seal Iowa’s important victory over Ohio State, and his stellar play in critical games like Iowa’s Big Ten Tournament win against Indiana in 2022 prove can play well under the bright lights. Perhaps the next two months will see Patrick have the kind of senior season his brother enjoyed last year; becoming a reliable jump shooter despite his unorthodox form and, most importantly, committing to making winning plays on both ends of the floor and embracing his role as a complimentary player rather than a star.

Iowa’s NCAA Tournament hopes are not dead yet, but the Hawkeyes will face an uphill battle to keep them on ice over the next few weeks. For Iowa to have any hope of making the tournament, the Hawkeyes will need Tony Perkins to continue playing at an All-Big Ten level, and maybe convince his fellow seniors to join him at that plateau as well.