Five things for Iowa basketball fans to watch in Prime Time League
Iowa Hawkeye fans, your annual summer basketball fix is almost here.
The Prime Time League draft is Monday, and games get underway at 3 p.m. Sunday at the North Liberty Community Center. There will be six teams made up of Hawkeyes, Northern Iowa Panthers and other local, college-aged talent. There will be nine chances to see them play, including three at the SportsPlex in Waterloo.
Yes, defense is often optional in summer league play. Yes, these are only exhibitions, intended for fun. But it’s a chance to start forming initial impressions until the real games begin in November. Here are five things Iowa fans will want to keep an eye on:
Big men on campus
Start with the newcomers, of course. Iowa, coming off a 19-15 season, is adding two 6-foot-11 freshmen, both of whom will be on display in the PTL.
But Luka Garza and Jack Nunge have much different skill sets.
Garza is a prototypical center, something Iowa lacked after the graduation of Adam Woodbury. He will be called on for low-post scoring and rim protection. Watch his footwork on both ends of the court. His technique is sound, but how about his quickness? Does he have what it takes to make an immediate impact in the rugged Big Ten Conference?
Nunge is the more versatile player and could give the Hawkeyes a true “stretch 4.” He’s also more comfortable on the wing. Check out his range, to the college 3-point line and beyond. Does he couple that with enough ability to drive to the basket, which he’ll need to keep defenses honest? Nunge could be a quintessential wild card for the Hawkeyes this winter.
Dom Uhl and Brady Ellingson are Hawkeye upperclassmen who still need to carve out roles for themselves. Both have shown flashes of promise, but also a knack for being overly deferential, even in summer league games.
Is this the year they seize a bigger opportunity? For Uhl, Iowa’s lone senior, it’s the start of a meaningful summer as his team prepares to fly to his hometown of Frankfurt, Germany, in August to begin its foreign exhibition tour. At 6-9, he has shown the ability to block shots and to hit 3-pointers, just not in the same game. Last summer, Uhl’s shooting was slightly off in the Prime Time League, and that dogged him all season. How does his shot look this summer and is he more aggressive about seeking it?
Ellingson, a junior shooting guard, had one superb stretch of games last winter, showcasing his ability to knock down shots while protecting the basketball. He doesn’t make mistakes, but also seems reluctant to force things at times. The graduation of Peter Jok, however, opens a big void in the long-range shooting department. Ellingson should be the first option to fill that part of Jok’s production, at least. This summer is the beginning of his chance to make a statement that he’s ready.
Filling up the stat sheet
Late last season, Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon became a double-double phenom, his assist totals suddenly keeping up with his ability to score in bunches.
Reserve wing player Nicholas Baer, never short of energy, has the same potential with points and rebounds. Indeed, Baer averaged 21.5 points and 12.2 rebounds in PTL play last summer, the latter leading the league.
Assist numbers in the PTL play aren’t typically high, but it will be interesting to see which player collects more double-doubles during the exhibitions. And is it possible that Baer could pick up a triple-double somewhere along the way?
Bohannon and Baer are both solidly in Iowa’s rotation no matter what happens this summer, so it’s worth watching what they try to add to their already well-rounded games.
Williams' second act
Last summer, Christian Williams was the heir apparent at point guard for Iowa. But the sophomore lost his job to Bohannon early on and then had to fight for his minutes. To his credit, Williams re-emerged late in the season as a defensive force who was able to score often enough in transition to add value to his team.
This summer, Williams could give the Hawkeyes a significant lift if he shows that he’s added a jumpshot to his repertoire. Even extending his range to 15 feet, to force opposing defenses to account for him, would be a big boost for the rangy and athletic 6-5 guard.
An offensively versatile Williams would allow Bohannon to slide over to shooting guard at times for Iowa, and Bohannon has shown the ability to take — and make — big shots. The two played together well at times last season, but the onus is on Williams to make that a productive option for Iowa coach Fran McCaffery to consider. Watch his accuracy from mid-range and beyond this summer, and how much confidence he has taking those shots.
Are the rims ready?
Finally, there’s Tyler Cook. The 6-9 forward was the star attraction at the PTL last summer. He will be again.
The first thing to notice is whether they’ve reinforced the rims to prepare for all the dunking that Cook will do. He’ll dunk with either hand. Some of them will be violent, others so swift you may want a slow-motion replay to be sure of what you just saw.
And he’ll smile. Always. Now a sophomore, Cook is one of the more engaging personalities Hawkeye fans have seen. Talented, too. He’ll make the trip to North Liberty or Waterloo worth your while.
PRIME TIME LEAGUE SCHEDULE
June 18 – 3 p.m. at North Liberty Community Center
June 22 – 6 p.m. at SportsPlex, Waterloo
June 25 – 3 p.m. at North Liberty Community Center
June 29 – 6 p.m. at SportsPlex, Waterloo
July 9 – 3 p.m. at North Liberty Community Center
July 13 – 6 p.m. at North Liberty Community Center
July 16 – 3 p.m. at North Liberty Community Center (first round of playoffs)
July 20 – 6 p.m. at SportsPlex, Waterloo (semifinals)
July 23 – 7 p.m. at North Liberty Community Center (championship)