A stronger Joe Wieskamp shows his value on both ends of court for No. 3 Hawkeyes

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Joe Wieskamp was one month into his Iowa basketball career when he drew a difficult assignment in a rollicking opposing arena.

The small forward found himself guarding Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman as the Hawkeyes tried to climb out of a large deficit at the Breslin Center. Tillman, two inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than Wieskamp, immediately scored two baskets over him. That ended that experiment.

Two Decembers later, Wieskamp is up to 212 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame after spending his COVID-19 isolation this summer lifting weights at home in Muscatine.

On Tuesday, Wieskamp again faced a tall order. Literally.

He needed to get in deep under his own basket and help Hawkeye center Luka Garza keep a massive group of North Carolina Tar Heels from wreaking havoc on the offensive glass.

For all of the attention paid to Wieskamp’s offensive skills — and he did score 19 points on 5 of 7 shooting from 3-point range — what he did on the other end of the court may have been even more valuable for No. 3 Iowa in its 93-80 victory over No. 14 North Carolina.

Iowa's Joe Wieskamp scored 19 points against North Carolina on Tuesday thanks to aggressive plays like this. But he also showed his value on the defensive end with seven big rebounds and enough muscle to battle with bigger athletes.

Wieskamp dug out seven defensive rebounds, muscling up with four Tar Heels who stood 6-10 or taller. That also required patience. Wieskamp knew he couldn’t think about leaking out for fast-break opportunities when his job was to secure the basketball.

Wieskamp at times guarded a power forward and at other times found himself matched up on a point guard. He did not appear to be at a disadvantage in either scenario.

This is the growth Wieskamp is showing as a junior on a team with an eye on an NCAA championship. He is averaging 13.8 points per game while shooting a gaudy 58% from the 3-point arc. But he is also covering more ground than any Hawkeye on the defensive end, where his talent can sometimes be overlooked. Wieskamp has 20 defensive rebounds in Iowa’s 4-0 start, a testament to his positioning.

“He’s a tough kid. He’s strong and smart. He understands angles,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Thursday of Wieskamp. “He’s not going to back down.”

Earlier:Joe Wieskamp's game takes step in right direction after slow start to Iowa basketball season

The next challenge for Wieskamp and the Hawkeyes is rival Iowa State (1-1), who will enter Carver-Hawkeye Arena for an 8 p.m. Friday contest to be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. Wieskamp had 13 points in last year’s 84-68 Hawkeye win over the Cyclones.

He may or may not eclipse that mark Friday, but either way, it won’t reveal his full value to this Iowa team.

“Teams are playing really aggressive with him. (Tuesday) he battled through,” Garza said of Wieskamp after the win over North Carolina. “He was impressive (Tuesday). He looked like a pro. He was able to shoot the ball, get down to the rim, and he made it hard for them to guard him. He really opened up the game for us. … When he plays like that, we’re a tough team to beat.”

Wieskamp added five assists and his first steal of the season as the Hawkeyes held off the Tar Heels. He showed how complete his game has become.

Afterward, Wieskamp spoke of the confidence he’s always had in his shooting. His efficiency there has long been a point of pride. He has needed only 34 shot attempts this year to accumulate his 55 points.

But he also knows that he must be more aggressive at times. He’s too talented to be constantly deferring to teammates, even if that’s his first instinct.

Iowa senior guard Jordan Bohannon said he has been imploring Wieskamp to shoot more, to be selfish if that’s what it takes, ever since Wieskamp arrived on campus in June 2018. Bohannon smiled when he relayed to reporters that he believes Wieskamp is finally listening to him.

“Jordan’s a great point guard, and he trusts and believes in me and my ability,” Wieskamp said. “I know that for us to go to the next level and continue to move forward, that I have to continue to stay aggressive and shoot the ball with confidence.”

Wieskamp was voted third team all-Big Ten Conference last season after averaging 14 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He is considered one of the 10 best players in the toughest league in America heading into this season. He has started all 70 of his games as a Hawkeye.

So, shooting the basketball with confidence shouldn’t be an issue for him. Any team in the country would be happy to have a “second option” like Wieskamp.

Garza, an all-American who is averaging 29.5 points, will be at the top of every opponent’s game plan. He certainly had North Carolina’s full attention Tuesday, as he contended with four big bodies down low and still produced 16 points and 14 rebounds. But Garza also knows that Wieskamp is a rare talent who can make life easier for him, and thus lift the entire team.

More:Big Ten basketball star Luka Garza staying at Iowa, forgoes NBA draft

Garza said he spoke with Wieskamp before the North Carolina game to discuss ways the Hawkeyes could get the forward more scoring opportunities.

“When we’re both going, it’s going to be something to see,” Garza promised.

No doubt. But fans should be sure to see both ends of the court if they want to truly appreciate what Wieskamp means to the Hawkeyes.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.