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Iowa shooting guard CJ Fredrick becoming indispensable part of potent offense

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell was trying to explain how unstoppable Iowa star Luka Garza is this week when he started rattling off names of other Hawkeye basketball players that are causing him some anxiety as well.

Joe Wieskamp. Jordan Bohannon.

Then Pikiell got to the fourth name on the list.

“(CJ) Fredrick is shooting the ball as well as anyone in the country,” Pikiell pointed out.

It’s true. Iowa’s sophomore shooting guard, the least-experienced member of the starting lineup, has become as important as anyone to the team’s fortunes, just 35 games into his college career.

Consider:

  • Fredrick ranks 15th in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s analysis of individual offensive players.
  •  In Iowa’s six games against high-level competition this season, Fredrick has averaged 14.3 points.
  • One season after leading the Big Ten Conference in 3-point shooting percentage at 46.1, Fredrick has actually pushed that number to 55% in his second season.
  • In the Hawkeyes’ first three league games this winter, it is Fredrick who tops the team in minutes played, with 106.

Background:The decade-old encounter that helped steer CJ Fredrick to Fran McCaffery and Iowa basketball

That’s value. And Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Friday it all started two years ago, when Fredrick redshirted so he could become a better player before any Hawkeye fan, or opponent, ever got a look at him.

You don't give Iowa guard CJ Fredrick this much space to shoot, as Northwestern's Ryan Greer did Tuesday. Fredrick, a sophomore, is making 55% of his 3-pointers this season as a dangerous "fourth option" for the nation's most efficient offense.

“I think it was really good for him to have that experience, to really study the Big Ten, to really work on his body and learn the system,” McCaffery said of the season Fredrick spent on the sideline and in the weight room.

“He was one of the best players in our league (as a freshman) and he’s clearly one of the best players in the country right now. The way he’s shooting the ball. The way he goes off the dribble. The way he makes plays for other people. And I think the most underrated part of his game is his defense.”

Fredrick, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound native of Cincinnati, Ohio, is averaging 11.3 points per game this season, up from 10.2 a year ago. But that number hardly reflects his full impact for No. 11 Iowa (8-2, 2-1 Big Ten), which will tangle with No. 13 Rutgers (7-1, 3-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at the RAC. The game will be aired on ESPN2.

Fredrick has committed only four turnovers in 10 games, none in a Big Ten contest. He had five assists in a win over Purdue, then put up 42 points in the next two games when he saw more openings to shoot the ball. He never forces things.

In Tuesday’s 87-72 Hawkeye victory against Northwestern, Fredrick immediately saw that all-American center Garza was getting so much attention that he would have some space at the 3-point arc. He quickly made three of them.

Then the Wildcats chased him off that line, so he showed a new facet of his game — the ability to drive and make a floater in the lane or stepback for a jumpshot. He made one of each, finishing with 17 first-half points. He scored only two in the second half, as Northwestern started paying more attention to him and had to let Garza (12 points) and Bohannon (19) get a little more freedom in the second half.

“He’s just a fierce competitor,” McCaffery said of Fredrick.

“He’s got the total green light and we want him to be as aggressive as possible. But the thing about that is just, he’s a really efficient guy who truly understands the game. And those guys are winning players.”

Dec 25, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes guard CJ Fredrick (5) reacts after being fouled during the second half against the Minnesota Gophers at Williams Arena. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

So, yes, Pikiell is worried about Garza on Saturday, calling him “the most complete player.” Look for Myles Johnson to be the first line of defense there in what should be a must-watch post matchup.

But Pikiell knows that containing Garza, if possible, does not ensure victory against the nation’s most efficient offense. It’s a dilemma every opposing coach faces.

McCaffery knows this. Not that he’s feeling sorry for anyone.

“It obviously starts with Garza,” he said of the game plan against the Hawkeyes.

“But we’ve got multiple shooters. We’ve got guys that can drive. We’ve got productivity coming off the bench, with size and length and ability to score.”

The Hawkeyes will have one more option Saturday as well, McCaffery confirmed. Backup point guard Joe Toussaint has recovered from the ankle sprain that kept him on the bench for the second half of the Northwestern game.

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.