Hawkeye hoops: What we know and what we don't
With three home games in six days, the hope is that this can be a get-well stretch for Hawkeye men's basketball.
Fran McCaffery's fifth Iowa team suffered two difficult-in-different-ways losses in New York City last week. A second-half meltdown meant an ugly 71-57 loss Thursday to No. 10 Texas. A furious really resulted only in a heartbreaking 66-63 loss Friday to No. 23 Syracuse.
Senior forward Aaron White said before the 2K Classic he was interested to discover how good this team was. His takeaway after an 0-2 trip to Madison Square Garden?
"We're not a perfect team. We turned the ball over at a higher rate than we would like (33 in two games)," White said after personally scoring 38 points with 20 rebounds in 64 New York minutes.
"And we're not shooting the ball as well as we can. If we can play a complete game and put it all together, I think we're a pretty good team."
The Hawkeyes (2-2) play host to 3-0 Pepperdine on Monday (7 p.m., ESPN3), 2-0 Northern Illinois on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., ESPN3) and 2-2 Longwood on Saturday (1 p.m., Mediacom Channel 22).
Going 3-for-3 isn't a layup. But ideally, Iowa uses this week to correct the bad stuff and build on the good stuff. There was plenty of both in New York.
Here's some of what we know and what we don't through four games:
We know … that there's no turning back for Jarrod Uthoff. The 6-foot-9 junior from Cedar Rapids asserted himself in New York, and McCaffery responded with similar confidence.
Uthoff had not played more than 26 minutes in the first 35 games of his Hawkeye career. In his 36th, against Texas, he played 30 minutes. And against Syracuse, he pumped in a career-high 20 points in 36 minutes and looked the part of the go-to scorer that Iowa needs.
We don't know … whether Iowa can find enough points from its points.
Point-guard offense has been erratic through four games. Mike Gesell has created good shots for others, but not for himself. He shot 3-for-15 from the field in New York and, more disturbingly, 1-for-5 from the foul line. Anthony Clemmons, after double-figure scoring against Hampton and North Dakota State, was 2-for-11. And Trey Dickerson's one jump shot against Syracuse was ugly.
We know … that McCaffery really likes Peter Jok. The coach has raved about the 6-foot-6 guard's improved conditioning and defense and his sweet 3-point stroke.
We don't know … if or when Jok can transfer his practice prowess into game situations. The sophomore looked lost against Syracuse. Iowa needed a scoring threat with White in early foul trouble, and Jok never got into the flow. He had no points and no rebounds in 10 minutes.
"We're more capable of having better guard play," McCaffery said after his five guards combined to shoot 10-for-48 in New York. "Peter Jok is a better player than he's playing. I need to get him in there, I need to let him get settled down."
We know … White will not let these Hawkeyes fail without a fight.
When Iowa was struggling against Texas, White fearlessly pulled the trigger on his outside game that he has been working hard to polish. He drilled a long 2 and a 3. He got to the free-throw line 16 times in the game. Health permitting, he will shatter Iowa's career marks for free throws made and attempted.
We don't know … if this close-loss thing is a continuing complex or a first-time issue with a new Hawkeye rotation. Iowa lost 10 of its last 11 games decided by single digits last year. The Syracuse result put the 2014-15 Hawkeyes 0-for-1 in that category.
We know … Iowa thinks it can be a good team. Watching how this group supported each other and fought tooth-and-nail to the finish against Syracuse — 7-foot-1 Adam Woodbury played with emotion and took the loss personally — was encouraging. Players were optimistic, not downtrodden, afterward.
"Fighting back from a 15-point deficit is showing a lot of heart," Uthoff said. "That's a defining moment for us. I think we'll move on from here."
We don't know … how McCaffery's 10-man rotation will shake out. Gabe Olaseni played 11 minutes against Texas. Dickerson played three. Dom Uhl played two. In New York, when push came to shove, McCaffery went mostly with six core guys – starters Gesell, Clemmons, Uthoff, White and Woodbury, with Josh Oglesby as the shooting threat off the bench.
That group played 78 percent of Iowa's minutes (312 of 400) in New York.
Three games in six days gives McCaffery – and Hawkeye fans – a chance to answer some questions. Then another measuring-stick test awaits: Dec. 3 against North Carolina, in Chapel Hill, on ESPN.
"I think we're a pretty good team," McCaffery said. "We're not where we need to be."
MONDAY'S GAME: IOWA (2-2) vs. PEPPERDINE (3-0)
Specifics — 7 p.m., Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City.
Following the game — TV: Online stream at ESPN3.com or WatchESPN. Radio: WHO (1040 AM), WMT (600 AM) and the Hawkeye network. Live scoring: livestats.hawkeyesports.com.
Preview — Pepperdine is coming off its biggest road win since 2003 — a 63-44 success Thursday at San Jose State. The Waves have not started 4-0 since 1998-99. ... Pepperdine freshman Nate Gehring, a Waukee High School grad, has two rebounds in six minutes this season. ... Monday is "Dollar Dog Night" at Carver-Hawkeye. Also, UI faculty and staff get free admission with valid ID; their guest get in for $5.