Hoops Takeaways: Mike Gesell's playmaking has Iowa off to fast start

Rick Brown
Point guard Mike Gesell has 25 assists to five turnovers through three games.

MILWAUKEE — Three games into the season, it’s clear that point guard Mike Gesell is the quarterback of this Iowa basketball team.

The senior had 11 points, four assists against no turnovers, four steals and three rebounds in the Hawkeyes’ 89-61 victory at Marquette on Thursday. For the season, Gesell has 25 assists to five turnovers.

“He’s mixing up his penetration, his pull-up jumper, his 3-pointer,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “And he’s pushing it on the break, and he’s seeing the floor. Essentially, he’s not making mistakes.

"If you have a point guard who doesn’t make mistakes, that gives you a chance to score every time down. It gives you a chance to win.”

Dialing long distance

Just one of McCaffery’s first six Iowa teams shot better than 35 percent from behind the 3-point arc. That was in 2011-12 (37.3 percent). The Hawkeyes shot 33.3 percent from that distance last season, but McCaffery predicted that number would spike this season. So far, so good.

Iowa is shooting 41.9 percent from 3 through three games (31 of 74). The Hawkeyes were 12-for-22 against Marquette and 12-for-28 against Coppin State. Ten different players have made a 3 this season.  Peter Jok (6-for-9) and Jarrod Uthoff (5-for-11) were expected to be Iowa’s biggest perimeter threats this season.

But newcomer  Dale Jones (6-for-14) has shown he’s a weapon. Same with sophomore forward Dom Uhl. He’s 5-for-9 this season. Uhl was 5-for-27 last season.

“It’s great to see Dom knocking them down,” McCaffery said. “You know Peter, you know Jarrod, (Anthony) Clemmons is solid. And then you just keep going with Dale, with Brady (Ellingson), we’ve got a variety of guys.”

Road sweet road 

Thursday was Iowa’s fourth straight road triumph over two seasons The Hawkeyes closed the 2014-15 regular season with victories at Nebraska, Penn State and Indiana. Iowa also won at North Carolina, Ohio State, Michigan and Minnesota a year ago.

“We’ve played so many games on the road,” said Clemmons, a senior. “We’ve experienced adversity, we’ve experienced losses, we’ve experienced big wins. As a unit, we know how to play on the road. Now it’s all about getting the younger guys adapted to that, trying to make sure they understand this is how you have to play when you’re on the road.”

Building a rotation

Thursday’s victory provided McCaffery the luxury of getting his bench some valuable minutes in both halves. In one stretch of the first half, Clemmons was on the floor with bench players Jones, Ahmad Wagner, Ellingson and Uhl. Later in the first half, Gesell was on the floor with Ellingson, Uhl, Jones and Andrew Fleming.

“Coach looks at me as being that leader, that guy who brings the young guys along,” Clemmons said. “When I’m on the floor, it’s not just me taking crazy shots. It’s making sure they know what to do.”

Twelve scholarship players saw the floor Thursday. Jones and Uhl played 16 minutes each, Ellingson 14, Wagner 11, Fleming eight, Nicholas Baer seven and Christian Williams six.

“The only way you can survive a college basketball season is to have depth,” McCaffery said. “You can’t do it with six or seven guys. So we’re slowly trying to develop depth, who is going to be six, seven, eight, nine? In our case we’re playing 12, which is hard to do and rare for me.”

Stuck in the middle with you

Iowa effectively shut down the Golden Eagles’ inside tandem of freshman Henry Ellenson (three points, eight rebounds) and junior Luke Fischer (eight points, two rebounds). Ellenson, a top-10 national recruit, had averaged 19.5 points and 9.5 rebounds the first two games. Fischer, who got saddled with early foul trouble Thursday, had been averaging 14.5 points and 10 rebounds.

Adam Woodbury guarded Fischer. Uthoff handled Ellenson. And whenever one of them tried to turn to the  basket and make a move, there was a double team waiting for them.

“I thought Uthoff was a tough matchup for Henry,” McCaffery said. “This was Henry’s third game, and he was going against a fifth-year senior who is every bit as long and is used to guarding people off the dribble. He’ll go against a lot of (position No.) 4 men who won’t be able to handle him off the dribble like Jarrod can. And when Henry would drive and spin, we were right in his wheelhouse, Woody pretty much handled Fischer by himself.”