As fans focus on Cook, McCaffery seeks consistency in Iowa opener
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Tyler Cook era, along with Iowa’s 2016-17 basketball season, is about to officially begin.
The heralded freshman’s Hawkeye debut will happen right away. He’ll be in the starting lineup when Iowa hosts Kennesaw State at 8:35 p.m. Friday.
No jitters, Cook said.
“Surprisingly not,” the 6-foot-9, 253-pound forward said. “I’m just ready to go. I think we all feel the same way, too.”
Cook, a Rivals Top-100 recruit, has gotten so much hype that some Hawkeye fans are already worried he’ll be a one-and-done player — off to the NBA after this season.
“I’m focused on making sure I’m getting better every day, making sure the team’s getting better as a unit,” Cook said. “When that stuff comes, we’ll talk about it then.”
Iowa is ranked No. 55 in the KenPom.com preseason rankings, and Kennesaw State (of the Atlantic Sun Conference) is No. 306 out of 351 Division I teams.
On Sunday, the Hawkeyes host Savannah State — No. 341 by KenPom — at 2:30 p.m. The only ways to watch both games is to buy a ticket ($18 for adults) or via streaming on BTN Plus or BTN2GO (which requires a subscription that can be obtained at hawkeyesports.com).
So, even with a young roster, Iowa should be 2-0 come Sunday afternoon. Of course, Fran McCaffery can’t say that. But the seventh-year coach did say he’s looking for consistency from a roster that includes six freshmen and four sophomores.
He hasn’t seen much of it since this group arrived on campus; it was also missing during last week’s 95-73 exhibition victory over Division II Regis University.
“I wasn't really pleased with the consistency of anything, to be honest with you,” McCaffery said. “And it's kind of been the trend since June. We look good some days; we look just OK some days. Individually, there's days when guys are absolutely spectacular, and then there's days when they go missing. That's not uncommon for a young team.”
If you’re able to watch Friday’s game, look to see if the Hawkeyes can go long stretches with strong defense. They’ll need that to develop in the 13-game nonconference season.
With senior sharpshooter Peter Jok (28 points vs. Regis) leading the way, the offense is less of a concern.
“Even though we’re young, we’re talented. We can score the ball pretty well,” sophomore Ahmad Wagner said. “But it’s going to be important that we play good defense this year. These next two games, we’re going to focus on getting multiple stops on defense.”
Fans, though, will probably be most excited about watching Cook.
He can dunk with both hands (in traffic), bring the ball up the floor and score from inside and outside. Yes, outside. Even though he was 0-for-2 from 3-point range against Regis, he can shoot it. And he has the green light.
“Whenever I get open, I’m going to let it go,” said Cook, who had 15 points, six rebounds and three steals against Regis in 26 minutes. “The coaches won’t be opposed to that, either.”
It should be fun to watch.
The Hawkeyes on Thursday officially announced the signing of forward Jack Nunge. Iowa lists the product of Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., at 6-11, 220.
“Not only is he an incredible perimeter shooter for someone that big, but he affects the game a number of ways,” McCaffery said in a statement. “He can rebound, block shots, run, handle the basketball, and make plays for himself or his teammates. I believe he’s going to have a great impact in our program for a long time.”
Nunge joins big man Luka Garza (6-11, 240) in the Class of 2017, while point guard Connor McCaffery will wait to sign until Iowa’s scholarship overload gets sorted out.