Iowa coming up short in the post and at the point

Mark Emmert

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery said Monday that he is contemplating changes to his starting lineup after a pair of weekend losses left his Hawkeyes with a 3-3 record.

The biggest concerns for Iowa, which faces unbeaten Notre Dame at 8 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN2), are shoddy interior defense and spotty point guard play.

Both were on McCaffery’s mind during a morning teleconference before his team headed east for its annual appearance in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Iowa defenders like Cordell Pemsl (left) and Ahmad Wagner have been doing too much looking up at opponents dunking on them this season. Here, Virginia forward Jarred Reuter was doing the honors in a 74-41 win Friday. The Hawkeyes get another chance to shore up their interior defense Tuesday at Notre Dame.

Asked if he saw any progress in his team’s defensive performance in setbacks to Virginia and Memphis in the Emerald Coast Classic, McCaffery offered a succinct reply:

“Not as much as I would have liked to have seen, no.”

Iowa was outscored by 42 points in the paint in the two games, and McCaffery pointedly spoke at length about how much his young team misses graduated center Adam Woodbury, a 7-foot-1 presence around the rim that is sorely lacking.

“I’ve always said maybe Adam Woodbury will be appreciated when he’s gone,” McCaffery said. “He was always in the right place. He always saw what was coming. … (There was a) collective calm that resulted from his constant communication.”

McCaffery has been starting junior Dom Uhl (6-9, 217 pounds), sophomore Nicholas Baer (6-7, 205) and freshman Tyler Cook (6-9, 253) in his front court. Cook is the team’s second-leading scorer, at 13.7 points per game, and is unlikely to be removed from the starting lineup. Options to start at the other two positions include sophomore Ahmad Wagner (6-7, 235) and freshman Cordell Pemsl (6-8, 249).

Regardless, all five will need to do a much better job if they hope to defend a Fighting Irish team that starts all upperclassmen and reached the Elite Eight of last year’s NCAA Tournament.

“We obviously have to get more physical,” McCaffery said. “Get our body over and tall up.”

At point guard, Iowa’s duo of Christian Williams and Jordan Bohannon will be tested greatly by Notre Dame junior Matt Farrell, who's averaging 11.5 points per game and has 32 assists against seven turnovers in a 6-0 start by the Fighting Irish.

“He just finds people,” McCaffery said of Farrell. “He gets rid of the ball quickly to the people when they are ready to do something with it. And that’s a gift.”

It’s a gift that Williams, a 6-5 sophomore, and Bohannon, a 6-0 freshman, are still developing. The Hawkeyes had more turnovers than assists in their 74-41 loss to Virginia and the 100-92 loss to Memphis.

Williams has been starting, but Bohannon has seen more playing time. The freshman is averaging 22 minutes per game, with 5.2 points and 25 assists to 15 turnovers. Williams is at 19.3 minutes, with a mere 2.2 points per game, 21 assists and eight turnovers.

“That number (of turnovers) has got to go down,” McCaffery said after his team committed 18 in each game in the Florida tournament. “If we have to play a little slower, if we have to pass on some aggressiveness.”

McCaffery said he’s appreciated Bohannon’s willingness to attack the basket, but conceded that his turnover number is too high. He has taken 37 shots but made only nine of them, although his high school track record at Linn-Mar suggests that percentage will increase markedly with time.

As for Williams, McCaffery summed up his play by saying he’s shown “flashes of greatness, and there’s times where he’s been a little too conservative; you want him somewhere in the middle.”

In the middle, and at the point, are where Iowa’s problem areas lie. That’s where any lineup changes are likely to occur.

Peter Jok’s career high 42 points wasted vs. Memphis

One guy who will stay: senior shooting guard Peter Jok. He’s averaging 25.3 points per game to rank second in the nation, and scored 42 against Memphis. That was the highest total for a Hawkeye in four decades.

Jok will again be the focal point for both teams Tuesday. He’s used to that.

It’s what happens around him that will determine Iowa’s success in its first road game of the season.