If Tyler Cook starts vs. Michigan, what to do with other bigs?
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Tyler Cook’s first half against Purdue was what you'd expect from a guy who'd missed seven games with a broken finger and was losing his lunch two days earlier.
Sloppy. Out of rhythm, out of sync, out of character. Three fouls, two points and one rebound in nine shaky minutes.
Then came the second half — 10 points and a couple of dunks, a steal and no turnovers in 13 minutes. Whatever 24-hour bug Cook had perished at halftime. He played in rhythm, in sync, in character.
So much so, that coach Fran McCaffery is seriously considering starting Cook again when Iowa hosts Michigan at 1:15 p.m. Sunday.
"I was really impressed with him on so many different levels, not the least of which was what we talked about — he was sick the day before," McCaffery said. "When you’re coming back from an injury, you never want the timing affected because you’re sick. So I was worried about his energy level, especially because I knew it was going to take a lot of energy to defend (Caleb) Swanigan and (Isaac) Haas. But he was ready for that challenge.
"I thought he really worked hard, defensively — made a couple mistakes, but made a couple really good defensive plays. ... He’s really in a good place right now. I’d say there’s a good chance he’s back in the starting lineup (against Michigan)."
If Cook is indeed in the first five, what happens to Cordell Pemsl’s minutes? To Ahmad Wagner’s? Dom Uhl’s?
It was Cook’s injury that allowed Pemsl, in particular, to stand out. In the first six games with Cook, Pemsl averaged 6.3 points and five boards in 13.5 minutes. The seven games without him: 13.6 points and 5.4 rebounds in 22.7 minutes.
McCaffery said he’s not sure how Cook’s return will adjust Pemsl’s role, but he does want to play those two on the floor at the same time. Both freshmen fell into early foul trouble against Purdue and played together for just 1:20.
"The key is you just can’t have two guys posting up at the same time, and they both like to post up," McCaffery said. "But the good news is they both can play out on the floor; they both can dribble the ball; they both can pass the ball. So there’s a lot of different things we can do in that sense to figure out how we’re going to play them together."
Uhl and Wagner might also see some changes with Cook’s full-fledged return. Uhl started those first six games with Cook, but Wagner and Pemsl have started most games without him.
Wagner’s numbers jumped slightly without Cook, from 4.3 points and four rebounds in 16.8 minutes to six points and 3.9 rebounds in 19 minutes. Uhl’s dropped from 6.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in 19.8 minutes to 3.4 points and 3.0 rebounds in 15.4 minutes.
This team is far different than when Cook got injured in late November. The minutes split among forwards will be different, too.
Here's how McCaffery navigated his full complement of forwards against Purdue.
- Cook/Pemsl played together for 1:20 and got outscored 5-2.
- Pemsl/Wagner played together for 9:45 and got outscored 25-11.
- Cook/Uhl played together for 8:36 and outscored Purdue 19-18.
- Cook/Wagner played together for 4:36 and tied Purdue 11-all.
- Cook/Robert Kriener played together for 4:40 and outscored Purdue 8-2.
- Cook played as the only big for 2:05 and outscored Purdue 2-0.
- Uhl played as the only big for 1:33 and got outscored 4-0.
- Pemsl played as the only big for 4:49 and got outscored 15-8.
- Kriener played as the only big for 2:36 and got outscored 9-6.
Now for some plus-minus:
- When Cook on the floor, Iowa was plus-6.
- With Pemsl, minus-24.
- With Wagner, minus-14.
- With Uhl, minus-3.
- With Kriener, plus-3.
Those numbers come from a tiny sample size — one game. And Pemsl's minus-24 is a little misleading. Of all the bigs, he played "alone" for the longest.
But the numbers do give one strong indication: Cook needs to be on the floor as much as possible, no matter who he's with.
"When Tyler was starting, Dom Uhl was starting. And when Cordell was starting, Ahmad was starting," McCaffery said. "So we play them both together a lot. They’re going to have to figure it out. We’re going to have to figure it out.”
Bain covers Hawkeyes' basketball for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.
WHO: Iowa (8-6, 0-1 Big Ten) vs. Michigan (10-3, 0-0)
WHERE: Carver Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
TIME/TV: 1:15 p.m., Big Ten Network
ABOUT THE GAME: The Hawkeyes have won four straight games over the Wolverines, dating to Feb. 8, 2014. Michigan has won five of its past six games, but it hasn't played since Dec. 22. It beat Furman 68-62 that day. Senior guard Zak Irvin paces the team with 14.1 points per game on 46 percent shooting.