'Nasty guys?' Iowa's happy to have them in Ryan Kriener and Cordell Pemsl

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — At some point early in Thursday’s basketball game, Grambling State is going to face Iowa’s grim twins.

That’s post players Cordell Pemsl and Ryan Kriener, a pair of sophomores who don’t always exude “Iowa Nice,” at least not on the court.

“He’s not afraid of physical contact and he’s not afraid of a skirmish, at all,” Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery said Wednesday when asked about Kriener. “That’s one of the reasons we recruited him. He’s a nasty dude.”

Kriener, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward from Spirit Lake, confirmed his coach’s assessment when speaking to reporters later.

Iowa's Ryan Kriener tries to steal the ball from Indiana's James Blackmon, Jr. during their game at Carver-Hawkeyes Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.

He told a story from an AAU tournament in South Carolina a few years back when an opposing player was yapping so much that Kriener eventually turned to him and said: “Hit me.”

Kriener was hoping to get his opponent ejected, but the officials didn’t see the ensuing punch in the face. Afterward, the coaches made the two exchange an awkward handshake.

“I’m not really scared of anything,” Kriener said. “You can come at me all you want, but I’m still going to be there fighting.”

Pemsl, a 6-8, 234-pound forward from Dubuque, showed that side of himself as a Hawkeye freshman, quickly becoming the favorite target of fans in opposing arenas for his never-back-down mentality.

Kriener and Pemsl have gotten used to competing together dating to their AAU days and their intense camaraderie is on display again this year as the Hawkeyes’ low-post tandem off the bench, subbing for the more mild-mannered Tyler Cook and Luka Garza.

In Sunday’s 92-58 victory over Alabama State, Kriener had four points, four rebounds and — most impressively — four assists in 17 minutes. He also went up to deny an Alabama State dunk attempt during garbage time.

“That’s his mindset,” said Pemsl, a beneficiary of Kriener’s astute passes. “Ryan doesn’t like seeing teams dunk on us or try to put that fear in us, so he’s going to jump on anybody.”

Iowa's Cordell Pemsl goes up for a contested shot during the Hawkeyes' game against Chicago State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017.

That may also explain why Kriener leads Iowa (2-0) with seven fouls this season. He goes all-out every minute, not questioning whether he is good enough to play high-level Division I basketball.

“You either have that in you or you're always wondering,” McCaffery said of Kriener’s self-confidence. “He wants a piece of somebody every day. That's what we like.”

Pemsl led the Hawkeyes with 15 points and 24 minutes of action Sunday. The latter is the noteworthy stat considering he is coming off hernia surgery. Pemsl appears to be in the best shape of his life after losing 18 pounds over the summer.

“I’m able to bring more to the game for a longer period of time,” Pemsl said. “I haven’t been getting tired as easy as I was last year.”

That is not good news for Grambling State (0-1), a low-level Division I team coming off a 94-65 loss at Virginia Commonwealth. Kriener and Pemsl figure to be able to throw their weight around against a Tigers squad that has only one player who can match their size.

“Those two have great chemistry,” McCaffery said of Kriener and Pemsl. “They are both skilled players. They both can score. They can pass it. They can put it on the deck and they both are unselfish guys. They sort of enjoy playing that way.”

And with a little bit of a sneer as well.

Connor McCaffery set for debut

Freshman Connor McCaffery, Iowa’s backup point guard, is set to make his debut Thursday after missing the first two games with an ankle injury. Fran’s son was due to practice for the first time Wednesday and said the ankle feels fine after a week off. In the meantime, Connor McCaffery said, he became ill with a cold. But that won’t keep him from playing.

McCaffery’s minutes Thursday are likely to come at the expense of Brady Ellingson and Maishe Dailey, who have been the guards in Iowa’s second unit. Ellingson leads the team with 48 minutes played in the two games.

How to watch

None of Iowa’s first six games are being broadcast on television. The first three have been available online on BTN Plus.

The Hawkeyes next head to the Cayman Islands for tournament games Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. To watch those games, fans will have to spend $9.95 for streaming either via CBS Digital at College Sports Live or at FloHoops.