Iowa takeaways: On a possible new defensive plan, Cook's big game and a disappearing early lead

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Late in the second half of Iowa’s 29th basketball game, coach Fran McCaffery may have come up with a solution to the abysmal defense that has plagued his team.

Or maybe it was a mirage.

McCaffery went with a big lineup that was heavy on his best defensive players — forwards Nicholas Baer, Ryan Kriener and Ahmad Wagner. He switched from a porous zone to a more active man-to-man.

Iowa's Tyler Cook celebrates after drawing a foul during the Hawkeyes' game against Indiana at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018.

And Indiana scored only eight points over the final eight minutes of its 84-82 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“That lineup … was probably the most effective we had,” McCaffery said. “I’m very proud of that group.”

The lineup included stars Jordan Bohannon and Tyler Cook, and helped Iowa erase a 13-point deficit before coming up just short in a fifth consecutive loss.

It was a lineup formed from desperation. The Hoosiers made 9 of 10 3-pointers in one stretch and blistered Iowa for 32 points in the opening 12 minutes of the second half. In came Kriener for the first time. Baer and Wagner, two juniors who have had and lost starting roles at some point this season, joined him.

And things got better. That effort continued as different Hawkeyes subbed in.

“I just think it was more active. We got into their space a lot more,” sophomore guard Maishe Dailey said. “When we were in zone, we were letting them pick us apart, letting them dictate the pace. And I think when we went man late in the second half, we dictated what they did on offense.”

McCaffery said he will consider playing his four-forward lineup more going forward. At this point in a 12-17 season, it likely won’t matter much. That group figures to struggle to score, which could pose its own problem.

But what is there to lose?

“We committed to the zone the last two games and clearly it hasn’t worked. So we’ve got to re-evaluate whether we’re going to play man, whether we’re going to play a different kind of zone,” McCaffery said.

“(Saturday), we were trying to keep it out of the high post because when it got there, that’s when they were scoring on the baseline and that’s when they were getting open 3s.”

What will Iowa’s defensive philosophy be Wednesday at Minnesota? Stay tuned.

Cook extends himself

Cook had a marvelous game for Iowa on Saturday. The sophomore forward scored 28 points with 10 rebounds for his team-leading sixth double-double of the season. Five of his rebounds were offensive, helping the Hawkeyes to a 14-7 edge in second-chance points. He got to the free-throw line 12 times, converting 10.

When Iowa needed a basket late, it was Cook who kept grabbing rebounds and converting. He did so off of a Baer missed 3-pointer to bring the Hawkeyes within 76-75 with 4:20 left. Cook was at it again when Bohannon missed a 3 with 3:09 left. He got fouled that time, making one of the free throws to cut the lead to 79-78.

His rebound and layup off of a Bohannon miss with 2:14 left made it an 82-80 Indiana lead. Cook scored seven of Iowa’s final nine points.

He did it despite being double-teamed. He often outworked a pair of Hoosiers to get to the glass.

But Cook also made an adjustment after back-to-back quiet games by his standards. He had been held to 18 points in losses at Ohio State and Michigan.

On Saturday, Cook started moving farther from the basket to get the ball before Indiana could send a second defender his way. He was aggressive about driving, which led to a few dunks and several Hoosier fouls.

“You typically double-team a guy on the block. But he catches it at the elbow. He catches it just inside the 3-point line on the wing. He doesn’t really care where he catches it,” McCaffery said.

“You typically don’t double out there. Once he gets going, then you can’t double him. He’s too quick and powerful. It’s almost better giving him the ball there than it is trying to post him low and inviting the double-team.”

Iowa's Tyler Cook fights his way past Indiana defenders during their game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018.

Beyond that, Cook determined to be a force on the glass. A smaller Indiana team had trouble stopping the 6-foot-9, 255-pounder.

“I just was able to adjust to the fact that it was going to be hard for me to get my regular touches in the post or the mid-post because obviously they were keying in on me. I just wanted to make sure I was at least giving an effort to the glass,” Cook said. “That was my focus, especially in the second half.”

It was almost enough to will Iowa to a victory.

Bohannon facilitates

Bohannon came into Saturday’s game intent on setting up teammates rather than hunting for his own shot. He had six first-half assists and the Hawkeyes made their first 10 shots before Bohannon attempted a 3-pointer. He missed.

It was that kind of day.

“I was trying to penetrate a little more in the first half and try to get some assists and try to get other people going,” Bohannon explained. “Because that’s been our problem lately is, whether it’s just me and Tyler getting off to a hot start, we just need everyone to keep flowing.

“I wanted to get everyone more open shots and let them go in the first half and you saw that. I had a couple of good looks in the second half, but they just weren’t falling for me.”

Bohannon didn’t score until midway through the second half, when he hit back-to-back 3-pointers. He missed his other eight attempts from the arc. Iowa is 1-8 in Big Ten Conference games when he doesn’t make at least four 3-pointers.

“He got open a couple of times in transition once we got some consecutive stops finally,” McCaffery said. “They were really pushing up on him most of the game as most teams do. I thought we were doing a good job of coming out and screening for him and moving it and bringing it back to him.”

Bohannon finished with 10 points and seven assists in a team-high 36 minutes. But the first and second halves were stark contrasts for the sophomore, who is still searching for that “happy medium” he often speaks of between being a facilitator and a scorer.

For the Hawkeyes to win, he needs to be both, and that’s a heavy burden.

Iowa's Jordan Bohannon waits to inbound the ball during the Hawkeyes' game against Indiana at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018.

A lead lost

Iowa hadn’t had a better start to a game all season. The Hawkeyes led 23-10 six minutes in and forced Indiana coach Archie Miller to call timeout.

So where did that momentum go?

“I think when they started to ratchet up more defensively and offensively, we should have taken our game up a level, too,” Dailey said.

“We should have finished that game out in the first half, honestly.”

Instead, Indiana cut the lead to 45-42 by halftime. Soon, it was the Hoosiers enjoying the 13-point lead.

Indiana's Josh Newkirk draws a foul from Iowa's Jordan Bohannon, left, during their game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018.

That’s when Iowa started playing better defense. But it was too late.

“I just think toward the end of the game, we were focused on trying to get stops. We took more pride in that,” Cook said. “But still, we can’t wait to the end of the game to do so.

“We just started playing harder, as simple as it is. When you’re active and you’re giving effort, it makes up for a lot of your mistakes.”

These are difficult lessons for a team to still be learning in mid-February.