'There’s a definite sense of urgency': Iowa's 'old' senior Nicholas Baer talks goals for final season

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

ROSEMONT, Ill. — Nicholas Baer considers himself an “old” 22-year-old.

But then, Baer has always seemed more mature than his years.

This season, Baer finds himself the lone senior on the Iowa men’s basketball team. And that means being more forceful as to what the expectations are and holding everyone accountable.

“There’s a definite sense of urgency,” Baer said Thursday at Big Ten Conference basketball media day here. “This is my last year and my last opportunity. I’d like to leave the program on a good note, and that means making that NCAA Tournament.”

Iowa forward Nicholas Baer poses for a photo during Hawkeye media day at Carver Hawkeye ArenaMonday, Oct. 8, 2018.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Baer, a 6-foot-7 forward, has had to learn how to get after his teammates when corrections are needed. It’s something he couldn’t have done as a sophomore.

McCaffery also said Baer will be coming off the bench again this winter (expect gifted freshman Joe Wieskamp to start at small forward). It’s a role Baer is particularly suited for, because of the way he studies the game while on the bench.

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“Very few people happen to be really good at it,”  McCaffery said of that sixth-man position. “Because he can make shots. He recognizes what our team needs. And he battles you.”

Baer is coming off a disappointing shooting year. He missed the first six games with a broken hand and never found his touch, making only 31 percent of his three-pointers.

That’s the one area Baer wants to help the Hawkeyes the most this year. He knows he can spread defenses out to open up driving lanes for teammates.

His shooting is as accurate as ever so far, McCaffery and Baer both said.

“Once the lights come on, continue to have that confidence,” Baer said when asked how he can carry that over to the season. “That’s the biggest factor when it comes to shooting — if you don’t think it’s going to go in, it’s probably not.”

Moss makes trip back home

Iowa brought four players to media day, including junior guard Isaiah Moss, who is from the Chicago area. Moss was thrilled to be asked along, and got to spend Wednesday evening visiting with his mother, Angie.

“He was a double-figure scorer (11.1 points per game last year). He’s from Chicago. He belongs here,” McCaffery said.

McCaffery mentioned in his morning comments that he wants Moss to be more aggressive on both ends of the court.

“He has the lateral quickness that you need to be a really good defender. He just needs to sustain it,” McCaffery said.

Moss agreed that it’s an area of emphasis for him heading into his third year as a starter.

“You’ve got to be able to focus the whole possession being on defense,” he said.

Moss has shown that he’s a much more engaged defensive player when guarding the man with the ball. It’s his off-ball defense that needs work. But, as one of the team’s best athletes, he’s certainly capable of making a bigger impact on defense after blocking only seven shots a year ago.

Low outside expectations for Hawkeyes

Coming off a disappointing season in which Iowa tied for 11th in the Big Ten Conference standings, it’s no surprise that reporters who cover the league aren’t enthused about the Hawkeyes’ chances to contend this season.

Iowa was picked to finish 10th in the conference in a preseason poll of 28 reporters who cover the league. Michigan State, as usual, was the choice to win it.

Iowa returns nine of its top 10 scorers from a year ago, but none were named to the preseason all-conference team, also voted on by media members. That 10-member team includes two unanimous selections: Purdue point guard Carsen Edwards and Wisconsin center Ethan Happ. The others were Indiana freshman guard Romeo Langford and senior forward Juwan Morgan, Maryland junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr., Michigan senior guard Charles Matthews, Michigan State junior forward Nick Ward and junior guard Cassius Winston, Minnesota senior forward Jordan Murphy and Nebraska senior forward James Palmer Jr.

Iowa junior forward Tyler Cook received at least one vote after averaging 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds last season. Cook took to Twitter to express his surprise about not being selected as one of the league’s top 10 players.

“There’s no question in my mind he should be on there,” McCaffery said of Cook being left off the all-Big Ten team.

“I think more importantly: Where do you end up? Preseason lists, preseason rankings don’t mean a thing. We’ve got to play the season and we’ve got to see where you end up. For him, it’s more important that he end up as a first-round (NBA) draft pick than on any all-conference team.”

“It made me laugh, honestly,” Cook said. “It just adds more fuel to the fire. I know what I’m capable of. I know where I’ll be at the end of the season.”

Big Ten's Delany wants better early-season games

If you’re bored with some of the college basketball matchups in November and December, you’re not alone. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in Thursday’s opening remarks that he’s trying to find ways to have more meaningful games in those months, rather than just letting football claim the spotlight.

“I don’t think there’s anything less interesting than a bad college basketball game in the month of November,” Delany said.

The Big Ten is the first major conference to move to a 20-game league schedule, Delany noted, and that has meant each team will play a home and away game in late November and early December. For Iowa, that means hosting Wisconsin on Nov. 30 and traveling to Michigan State on Dec. 3.

In addition, the Big Ten has linked with the Atlantic Coast Conference for an annual matchup, and with the Big East Conference for the Gavitt Games challenge. The Hawkeyes are hosting Pitt this year as part of the Big Ten-ACC challenge, but don’t have a Big East partner for a second consecutive season since that league has fewer teams.

“We’re not going to cede the sports scene in college to college football,” Delany said. “We want college basketball to be successful. … We’ve got the cooperation of our coaches on this.”

McCaffery said he’s not planning on changing his philosophy on nonconference scheduling. He said he decides that on a year-by-year basis depending on the amount of experience on his roster.

“If you've got a veteran team that’s good, go play people,” McCaffery said. “But if you’ve got three freshman and two sophomores in the starting lineup and you try to take everybody on, you can can destroy their confidence with what you thought was an intelligent schedule that wasn’t. You’ve got to play some people at home and let young guys develop.”

McCaffery has a team full of upperclassmen. He’s taking the Hawkeyes to Madison Square Garden for the 2K Classic in mid-November to play Oregon and either Syracuse or Connecticut. Next year’s schedule includes a neutral-court matchup with Cincinnati.

As for the expanded league schedule, Delany said: “Everybody will have seven partners that they play on a regular basis twice and six that will sort of rotate. The closer you are to each other geographically, the more you play each other, so we’re going to try to leverage rivalries in that way.”

For Iowa, that means more home-and-home matchups with Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin, although the Hawkeyes face the Gophers only once this season.