Iowa Hawkeyes lose forward Jack Nunge to ACL tear. How do they replace his minutes?
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa men's basketball team will have to replace its starting power forward after Jack Nunge was diagnosed with a torn ACL in his right knee.
Nunge, a 6-foot-11 redshirt sophomore, landed awkwardly after a layup attempt in the first half of Sunday's win over Cal Poly at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He was helped to the locker room and did not play the rest of the game. The ACL tear was confirmed after an MRI test Monday. He is out for the season.
“All of us feel for Jack,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said in a news release. “This is an unfortunate setback for a young man who spent countless hours in the gym and weight room last year preparing for this season. Jack has the full support of his teammates and coaches during his recovery.”
Nunge scored only two points in Iowa's opening two games, but followed up with 25 in the next two, including his first career double-double in a Nov. 15 victory against Oral Roberts. He had three points, five rebounds and two assists in 12 minutes in the 85-59 win over Cal Poly.
He would have a strong case to get a medical redshirt if he wishes to play a sixth season.
Senior center Ryan Kriener replaced Nunge in the lineup for the second half Sunday. He is certainly a viable option to start at power forward alongside center Luka Garza, going forward.
Iowa (4-1) next faces Texas Tech at 7 p.m. Thursday in Las Vegas.
A closer look at how McCaffery may replace Nunge's 18 minutes per game:
Kriener is a steady veteran
Nunge redshirted last season to transform his body and become a more physical low-post presence. He re-emerged at 245 pounds and averaged 4.6 rebounds per game. But he also was Iowa's best option at having a "stretch 4," having attempted 71 3-pointers in his 38 games, making 22 of them for a 31 percent rate that needed to get a little better.
Kriener, at 6-10, has shown he can play some on the perimeter, but that has not been his primary role. He is 12-for-42 from 3 for his career (29 percent). He typically guards Garza in practices, so playing alongside him has required an adjustment, one Kriener said after Sunday's game he was working on already.
He is averaging 7.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 15 minutes per game — healthy numbers. How much bigger can his workload get? We're about to find out.
It's easy to picture Garza and Kriener finding enough space to operate on offense. Garza can command the low block, bringing double-teams, while occasionally stepping out to hit jump shots. Kriener looks comfortable farther from the basket, although he will certainly still post up at times.
It's on defense that Kriener will need to show some more flexibility. He has Iowa's longest wingspan at 7-3, so he can bother shooters. But is he quick enough to stick with some of the Big Ten's more agile 4s?
Cordell Pemsl is coming off his best game
Pemsl also redshirted last year after knee surgery. The 6-9 junior did start 14 games at power forward as a freshman, his best season to date. He averaged 8.9 points and 5 rebounds while making 62 percent of his field goals.
Pemsl scored only five points in his first three games this season but looked like his old self Sunday, particularly in the second half. He finished with 10 points, three rebounds and two assists.
Pemsl is Iowa's best passer among its big men. He is a rugged presence who uses his 248-pound frame with great effectiveness near the basket.
But he is not an outside shooter, having attempted only one 3-pointer in his career. He'll certainly see his minutes go up from the 13.5 he's been averaging. In certain matchups, he'll be ideal at the 4. But the Hawkeyes will need to be able to go smaller to contend with other lineups.
The McCafferys are the wild cards
Fran McCaffery has said he'd rather not play his younger son, Patrick, at the power forward spot. Patrick is 6-9, but weighs only 190 pounds and is more at home on the wing. He's also sitting out indefinitely while dealing with some health complications resulting from the thyroid cancer he had at age 14.
Assuming he returns to action, however, he could be an ideal option at power forward against teams intent on playing four guards. He has yet to make a 3-pointer in his two games, but does have that capability. And he certainly runs the floor well enough.
Fran McCaffery has also mentioned the possibility of playing his older son, Connor, at the 4 in certain combinations. Connor is a 6-5 starting point guard, but he's a sturdy 205 pounds and does bring versatility.
Joe Wieskamp is the final option
Lastly, Iowa star sophomore Joe Wieskamp has been asked to move to power forward at times in his young career. At 6-6, he can have difficulty defending larger players near the basket. But he is a terrific shooter who also could flourish in that role when the Hawkeyes are able to play a three-guard lineup.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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