'Refreshed' Hawkeye Joe Wieskamp says he's ready to handle extra defensive attention

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Joe Wieskamp took Monday off and said he came back to the Iowa basketball team Tuesday feeling "refreshed" and ready to combat Big Ten Conference defenses that have been making his life difficult in recent games.

It’s Big Ten Tournament time, with No. 25 Iowa (20-11) heading to Indianapolis for a 1:30 p.m. matchup Thursday against either Minnesota or Northwestern on the Big Ten Network.

Wieskamp will need to return to form in order for the fifth-seeded Hawkeyes to attempt to win four games in four days and grab the title.

He knows this.

Wieskamp was named third-team all-Big Ten on Monday, but has made just 4 of his last 24 3-point attempts while opponents have focused on muscling him off of his spots.

“It happened last year, but not nearly to the extent that it is this year, obviously, with me being more a priority in our offense,” said Wieskamp, a sophomore guard from Muscatine.

“I can almost be more physical out there. They let you use your hands more than you think just creating that separation, kind of throwing them off of you a little bit. For the most part, if they’re holding you and if you’re pushing back, I don’t think they’re going to call that (a foul).”

Wieskamp isn’t the only Hawkeye wing player struggling to find space to shoot these days. Freshman CJ Fredrick is coming off a 1-for-4 shooting night in Sunday’s 78-76 loss at Illinois that included a sequence in which he was called for an offensive foul and a technical foul in a visible show of frustration.

Wieskamp is second on the Hawkeyes in scoring at 14 points per game; Fredrick is third at 10.2. They’re earning that attention from defenses. But that can’t be an excuse for a lack of production.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Tuesday that opponents have become much more aggressive guarding those two players in recent games, and that the way college basketball games are being officiated in that regard needs to change. There’s not enough freedom of movement allowed, he believes.

Sophomore Joe Wieskamp is Iowa's second-leading scorer at 14 points per game. But he has made just 4 of his last 24 3-point attempts while seeing increasingly aggressive defenses. He knows he needs to find a way to fight through that as the Big Ten Conference Tournament gets underway this week.

His advice to his best outside shooters: “Keep grinding. Keep moving. You’ve got to tell the guys that are delivering the ball to be a little more patient, because it's easy to look and say, ‘OK, he's not open.’ Well, he might be open later, a second later, two seconds later. We might re-screen for him, screen, re-screen, because they're attached to him. There are ways to handle that. You’ve got to go one way and then go another way, and at some point, if their hands are on you, you’ve got to get their hands off you.”

Wieskamp was a second team all-conference selection in the preseason. So he’s happy with his latest honor, but only to a point.

“I want more for myself,” he said.

The Hawkeyes want more out of him as well. It’ll be worth watching Wieskamp closely in Iowa’s next game to see how he tries to overcome the defensive attention he’s sure to receive.

Bakari Evelyn getting late-game minutes

Late in games, McCaffery usually turns to senior Bakari Evelyn for the most important minutes. And that happens no matter how well freshman Joe Toussaint has been playing earlier in the game.

Sunday’s game was an obvious example. Toussaint scored 14 points and gave Iowa a jolt of energy at the beginning of both halves. But he played only 6 minutes after intermission, while Evelyn tried to help the Hawkeyes engineer a comeback from a 16-point deficit.

McCaffery said Tuesday he prefers Evelyn’s experience, but also his versatility in those situations. He likes pairing Evelyn with Connor McCaffery, his son.

“Connor can bring it down, Bakari can play the 2. When Bakari brings it down, Connor plays the 2. It's a little bit different with those two guys. Bakari has been really good coming down the stretch and I like those guys on the floor together,” Fran McCaffery said.

Toussaint, at 6-foot, can only play the point, which often moves Connor McCaffery to the power forward spot at 6-5.

Toussaint also has been prone to mistakes this season. His strength is his speed, but sometimes he plays at a reckless tempo. He has committed 62 turnovers this season, the most on the team despite playing only the seventh-most minutes.

Still, Toussaint seems to be playing his best basketball in recent games. He had a season-high eight assists in just 16 minutes in a Feb. 29 home win over Penn State. He has made 6 of his last 10 3-pointers as teams sag off him to pay more attention to Fredrick and Wieskamp.

Fran McCaffery has noticed.

“He'd make a couple mistakes and that would linger on, which it usually does when you're young. Now he's able to get to the next play a little bit better,” McCaffery said of Toussaint.

“The other thing is, his defense isn't predicated upon his success on offense. I think that's a critical component of any young player, of any good player for that matter. No matter what's happening on the offensive end, you have to be really good at the other end. So I'm really proud of him there.”

Toussaint also leads Iowa with 36 steals. He’ll be a valuable commodity in the tournaments to come. And maybe McCaffery will turn to him a little more in the stretch run of games.

What else can Luka Garza do? Glad you asked

Iowa center Luka Garza was voted the Big Ten’s best player Monday after a monster season in which he is averaging 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds. And here’s a scary thought for future opponents: His backup, Ryan Kriener, said Garza has some outstanding offensive moves he hasn’t even shown yet in games.

“He has a mean sky hook that no one’s seen,” Kriener said, referencing the shot made famous by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Over the summer, Garza’s workouts included 200 successful sky hook shots a day, Kriener said. It’s become a running joke between Kriener and Garza’s father, Frank, at games. They both implore the junior star to break out that shot.

“If he comes back and maybe he gets quadruple-teamed, maybe you’ll see the sky hook,” Kriener said.

Kriener, a senior, has been the primary player battling Garza in practice the last three years. Garza has repeatedly praised him as an underrated factor in his success.

Kriener said he’s proud of his role.

“He’s as selfless of a guy that comes. I think he really understands that he did that. That’s his award,” Kriener said. “But it’s kind of a team award, too. I was able to push him every day. Down the stretch, when he started getting scouted and we had to change the way we’re playing to get him the ball, I think he really realized that and appreciates it. He’s the one that puts the ball in the hole for us, but somebody has to get it to him.”

As for the sky hook, a reporter asked Garza as he walked away from his Tuesday interview session why fans have yet to see it.

“It’s coming,” Garza shouted back over his shoulder.

He was smiling. Opponents might not be.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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