The Hawkeyes have had a bit of an up and down season relative to expectations. This group planned to be in the discussion for a Big Ten regular season title and a trip to the Final Four. But an injury to starter CJ Fredrick ruined all hope for a conference championship as Iowa dropped four of five games in his absence.
With Fredrick back, the Hawkeyes have a renewed focus on defense and enter the home stretch with hopes for a Final Four alive. The offense is good enough to hang with anyone and if the defense can just be average, they’ll be a tough out for anyone come Tournament time.
Everyone already knows Luka Garza and all eyes will undoubtedly be on the nation’s player of the year. But the key for Iowa down the stretch will be Joe Wieskamp. The junior, who averages 15 points and 7 boards a game, is a threat from deep, shooting 49% from beyond the arc this season. But he’s also Iowa best penetrator. Defenses will undoubtedly collapse on Garza as they have all year, but when Wieskamp is knocking down shots on the perimeter and getting into the lane, the offense goes to another level that’s nearly impossible to defend.
Put simply, when Iowa is hitting outside shots, they’re the best offense in the nation. It took one of the worst shooting nights in years for Gonzaga to hold them under 90 on a neutral floor and for most of the season (read: when healthy) they’ve operated at a level seen only twice before in the last two decades, both by Final Four teams. The defense has improved to acceptable levels down the stretch and when those two come together, they can hang for a full 40 minutes with anyone.
The case for an early exit by Iowa is two-fold:
First, we’ve seen a handful of games (Gonzaga, Indiana x2, etc) where that potent offense simply can’t hit water falling out of a boat in the middle of the ocean. When Jordan Bohannon, CJ Fredrick and Joe Wieskamp aren’t hitting shots, the defense can collapse with double and triple teams on Garza, making scoring difficult.
The offensive struggles could well be overcome provided the second issue doesn’t rear its ugly head: the miserable nature of Iowa’s defense for roughly 2/3 of the season. Before the return of Fredrick and a commitment to playing more man-to-man, the defense was flat out bad. If you aren’t hitting shots and you can’t stop anyone from scoring, you’re a prime candidate for an early round upset. We’ll see if those issues have been overcome or simply masked come March.