Maryland basketball takes on Iowa on the road on Thursday, so we asked Ross of Go Iowa Awesome questions Terps fans should know answers to heading into the game.
Testudo Times: How much has Peter Jok improved since last season?
ROSS: So, so much — it's been incredible to see. He was already very good last year, but he's taken a leap forward in pretty much every regard this year. His usage numbers have increased quite a bit now that he's unquestionably The Man on offense, but his efficiency numbers haven't suffered — his FG% (44.7 vs 44.8) and 3FG% (39.7 vs 38.2) are as good or better or better than they were a year ago. The impressive thing about his shooting is that in general he doesn't force up a lot of bad shots — he takes what the defense gives him and has been a willing passer to teammates. It also helps that he has a lightning-quick release and tremendous range, so there aren't that many "bad" shots for him, really. He's also increased his rebounding (6.2 vs 3.5) and his assists (2.4 vs 1.4) and he's just doing everything possible for this team. Defense remains his weak point — he's really never been an outstanding defender and he still has a tendency to take some plays off and show reduced effort at times — but given how much of a load he carries on offense, it's not too hard to understand why he can't go full-out on defense, too. Overall, it's been an absolute blast to watch him ball out this year and I'm excited to see what he does for the next 12 games of the regular season.
TT: Have Iowa’s many freshmen performed about how you would have expected halfway through the season?
ROSS: It's weird: Iowa's record (11-8 overall, 3-3 Big Ten) is probably about where I would have expected it to be, but for the most part the players have exceeded my expectations. If that makes any sense. As noted above, Jok has been incredible. But a lot of the freshmen have been pleasant surprises. We had the highest expectations for Tyler Cook as a 4* recruit and Top 40 ESPN prospect and he's been good so far: 12.8 ppg and 5.2 rpg so far. He missed basically a month with a hand injury, which hampered his development a bit, but he's flashed some really impressive play at times (he held his own against Caleb Swanigan when Iowa played Purdue, for instance) and has overall been very solid. Cordell Pemsl has been a fantastic surprise -- he went from being a guy who many thought might redshirt this year to a critical part of Iowa's interior (9.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 64% FG). He has a really advanced low-post game for a true freshman and he's great at setting screens and he's shown some flashes in the pick and roll. Jordan Bohannon has also answered a lot of question marks we had at the point guard spot — we were nervous about turning things over to a true freshman there, but he's done a really fine job, averaging 8.8 ppg (and making 37% of his 3s) and dishing out assists (4.9 apg) at a 2:1 ratio. He sometimes shoots too quickly or gets overly ambitious with his passes and he has a lot of work to do on the defensive end, but overall we're really happy with his play. Isaiah Moss is a redshirt freshman rather than a true freshman, but he's had some really good moments this year (14 points versus Iowa State, 17 points versus Nebraska) and while he's very streaky, he's shown some good ability as a slasher, in transition, and occasionally from deep. He's also one of Iowa's best perimeter defenders.
TT: How did this team go from beating Purdue to getting crushed Northwestern?
ROSS: This team is wildly inconsistent and I think that's mainly a function of youth. They start four freshmen and with Dom Uhl (a junior) struggling with a thumb injury, Peter Jok is the only player who isn't a freshmen or sophomore in their top eight. They have so many guys who are getting their first real exposure to big-time basketball this year and they're taking some lumps as a result. I think they also tend to get rattled more easily on the road and taken out of their comfort zone, which leads to them playing too fast, getting out of position (on offense and defense), and making sloppy mistakes. The good news is that they're also incredibly fearless — perhaps because they're too young to know any better — so if they can stay away from those early mistakes and avoid falling into big early deficits, they've shown a knack for hanging around and trading blows with teams that, on paper, are out of their weight class (with Purdue being a prime example).
TT: Do you expect this team to turn things around and make the NCAA tournament?
ROSS: Honestly? No. I would love to be proven wrong, but a team that loses at home to Nebraska Omaha or gets throttled by 30+ by Northwestern (who is good... but still) is not a team that seems poised to be dancing in March. They haven't won a road game all season and they're so wildly inconsistent that I don't think they'll string together enough wins to push themselves into NCAA Tournament consideration. They would probably need to go at least 8-4 in their remaining 12 Big Ten games to even put themselves anywhere close to the bubble and that just doesn't seem likely at all. Iowa's best shot of making the NCAA Tournament this year is going to be winning four in a row in the Big Ten Tournament and that's even less likely than them winning eight of their next 12 games.
TT: Who is the non-Jok player Maryland fans should be watching for?
ROSS: Outside of Jok, Iowa's big scorers are Cook, Pemsl, and Bohannon. So Maryland fans should definitely watch them to see if they're playing well and getting involved in the offense. Iowa probably needs to have at least two of those guys shooting well to win this game. Foul trouble could also be a key factor with those three players. If any of them are forced to miss extended time in the game, Iowa's offense could really struggle — their backups (Ahmad Wagner and Dom Uhl for Cook and Pemsl, Christian Williams for Bohannon) are pretty offensively challenged. The other guy to keep an eye on is Nicholas Baer — he comes off the bench but plays the fourth-most minutes of any Iowa player (after Jok, Bohannon, and Cook). He's not a huge scorer (6.2 ppg), but he can hit open shots. But he's a guy that does a lot of little things for Iowa — he leads the team in rebounds, steals, and blocks and he's third in assists — so if he's being really active and doing a lot of good things, that generally means Iowa is playing well.
ROSS: Iowa has played really well at times this year... and really, really poorly at other times. However, in general they've played their best on their home court, so the fact that this game is at Carver-Hawkeye Arena gives me some real hope. I also expect them to come out fired up after their embarrassing blowout loss against Northwestern on Sunday evening. Will all that be enough for a win? I'm going to lean yes. I think Iowa wins a close one with some key buckets from Jok and Bohannon late, 82-78.