Mann: Men’s basketball booms over break

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AP

Iowa guard Anthony Clemmons (5) drives the ball along the baseline as he’s defended by Purdue center Isaac Haas (44) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Jan. 2, 2016, in West Lafayette, Ind. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

The Iowa men’s basketball team has played very well recently, earning a No. 9 ranking.

By Kyle Mann
[email protected]

The No. 9 Hawkeye basketball team has put fans through a lot this season. The good news is that it seems as though it’ll be worth it.

That preseason loss to Division-2 Augustana on Nov. 6 seems so long ago compared with where the team is right now. A late collapse at Iowa State on Dec. 10 — the last time Iowa lost a game — is still fresh, but a fading memory nonetheless. The Hawkeyes had questions regarding who would lead the team and how coach Fran McCaffery would handle a perceived lack of depth in the post.

But as campus cleared for the winter break, those questions began to clear as well.

Iowa hasn’t lost in more than a month now, putting together a seven-game winning streak and a 5-0 record in Big Ten play. Two dismantlings of Michigan State, ranked No. 1 and No. 4, a victory on the road at No. 14 Purdue, and a well-played victory against Michigan have Hawkeye fans and national pundits asking: Exactly how good is this team?

Given what we’ve seen over the past seven games and particularly in Big Ten play, the answer is simple: really good.

McCaffery and the Hawkeyes knew it had one of the most gifted scorers in the conference in senior Jarrod Uthoff, and he’s done his best to live up to the billing. Uthoff leads the Big Ten with 18.6 points per game, and his 44.9-percent shooting from beyond the arc makes him one of the most disruptive players for any defense even when he doesn’t have the ball.

But what’s been a pleasant surprise has been the offensive production emerging around him. Peter Jok is tied for 15th with 13.9 points per game, and he has been spectacular since the beginning of the conference schedule. His scoring has increased to 15.4 points per game, and he’s shooting 43 percent from long range.

Uthoff and Jok give the Hawkeyes one of the best scoring combos in the conference, and even better, senior point guard Mike Gesell has taken a leap this season to facilitate one of the best overall offenses.

Gesell is second in the Big Ten with 6.9 assists per game and in conference play logs 6.6 assists with only 1.2 turnovers. With all the shooters and ball movement, Iowa sits third with a .405 3-point percentage.

So the offense of late has been, in a word, astounding. What makes this team legit, however, is its defensive tenacity and overall chemistry, largely aided by having such a veteran-led squad.

Uthoff has been spectacular on the defensive end, leading the conference with an absurd 3.1 blocks per game. Fellow senior Anthony Clemmons can lock down the league’s best guards, and Adam Woodbury represents the coveted 7-footer with good feet. Even Jok has come great lengths on the defensive end, and he is third with 1.4 steals per contest.

When you look at what makes a team successful come tournament time, there is a special recipe that teams need to be great. Come March, you always have to be able to shoot from the outside. Check. You have to have shown the ability to get scrappy and lock down when you have to. Check. Length and size always helps. Check. Finally, coaches will tell you they want as many seniors as possible. Check.

This Hawkeye team in its ascension to No. 9 in the country has shown that it has everything necessary to be an elite team not just in the Big Ten but nationally.

Follow @KyleFMann for Iowa basketball news, updates, and analysis.

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