The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Pining for the old bench

The Daily Iowan
Iowa center Adam Woodbury grabs a rebound against Augustana in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Nov. 6, 2015. The Vikings defeated the Hawkeyes, 76-74. (The Daily Iowan/Joshua Housing)


Things were so much simpler in January.

Jarrod Uthoff was (and still is) a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate and the team’s clear-cut go-to scorer. Peter Jok was an emerging lethal sidekick, and the young bench unit was a pleasant surprise of both energy and production.

As the season has gone on, however, Uthoff has continued to look like an NBA draftee, and Jok has established himself as one of the best scorers in the conference. All the while, the production of the bench has fallen off noticeably.

The bench hadn’t scored more than 10 points collectively in four games until Wednesday night, when the streak extended to five. Iowa got only 4 points and 5 rebounds from its four bench players, yet somehow was able to have a good chance to win the game before falling late in the 67-59 loss to Wisconsin.

There’s been a small debate recently on whether the Hawkeyes have become overly reliant on their top two scorers, but there are really two elements of this question to consider.

First, has the phasing out of the bench been a natural byproduct of teams learning how to defend Iowa, or has it been some sort of conscious decision by the rest of the team to have Jok and Uthoff attempt 48 percent of the team’s field goals in conference play? Second, and most important, is it actually a bad thing?

So the bench doesn’t feel like anything is different, but the numbers suggest otherwise. What is to be concluded from this dichotomy is something that Iowa fans likely knew all along, that the young bench of one sophomore and either redshirt or true freshmen was drastically overperforming when conference play began.

Given that reality, the Hawkeyes are blessed to have a duo such as Uthoff and Jok. With 35.1 points per game between them, no set of teammates scores more than Iowa’s tandem.

“When you have two really good scorers like that,” head coach Fran McCaffery told reporters on Monday. “They’re going to take the bulk of the shots.”

So does letting the best players take the most shots make sense? Of course it does. However, the startling truth that is becoming more and more apparent for the Hawkeyes is that the bench has to be able to contribute at least a little bit.

“In fairness to those guys, I only played two of them five minutes,” McCaffery said after Wednesday’s loss to Wisconsin. “So I probably need to get Ahmad [Wagner] more minutes, Brady [Ellingson] more minutes, and give them a chance.”

Even if they’re not effective, the bench guys need to get on the floor and be able to kill some time for the starters. Jok had 17 points in the first half, and after McCaffery said he struggled with fatigue, only scored 4 in the second half.

So no, relying on Uthoff and Jok isn’t necessarily the problem. The reliance on Uthoff and Jok is simply highlighted now that they’re the only ones producing on a consistent basis. The dip in bench production — however, is a problem — whether the team says so publicly or not.

“They’re coming in and they’re playing hard, and that’s all we can ask them to do,” Mike Gesell said.

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