Aggressive offense for Hawkeye basketball key against Pittsburgh

Iowa’s off to one of its best starts under head coach Fran McCaffery, and that has a lot to do with an aggressive offensive mindset.


Megan Nagorzanski

Iowa forward Tyler Cook shoots a free throw during Iowa’s game against UMKC at Carver Hawkeye Arena on November 8, 2018. The Hawkeye defeated the Kangaroos 77-63.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

For those questioning whether the No. 14 Hawkeyes deserve their spot in the top 25, the next five games will be a deciding factor.

And that starts today, when Iowa (5-0) hosts Pittsburgh (6-0) in an 8:05 p.m. tipoff.

Pittsburgh finished last season with an 8-24 record, but thanks to a quick turnaround under fresh head coach Jeff Capel, the Panthers are off to their best start since the 2013-14 season.

“Jeff’s an experienced coach, and he’s been around,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “He’s been successful as a head coach. He’s coming from an incredibly high-profile program in Duke … he’s a guy with a plan. He came in with a plan, and he’s put it together.”

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The Panthers are led by a pair of dynamic scorers: freshman phenom Xavier Johnson (16.7 points per game) and senior Jared Wilson-Frame (16 points per game). Both guards head a Pittsburgh offense averaging 81.7 points per game.

“They’ve got a good blend of really good, young players and veteran returnees, a couple transfers — they’ve all blended well together, and that’s why they’re 6-0,” McCaffery said.

Meanwhile, while Pittsburgh is savoring an unexpected start to the season, the Hawkeyes are off to their best start since 2013-14, much like the Panthers.

Guard play has been solid for Iowa, with Jordan Bohannon and Connor McCaffery manning the backcourt, but unlike Pittsburgh, Iowa’s bigs have paved the road for an undefeated start.

Luka Garza (16.2 points, 4.6 rebounds) and Tyler Cook (16 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists) have proven unstoppable in the low post at times this season.

Garza flashed the ability to hang outside the 3-point arc, knocking down 45.5 percent of his attempts from deep this season, and Cook’s quickness down low has left defenders in the dust, but above all, the two forwards make a living drawing fouls.

Cook averages of 7.2 free-throw attempts a game, and Garza shoots 4.6, and their efforts in drawing fouls have carried over to the team — through five games, Iowa has shot 182 free throws, the 14th-most in the country. The Hawkeyes have made 79.1 percent of those attempts, and their 144 free-throw makes rank fourth in the country.

For Iowa to keep its winning streak alive heading into the start of Big Ten play, the Hawkeyes need to prolong their success at the stripe. Pittsburgh has only allowed 99 free-throw attempts during its six-game start to the 2018-19 season, but it hasn’t faced a team like Iowa.

Iowa’s offensive mindset didn’t change overnight, the elder McCaffery said — it’s still the same tempo-pushing scheme as it’s been under his control, but what’s changed this season is an all-around effort to drive to the hoop and not settle for jump shots.

“It’s not a huge shift in focus,” McCaffery said. “We have some bigs who are really good and can draw fouls. We have enough perimeter talent where those guys are able to put it on the deck and also get to the free-throw line.”

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