Cook a question mark as Iowa travels to Penn State

Iowa aims to win its second conference game on the road, but it might be without one of its top players.

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Cook a question mark as Iowa travels to Penn State

Iowa forward Tyler Cook (25) dribbles the ball during the men's basketball game against Western Carolina at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, December 18, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Catamounts 78-60.

Iowa forward Tyler Cook (25) dribbles the ball during the men's basketball game against Western Carolina at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, December 18, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Catamounts 78-60.

Katina Zentz

Iowa forward Tyler Cook (25) dribbles the ball during the men's basketball game against Western Carolina at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, December 18, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Catamounts 78-60.

Katina Zentz

Katina Zentz

Iowa forward Tyler Cook (25) dribbles the ball during the men's basketball game against Western Carolina at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, December 18, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Catamounts 78-60.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

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Playing on the road, especially in the Big Ten, hasn’t been kind to Iowa basketball — at least up until Jan. 9, when Iowa toppled Northwestern, 73-63.

That game marked the first time in eight tries that the Hawkeyes won a true road game in conference play.

“You have to be intelligent in how you play on the road,” head coach Fran McCaffery said in his teleconference on Tuesday. “You’ve got to be tough-minded. Everybody thinks it’s all about a road-warrior mentality — which is true, but there’s a lot more to it than that.”

In Evanston, the Hawkeyes proved that they can, in fact, combat runs and win in venues not named Carver.

Northwestern jumped out to a fast start in the second half, but Iowa weathered the run and responded with a streak of its own.

“Sometimes on the road, it can snowball on you if you’re quick-shooting the ball. We have had at times a tendency to do that,” McCaffery said. “We’re not afraid to shoot the ball, we play fast, we play with freedom, but there’s a right time and a wrong time to do that.”

As Iowa travels to Penn State for its fourth conference contest on the road, the Hawkeyes may be without one of their key pieces, making that mindset all the more critical.

Tyler Cook took a hard fall late in the second half of Iowa’s victory against Ohio State on Jan. 12, coming down on his ankle. Cook was not able to practice on Monday, but McCaffery said he’d give it a shot Tuesday.

In the meantime, if Cook can’t play, McCaffery noted that “in all likelihood” Nicholas Baer would assume his starting spot.

Megan Nagorzanski
Iowa forward Nicholas Baer intercepts a pass during Iowa’s game against Wisconsin at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on November 30, 2018. The Hawkeyes were defeated by the Badgers 72-66.

Fellow forward Ryan Kriener might see his name thrown into the mix, should McCaffery want to play a bigger lineup. Both he and Baer have showed promise in their extended roles this season, especially on the defensive end.

Baer (6.9) and Kriener (3.7) have the highest defensive box plus/minus of any of the Hawkeyes this season. No other Hawkeyes have a rating above 2.8. Kriener also leads the team in defensive rebounding percentage (19.7). Baer is second, grabbing 19.4 percent of available rebounds when he’s on defense.

But if Cook is unable to go tonight, his injury shouldn’t derail him for too much longer. During his teleconference, McCaffery said that in comparison to Luka Garza’s injury (which kept him out for three games), Cook’s won’t keep him out so long.

“[I’m] more encouraged than Luka’s,” McCaffery said. “Luka’s was a bad one. This is not a good one, but it’s not like that — you knew Luka was going to be out for a while.”

Iowa can win on the road without Cook. The Northwestern game that broke the eight-game losing streak came when the junior missed time with an injury as well.

Iowa has had its fair share of injuries, though, and demonstrated the ability to stay competitive.

RELATED: Iowa in need of increased production after Cook injury

“You need everybody,” McCaffery said. “Not knowing from one game to the next who’s healthy and who’s not, others have to step up and play more minutes, play a different position, guard a different guy than they would have. You’re seeing a great energy and a great cohesiveness as a result, because we all recognize the situation that we’re in.”

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