Ruden: Tyler Cook deserves cheers, not jeers

Without Tyler Cook, Iowa would not have been in the same position it was against Tennessee.

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Ruden: Tyler Cook deserves cheers, not jeers

Iowa forward Tyler Cook dunks the ball during the NCAA game against Tennessee at Nationwide Arena on Sunday, March 24, 2019. The Volunteers defeated the Hawkeyes 83-77.

Iowa forward Tyler Cook dunks the ball during the NCAA game against Tennessee at Nationwide Arena on Sunday, March 24, 2019. The Volunteers defeated the Hawkeyes 83-77.

Katina Zentz

Iowa forward Tyler Cook dunks the ball during the NCAA game against Tennessee at Nationwide Arena on Sunday, March 24, 2019. The Volunteers defeated the Hawkeyes 83-77.

Katina Zentz

Katina Zentz

Iowa forward Tyler Cook dunks the ball during the NCAA game against Tennessee at Nationwide Arena on Sunday, March 24, 2019. The Volunteers defeated the Hawkeyes 83-77.

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – Tyler Cook has been Iowa’s best player all season, but you never would have known it by watching his first three halves at the NCAA Tournament.

He scored 5 points on just 1-of-9 shooting in the Hawkeyes’ upset win over Cincinnati in the first round. He finished the first half scoreless on 0-of-5 shooting against Tennessee on Sunday.

But then, the Cook that Hawkeye fans saw all season took over in the second half against the Volunteers. He scored 11 points in the final 25 minutes, sparking an incredible 25-point comeback in which Iowa narrowly fell short of the Sweet 16.

“I just felt like I let myself and my team down in the first half,” Cook said. “I didn’t have the energy I needed to have, I wasn’t aggressive enough. I just wasn’t being who Tyler Cook is or supposed to be. I knew if I was going to struggle, I was at least going to play my ass off.”

Without Cook in the second half, it’s unlikely Iowa would have been as aggressive as it was. Given the Hawkeyes’ own play in the first half, supplemented by all of the fans on Twitter, he looked like one of the few believers in Iowa’s chances of mounting a comeback.

I mean, find someone else on the team who can get a crowd roaring with a simple dunk. You might be looking for a while.

“He was in a little bit of a funk, but it was kind of like he threw all the rust off at once and he’s back to the old TC smashing guys around, going dunking on people, all that stuff,” Iowa forward Ryan Kriener said. “His performance in the second half was awesome.”

Sure, Cook’s style of play can be frustrating at time. His perimeter game isn’t developed. He leans on his athleticism and raw strength in the paint. He makes mistakes. But Iowa would not be where it is now without him.

He scored in double figures in all but eight games. If he left the program last season, it’s hard to imagine where the Hawkeyes would be without their most consistent scorer in the paint. Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp would both continue to produce, but without the tandem of Cook and Luka Garza in the paint, they wouldn’t get the same opportunities.

Last season, Cook took some time to evaluate where he was at as a player and ended up declaring for the NBA Draft before withdrawing and coming back to Iowa City.

This time around, his status is unknown.

“I’ll answer that stuff later,” Cook said about his future.

If Cook stays, Iowa will be stacked for another run in the NCAA Tournament. Everyone, excluding Nicholas Baer, will be returning, and two recruits in Patrick McCaffery and Joe Toussaint have a chance to help the program.

While the loss of Baer is certainly a big one, Iowa’s potential is sky-high.

“We’ve got size, we’ve got depth, and we’ve got experience,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “That’s what you need in this league.”

Being frustrated is one thing, and sometimes, it’s completely warranted. But to call for Cook’s benching and hoping he forgoes his senior season is not something fans should want if they know what’s good for them.

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