Inside NU: When you talk Iowa basketball, you have to talk Peter Jok. What makes him so good, and when teams are able to limit him, what have they done?
Max Brekke: What makes Peter Jok so good is the fact that he's an elite scorer, as just about everyone knows at this point. He doesn't need a whole lot of room to throw up a shot and he has such a quick release that it doesn't matter if someone is in his face. He's always been a great shooter, but throughout his career, he's started to drive more to the basket and back down smaller defenders in the post, especially as the 6'6" ball handler has recovered from knee surgery. In this regard, no one has really been able to stop him except for himself. Some days, the shots just don't fall, and that's when teams have had the most success against the Hawks. No one has ever really been able to frustrate him thus far except for himself, so that's Northwestern's best chance at stopping him.
What makes 2016-17 Peter Jok better than the previous iterations of him is that now, he's a good rebounder and passer. Iowa isn't a great rebounding team, but he is in fact virtually tied for first on the team with rebounds with 6.3 per game, and he's also second on the team in assists. His senior leadership has also been absolutely invaluable to a team that starts four freshmen.
INU: The Hawkeyes didn't get off to the best start — a 33-point loss to UVA, losses to Seton Hall, Memphis, Notre Dame and Omaha in the non-con — but seem to have turned it around in conference play. What's changed? Are there any individuals that have turned their game around?
MB: Iowa is playing better defense than they previously did. They're still not a great defensive team, but they're playing good enough defense that their offense is able to bail them out of games. The Hawks probably could've beaten Memphis and Seton Hall if they had played better defense, but a lot of inexperience is what plagued them in these matchups.
Speaking of inexperience, that's something that has been rectified throughout the season. These players made a lot of silly errors early on, which you'd assume was a product of the four freshmen who received a good chunk of the work. Outside of Jok and Dom Uhl, Iowa's current roster is composed solely of frosh players and they experienced a lot of growing pains while they adjusted themselves to the college game. Now that they've coalesced a bit, they're limiting turnovers and taking better shots, which has allowed them to steadily improve since the non-con.
INU: The Hawkeyes are getting really good contributions from three true freshmen (Tyler Cook, Cordell Pemsl and Jordan Bohannon). What do each of those three bring to the table?
MB: These guys are all great talents and are already developing into stars. I'll do a quick blurb on each.
Tyler Cook is a monster and probably the most athletic player on Iowa's roster. He's a ferocious dunker and has the ability to spot up and take a jumper if a defender gives him space. He's a great post player, but he still has room to improve on defense and from the free throw line.
Cordell Pemsl is going to infuriate so many other fan bases in a year or two. He's hyper competitive and has a bit of an attitude, which Iowa fans love. He's getting better at the free throw line and knows his offensive limitations, shooting 65% on the season. He's also great in the post and has a ton of moves to get open looks, which helps lead to easy baskets.
Jordan Bohannon is Iowa's only true point guard and he's also a sharpshooter. He has ridiculous range from deep and isn't afraid to take a shot when the team needs someone to come up clutch, which is great to see from a freshman. He committed a lot of turnovers early in the season, but during Big Ten play, he actually leads point guards in assists and has limited his turnovers. Iowa fans are really, really excited about him.
INU: Where do overall expectations sit for this team? Are we looking at an NCAA Tournament squad?
MB: At this point, people probably expect this team to make the NIT. They're really young and will surely have some slip-ups throughout the season, so I'm not sure if they can keep up the high level of play they showed against Purdue at home in their last game. They have the talent to knock off the Big Ten's best, which makes them dangerous come B1G Tourney time, but the NCAA Tournament seems a bit far fetched at this point in the season. They'll definitely be a team to be reckoned with next season, however.
INU: Who's the one guy that has to play well for Iowa to win?
MB: The easy answer is Peter Jok, who is clearly Iowa's best player. If he has an off night, the Hawks don't stand a chance because he will surely take his shots even if they aren't falling. Shooters shoot, you know?
But I'll give a different name. Nicholas Baer needs to stuff his stat sheet if the Hawks have any chance of winning. The walk-on forward is Iowa's hustle player and is the team leader in rebounds (and offensive rebounds), blocks, and steals, and he's the heart and soul of this team. When he's on the court, everyone else just seems to play harder. He'll score some points, too, but the most important part of his game is just about everything else. If Iowa's hustle player doesn't make an impact, I don't know if Iowa has a chance to win.
INU: Prediction time: Who leaves Welsh-Ryan with a win Sunday night?
MB: I'll take the Hawkeyes in this one. I think Northwestern is surely for real this season, but I like the Hawks to win this one on the road. Peter Jok has been absolutely on fire as of late and Tyler Cook has been a great addition to this lineup since he's come back from his injury that kept him out of the end of the non-con season. The Hawks are only getting better and are coming off a big win against Purdue, so they'll have plenty of confidence going into Evanston. Iowa 77, Northwestern 70.