Young Hawkeyes suffering through growing pains
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Nearly every program is forced to start from scratch every once in a while.
Inexperienced Iowa is suffering through one of those seasons in 2016-17.
The departure of four key seniors has left Iowa with four freshmen starters whose talent is often overshadowed by their inconsistency. Never was that more evident than last week, when the Hawkeyes upset No. 21 Purdue 83-78 on Thursday and got outclassed on the road by Northwestern 89-54 three days later.
Iowa (11-8, 3-3 Big Ten) hosts No. 25 Maryland (16-2, 4-1) on Thursday. Which version of the Hawkeyes will show up is anyone's guess - and it might be like that for the rest of the year.
''It's the first time we're all going through this, so we're going to have our ups and downs like any young team will,'' freshman point guard Jordan Bohannon said. ''We just have to have that consistent mindset every day ... that's the main thing.''
The four seniors who left after 2015-16 - Jarrod Uthoff, Adam Woodbury, Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons - were crucial in re-establishing Iowa as a legitimate Big Ten contender after years of mediocrity. But all four of them were too valuable to cede much playing time to an underclassman, helping set the stage for seasons to follow.
As a result, the Hawkeyes have the youngest starting lineup in school history.
Senior Peter Jok has been exceptional this season, averaging a Big Ten-best 21.9 points per game and a career-high 6.2 rebounds. But nearly every other contributor the Hawkeyes have is experiencing the rigors of the Big Ten for the first time.
Bohannon has the look of a four-year starter, averaging nearly five assists per game. But he's also shooting just 35 percent from the floor. Freshman Tyler Cook (12.8 points, 5.2 rebounds per game) might be the most promising player in Iowa's most recent class, but he and the Hawkeyes are still in the process of discovering what kind of player he'll eventually become.
Forward Cordell Pemsl (9.3 points, 5.1 rebounds) has shown a knack for scoring in the paint. But as with most freshmen, getting Pemsl to do so on a nightly basis has been a struggle. Guard Isaiah Moss has potential, but he's also feeling his way at this point.
A fifth freshman, post player Ryan Kriener, has recently worked his way into the rotation. He scored 14 points Sunday and was perhaps the only bright spot for the Hawkeyes.
''He does have that versatility that you're looking for. You couple that with the physicality that he plays with, you need that in this league,'' coach Fran McCaffery said.
For the first time in years, the Hawkeyes enter the heart of their Big Ten schedule focused more on self-development than the league title. From that perspective, blowout losses aren't that bad - if the sting of defeat helps speed up Iowa's growth.
''You just have that sour taste in your mouth of losing. Everyone likes winning a lot more, so after a win, everyone's not on edge. But after a loss, everyone is trying to get back to that winning feeling,'' Kriener said.
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