The Monday Tipoff: Hawkeyes Face Key Stretch With Plenty Of Questions

Freshman guard Joe Toussaint (1) has provided a spark in Iowa's rotation during the first five games of the season. (Jeffrey Becker/USA Today Sports)
John Bohnenkamp

The news that Jack Nunge's season had ended with a torn ACL wasn't that surprising, given how serious it looked when he was injured in Iowa's 85-59 win over Cal Poly on Sunday.

For a team still struggling to find a rotational identity, losing a starter who was starting to find a rhythm to his game is going to hurt at a time when the Hawkeyes are heading into the toughest part of their November/December schedule — a seven-game stretch that includes three neutral-court games and three road games.

Nunge is gone for the season. Forward Patrick McCaffery, a freshman, has missed the last three games while dealing with health issues related to his treatment for thyroid cancer in 2014. Senior guard Jordan Bohannon, coming off offseason hip surgery, didn't play in Sunday's game because of hip soreness and can only play in six more in the first half of the season before deciding to take a medical redshirt season.

So the Hawkeyes face plenty of questions in the coming weeks. It starts with this weekend's games in the Las Vegas Invitational — a Thursday game against Texas Tech and a Friday game against either Creighton or San Diego State. Then it's a road game against Syracuse in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, followed by the Big Ten opener at Michigan.

Then there's the Big Ten home opener against Minnesota, a road game with Iowa State and then another neutral-court game against Cincinnati.

All of those games will be against teams in the top 100 in the KenPom rankings.

What and who to watch in these seven games:

Luka Garza

The junior center had 18 points and nine rebounds in Sunday's game, which is below his season average, if you want to know how good his season has been.

Garza is averaging 22.2 points and 10.2 rebounds, with three double-doubles in the first five games.

He's been putting up those numbers against constant double-teams, and he'll see those from better opponents.

Joe Wieskamp

The sophomore wing is averaging 11 points and 5.6 rebounds, but he needs to get the offense going from the perimeter. He has made two of his last 10 3-pointers, and in three games this season he has had just three field goals or less.

Bohannon's choice

There was no need for Bohannon to play in Sunday's game — why waste one of his 10 available for a medical redshirt season?

Bohannon has averaged 19 minutes per game in the first four games of the season, and is averaging seven points. He's done a good job of getting his younger teammates involved, something he learned from Peter Jok when Jok was a senior and Bohannon was a freshman.

But the Hawkeyes will need more production from him if he's going to play. He is 6-for-20 in 3-pointers this season, 9-of-27 from the field overall.

More Toussaint minutes

This isn't a criticism of starting point guard Connor McCaffery. McCaffery has 27 assists against just seven turnovers this season, and he's one of the team's better defenders, with a team-high six steals. He's averaging 25.4 minutes this season, and that's fine.

But freshman guard Joe Toussaint has been a spark for the Hawkeyes when he's been in the game. He's averaging 7.8 points, and is coming off an 8-rebound game. Toussaint has a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and is also a solid defender who isn't afraid to bruise somebody.

There have been times when Toussaint and McCaffery have been on the court together. They both need their minutes, it will just be a question of determining the combinations.

CJ Fredrick

The redshirt freshman guard drew high praise from teammates and Iowa coach Fran McCaffery before the season, and now he's starting to look more comfortable.

Fredrick had his best day in Sunday's win — 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting, including 5-of-5 in 3-pointers, to go with five assists and zero turnovers.

Much like with Wieskamp, Fredrick's outside shooting is going to be important to soften the defense inside on Garza.

Who steps up?

With no Nunge, there is production needed in the minutes available.

Senior Ryan Kriener has been solid off the bench, averaging 7.6 points and 4.6 rebounds. Junior forward Cordell Pemsl, coming off a medical redshirt season, had his best game on Sunday, with 10 points in 19 minutes.

The Hawkeyes will need more from guard Bakari Evelyn. Evelyn had just four points in Sunday's game, but he's scored just nine points all season. Fran McCaffery said last week Evelyn had been playing well in practice, but the graduate transfer needs to be more effective in the time he gets.

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