The best way to start your day is right here at Landof10.com as we prepare you for everything you need to know about Iowa sports. We’ll share our Iowa Breakfast Club here with you at 8:30 a.m. (ET) Monday through Friday.
So let’s get to it. Here is the Iowa Breakfast Club for Monday, March 6.
Iowa’s NCAA Tournament job isn’t complete
Fran McCaffery was in a good mood.
His Iowa men’s basketball team had just outclassed Penn State 90-79 on Sunday afternoon. The game wasn’t as close as the score. The Hawkeyes are playing their best basketball at perfect time, winners of four straight, including two over Top 25 foes.
So, yes, McCaffery was in a good mood and said what he thought.
“I think we deserve to be in,” the coach said about the NCAA Tournament.
The Hawkeyes have looked like a team worthy of the Big Dance over the last two weeks. But appearing to be one and being one are two different things. It’s something Iowa can’t lose sight on, not if it wants to make the tournament.
“What you have to do is not focus on thinking about it and talking about it,” McCaffery said.
The work isn’t finished for a bubble team, and Iowa most certainly resides there after its recent run. The Hawkeyes need a couple Big Ten Tournament wins if they are to finish off an improbable run into the brackets.
McCaffery needs to be saying his team should be included in the NCAA Tournament. Politicking for an at-large bid isn’t quite as slimy as the underbelly of college recruiting, but it needs to be done. Say it often enough and people may pay attention and start believing, even those on the selection committee. It’s why coaches of teams that will be in, should be in or have no chance at being in will do over the next week.
But McCaffery went beyond that. He brought up the most important part for Iowa — there is still work to do.
The hard truth is Iowa won’t be making the NCAA Tournament if it loses to Indiana on Thursday.
The odds were long against Iowa making the dance a week ago.
The Hawkeyes have hit the first five Powerball numbers. Now they’re waiting on the final number and the Powerball to come through.
Jok’s free throw quest
Peter Jok didn’t expect McCaffery to send him in. He spent 14 minutes sitting on the bench in foul trouble.
But in he went. McCaffery was putting in his team’s best foul shooter for two free throws after Penn State coach Pat Chambers received a technical foul.
Jok stepped up. The career 88 percent foul shooter went through his routine.
And he missed.
“I was cold,” Jok said.
The miss seemed inconsequential in a 90-79 win when Jok scored 21 points, but it could mean plenty for him.
Indiana’s Steve Alford holds the Big Ten single-season free throw mark at .921. Jok, who was 4 of 5 at the line, now trails him, sitting at .920. He entered the game shooting a .924 clip from the line.
“It is what it is,” Jok said.
Jok chasing Alford is one of the most underrated subplots following the contest that might as be known as the Jok free throw game.
There was good news for Jok. He did end up leading the Big Ten in scoring this season, averaging 20.1 points, which was apparently the idea all along.
“When he decided to come back, I told him, I said, ‘You’re going to lead the Big Ten in scoring. That’s the plan,’ ” McCaffery said. “He said, ‘Absolutely.’ ”
When asked about Nicholas Baer and his career-high 20 points and 10 rebounds on Sunday, Jok gave the most honest answer he could.
“Baer is the heart of the team,” Jok said.
It’s not hyperbole, not for the Hawkeyes. Nearly every member of the program made available for postgame interviews concurred with the assessment.
“I think so,” McCaffery said. “I mean, he’s one of the best players in the league, without question. He just keeps getting better. He impacts the game when we put him in.”
Said forward Cordell Pemsl: “I would say that. It’s hard to argue against that. He does everything, whether it’s diving for loose balls, blocking shots, making baskets, passing the ball, everything. Everything you can do on a basketball court, Nicholas Baer does.”
Iowa believes he’s the team’s heart because of his leadership and ability to do the little things.
It’s all true, but it undersells his importance to the team. On a squad full of versatile players, he may be the most unique.
He can play the wing or the post. Baer will start or come off the bench. He can score or blend into the background, box out, play help defense and find an open man in transition, things that coaches love and often get overlooked. No one else on the team can step into or recede from the spotlight like Baer and continue to be a key part of the team.
Baer isn’t Iowa’s best player. That honor goes to Jok. But Iowa wouldn’t be where it is without Baer.
Kittle’s big weekend
The NFL combine wraps up today and George Kittle, who turned heads during his testing session on Saturday, likely improved his draft position more than any other Hawkeye.
Three TEs topped the best Combine TE broad jumps since 2006
Bucky Hodges 11'2"
David Njoku 11'1"
George Kittle 11'0"
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) March 4, 2017
Injuries kept Kittle from putting together the kind of senior year he hoped for. He showed plenty of potential on tape for NFL teams, especially with his blocking. His testing numbers, including a 4.52-second 40-yard dash, indicate he could be one of the rarest of players: an all-around tight end, capable of making an impact in the run game and being athletic enough to make plays in the passing game.
Three B1G prospects who made themselves some $$$$$ at the combine today:
-George Kittle pic.twitter.com/XsvG0ryOz7
— Saturday Tradition (@Tradition) March 4, 2017
Lots of links
- Defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson is hoping he can climb into the first round of the NFL draft.
- Defensive back Desmond King is more than willing to play anywhere in the secondary at the next level.
- Iowa moved one step closer to trying to claim a NCAA Tournament at-large berth with a win over Penn State on Sunday.
- McCaffery said he believes the Hawkeyes are an NCAA Tournament team in his postgame press conference.
- Thomas Gilman and Sammy Brooks each won a Big Ten wrestling championship on Sunday.