The Hawkeyes knew they were be going to be small going into this season. Of the 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes so far this season, none have a listed height over 6-foot-9. It wasn’t a problem during their 7-0 start, outrebouding their opponents 280-229.
Flash forward to now, their leading rebounder Keegan Muarry has been on a bum ankle for the past few games. He’s slowly getting back to 100 percent. That’s a tough blow to an already undersized team, and rebounding has caught up to them over their past three games. All of those, losses.
“It doesn’t take much to diagnose,” head coach Fran McCaffery said. “You just look at the numbers, they’re right there in front of you. It’s not been good.”
Those numbers? They’ve been outrebounded by 59 in those three losses. The offensive rebounds have especially been an issue.
Granted, that’s come against some of the biggest players on their schedule, including two 7-footers in Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn and Purdue’s Zach Edey.
It’s the first time many of these Hawkeyes have faced off against players of that size. Filip Rebraca, the biggest player in the Iowa rotation, said the only other time he could remember playing someone that big was South Dakota center Mike Daum. But that was back during his freshman year in 2018.
The team is hoping these are just some early season lessons.
“You’re battling guys like Zach Edey, Trevion [Williams] and Kofi [Cockburn], and these are big dudes that our bigs are battling with,” Connor McCaffery said. “Filip’s done a great job, and he’s only going to learn, Keegan’s going to learn, Kris is learning. Big ‘Gele coming in. I think everyone will adjust as the season goes on.”
They can’t just grow taller. So what needs to change?
“There’s a little bit of technique involved, but it’s more effort than technique,” coach McCaffery said.
It starts with a change in mindset.
“We just need to have a mentality of ‘Hey, we need to improve on this, every rebound has to be ours,'” Rebraca said. “It’s all determination. We need to have the will to get the ball.”
There’s more threes being shot than ever before. In the three games they’ve lost, there have been at least 40 threes hoisted between the Hawkeyes and their opponent. So it isn’t just a battle down low like it’s been in the past.
“I think boxing out is probably overrated because more teams shoot 30-plus threes in a game now, so the ball is bouncing all over the place,” coach McCaffery said. “If you don’t get those long rebounds or those long loose balls and the 50/50 balls, that’s all reflected in your rebounding numbers.”
Those long rebounds generally fall in guard territory. That makes contributions from them that much more important. Last season they got 6.6 rebounds per game from now-San Antonio Spur Joe Wieskamp. They’ve yet to get the same output on the boards from a guard this year. Right now, no perimeter player is averaging more than 2.8 rebounds per game
“It’s not, okay, my 3s, 4s and 5s have to do a better job,” coach McCaffery said. “That’s important for a guy who played on the perimeter a lot. So we’ve been encouraging Patrick [McCaffery]. He had four in the last game. You’ve got to be up in that five, six range.”
A game against Utah State presents a perfect bounce back game on the boards. The Aggies grab just more than 37 rebounds a game. That’s about the same as the Hawkeyes, who grab 36.5 a game.
Utah State is led by 6-foot-10 Justin Bean, who averages 11 boards a game — a similar profile to the players who have given Iowa fits the past couple weeks.
“The kid, Bean, is as good as anybody we’ll face all year long,” Coach McCaffery said.
The Hawkeyes, being one of the highest scoring teams in the country, definitely want to push the tempo, but you can’t do that without the ball. They don’t want any repeat performances, so expect to see all five guys crashing the glass on the defensive end in particular, for the time being.
“We just have to keep them all in there until we get the ball back, and then we can run,” coach McCaffery said.
Iowa and Utah State are set to tip off at 8:10 p.m. at the Sanford Pentagon. It airs on the Big Ten Network.