IOWA CITY — Not that he wasn’t already, but Ryan Kriener is officially a significant player on the Iowa men’s basketball team this season.
The 6-foot-9 junior from Spirit Lake’s playing time should only increase this season with Thursday’s news that 6-11 sophomore Jack Nunge was taking a redshirt season for 2018-19 after playing in all 33 games as a freshman.
Kriener played 16 minutes in Tuesday night’s season-opening game against Missouri-Kansas City, and played well. He matched Tyler Cook’s eight rebounds for the game-high, had six points, and gave the Kangaroos problems with his defense.
“Ryan Kriener was terrific tonight,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “And Cordell (Pemsl), I’m really pleased with him.”
Oh, Iowa posted a forgettable 77-63 victory, one that would have left you thinking its much-maligned defense needs less work than its offense, which wasn’t especially cohesive.
“We kind of joked around about it in the locker room,” Kriener said. “It was kind of like the first time offense has been our problem for a little bit. The offense was a little stagnant and the defense really held us in there, so we’re all really proud of that.”
As for his own play, he said it was “what it’s always been. Go as hard as I can as long as I can, do whatever Coach asks of me.”
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Kriener had two strong games among Iowa’s last four of the 2017-18 season. He had 15 points in 14 minutes at Minnesota, and 14 points in 20 minutes against Michigan in the Big Ten tournament.
That eased some of the pain from a rough season that included two concussions and six games missed because of them.
Physical activity and bright lights bothered him, and the former delayed his exit from concussion protocol.
“I remember one day at Nebraska at shoot-around I was going to go through physical activity so I could play the next game, and about two minutes in I got really nauseous in doing my light workout.
“It was nasty stuff. I don’t wish that upon anyone.”
As for Nunge, “We tried last year to squeeze six guys into four (frontcourt) spots,” McCaffery said. “We would have had to do five (this season). I think Jack saw that.
“I think Jack Nunge has the chance to be special, really special. I think a lot of times everybody thinks you need to redshirt that first year. I think it’s better to redshirt the second year than the first. You play your first year, you get your feet wet.”
McCaffery said Nunge’s immediate emphasis is on getting stronger and bigger.
“You’re going to see a guy come back next year probably in the 245 (pound) range. He’s going to go to work right now. He’s going to be really, really good in three years. So I’m thrilled for him.”
“This decision is not related to an injury, but rather I would like to take the opportunity to use this year to grow my skill set and get stronger,” Nunge said in a statement issued by Iowa’s sports information department. “We have an incredibly deep team and I look forward to helping make my teammates and myself better in practice this season.”
And now, back to Thursday’s game …
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The Kangaroos, 76-45 losers to Loyola-Chicago in their season-opener, shot just 35.9 percent from the field here. A good thing that was for the Hawkeyes, who shot just 32 percent in the first half before righting some things after that.
If nothing else, it appears Iowa has a 10-man rotation that seems set for a while. The starting five of Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss, Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp and Cook didn’t please McCaffery in the slightest when UMKC used a 6-1 start in the second half’s first two minutes to pull within 35-33.
McCaffery called time with 18:12 left and pulled his starters for his second five of Kriener, Pemsl, guards Maishe Dailey and Connor McCaffery, and forward Nicholas Baer. By the next timeout, Iowa’s lead was seven points.
Dailey was a spark. The junior had 11 points and had defensive impact.
“Defensive stopper, defensive leader,” Dailey said when asked if he felt he had a defined role. But he also was confident in his shot, and made all four of his foul shots on a night when Iowa won this game at the line with 28 free throws to UMKC’s eight.
Wieskamp led Iowa in scoring in his first college game. He hit four first-half 3-pointers in five tries in the first half when the rest of his team was 1-of-11 from that distance. He finished with 15 points in 28 minutes.
“They were doubling TC in the post, showing a lot of attention to him,” Wieskamp said. “He was able to find me in the corner I was able to knock ‘em down.”
Cook had five assists and three blocked shots, both game-highs. Cook and Bohannon, the team’s top two scorers last season, were slow out of the blocks in scoring with a combined five first-half points. But they finished with 12 points each.
Iowa’s next game is here Sunday at 2 p.m. against Green Bay.
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