IOWA CITY, Iowa – Somewhat lost in Nicholas Baer’s unexpected starring role from this past Saturday was the highly efficient performance by Iowa senior point guard Mike Gesell.
He played 34 minutes in the 70-64 victory over Drake at the Big Four Classic in Des Moines and didn’t commit a turnover, which by itself is impressive.
Gesell also made 7-of-8 field-goal attempts, including both of his attempts from 3-point range. He had four assists, three rebounds and one of Iowa’s school record 14 blocks against the Bulldogs.
Gesell played the way a team needs its senior point guard to play on the big stage. He was reliable, poised and productive.
But Gesell isn’t alone in this state when it comes to talented point guards.
Northern Iowa and Iowa State also have star point guards with senior Wes Washpun leading the Panthers and junior Monte Morris guiding the Cyclones.
They squared off this past Saturday at the Big Four Classic, with Washpun and the Panthers winning both the team and individual competition. The Cedar Rapids native scored a career-high 28 points during the 81-79 victory over the Cyclones, who were ranked fifth at the time.
Throw in Drake’s Graham Woodward, who started his college career at Penn State, and that’s four point guards from in state who have valuable experience. Woodward struggled against Iowa, making just 1-of-9 shots, but the third-year sophomore has started 17 games over the past two seasons and been effective at times.
“The point guards are phenomenal,” McCaffery said Monday on a teleconference. “The only way I think you can evaluate them all is look at how long they’ve been there and how many wins does the team have. And they pretty much have a lot of wins there.
“Because at the end of the day, what I always say about a point guard is it’s his responsibility to engineer a victory. So Mike had a big game scoring on Saturday. But if he doesn’t have a big game scoring, I still expect him to engineer a victory and make sure (Jarrod) Uthoff and (Peter) Jok and others have big games scoring. And I think that’s what those guys do.”
The 6-foot-2 Gesell will try to keep doing it on Tuesday when 8-3 Iowa faces Tennessee Tech (8-4) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the last non-conference game of the season.
Iowa has a 75-41 record since Gesell joined the program as a top-100 recruit in 2012. The Sioux City, Neb., native has helped Iowa make three consecutive postseason tournaments, including the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons.
Gesell has struggled at times, too, especially at the end of some games, the most recent example being the 83-82 loss at Iowa State on Dec. 10 in which the Hawkeyes blew a 20-point lead in the second half. But in fairness, nobody for Iowa played well down the stretch in that game.
Overall, Gesell has been a reliable point guard, made even better by the presence of fellow senior backcourt partner Anthony Clemmons, who also didn’t have a turnover against Drake while playing 27 minutes.
They have combined to start 144 games, including 108 by Gesell. They also are combining to average 10.8 assists per game this season, including a team-leading 6.7 by Gesell, and have combined for 27 steals in 11 games.
Neither has achieved star status as a Hawkeye, although, Gesell has shown flashes at times. He is one of just three Iowa players to amass at least 800 points, 350 assists, 200 rebounds and 100 steals prior to his senior season.
He is the latest in a long line of point guards that have played significant roles under McCaffery at four different schools: Iowa, Siena, North Carolina-Greensboro and Lehigh.
A former standpoint point guard himself, McCaffery shares a special bond with the position. He feels fortunate to have been surrounded by talented point guards throughout his ascent as a head coach.
McCaffery has built winning programs at each of his four stops, including at Iowa where he inherited a program that was coming off three consecutive losing seasons.
“I was blessed with real quality, intelligent, tough point guards,” McCaffery said. “We had other good players on those teams. But I would say their ability to manage the game and consistently perform is the reason why most of those teams won a lot more games than they lost.”
All four of the Division I head coaches from in state should feel fortunate, and relieved to an extent, to have experienced point guards because the position is so crucial to a team’s success.
Gesell probably won’t be fully appreciated until next season when he isn’t around to make the not so routine seem routine.
It’ll be the same with the 6-1 Clemmons. He and Gesell have played in so many games that it’s easy to take them for granted. It’s easy to under-value their contributions because point guards often do subtle things to effect the outcome of games.
All four of the starting point guards from in state are more than just facilitators. Each one averages at least 8.5 points per game and they can score in a variety of ways.
Three of the four also play for teams with winning records and for teams that should make the NCAA Tournament barring some unforeseen development.
And that’s how you truly measure a point guard.