By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa football program is often recognized and praised for its player development, and deservedly so.
There are countless examples of players that have improved steadily under Kirk Ferentz. They embrace the grind and develop their skills over time.
This process also happens in basketball with Iowa senior guard Tony Perkins a great example.
The Indianapolis native has gone from playing very little early in his career as a freshman to coming off the bench as a sophomore to being a starter as a sophomore and junior to now being a rising star as a senior.
Perkins recorded his third straight 20-point game at Michigan this past Saturday, finishing with 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting in the 88-78 victory. He also became the 52nd player in Iowa history to surpass the 1,000 career points mark in the win.
In Big Ten play, Perkins is seventh in the league in scoring, averaging 18.1 points per game. He also averages 4.4 assists (eighth in the league), 3.2 rebounds and 2.1 steals (sixth in the B1G) per game.
Perkins is currently the only player in the Big Ten (and one of eight nationally) with at least 300 points, 80 assists, 75 rebounds and 35 steals.
And now he’s preparing to face Indiana on Tuesday at Assembly Hall where Perkins had one of his best games as a Hawkeye last Feb. 28 when he scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a 90-68 beat-down of the Hoosiers.
Perkins had shown glimpses of stardom once he started playing significant minutes.
But he still was inconsistent on offense.
So, what’s the difference?
“I would say just getting down to the end, down to the end of the season,” Perkins said after the Michigan win. “Second part of the season, so I’m trying to put as much as I can on it.
“Even if I have to pass out. Just keep going and keep going.”
Perkins could return next season with his free covid year, but for now, he’s playing with a sense of urgency as if this is his last run as a Hawkeye.
If it makes him play better, then why not treat it that way because a decision about next season doesn’t have to be made anytime soon.
Fran McCaffery was asked after the Michigan game if Perkins belongs in the conversation about the best guards in the Big Ten.
“He’s more than in the conversation,” Fran McCaffery said. “He’s for real. One of the best players in this league. Forget about best guards.”
Fran McCaffery was fortunate to have had a consensus All-American leading his team in each of the past four seasons with Luka Garza and twin brothers Keegan Murray and Kris Murray.
Perkins probably won’t earn consensus All-America honors, but he is playing as well or better than anybody in the Big Ten right now not named Zach Edey.
Perkins is averaging 22.7 points over his last three games and has been shooting exceptionally well, making 57.5 percent of his field goal attempts in that stretch.
He also made all 15 of his free throws in the last two games.
This has been an emotional season for the Iowa players and coaches as three players, including Perkins, have had to deal with the death of a grandparent. Freshman forward Owen Freeman and junior forward Payton Sandfort also recently lost a grandparent.
Sandfort overcame his loss by scoring 26 points in the win at Michigan, while Freeman is arguably the best freshman in the conference.
Freeman was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Monday for the seventh time, which is a program record.
Perkins lost his grandmother in late November, and it was devastating for him.
But he has since honored her memory by playing his best as a Hawkeye.
The support from teammates and coaches has certainly helped with the suffering.
“I think we have a great family atmosphere,” Fran McCaffery said. “A lot of coaches talk about it. And for us, it’s real. The teammates and coaches rally around them in that situation and love them up and they talk about it and they deal with it.”
Iowa would climb back to .500 in league play with a win on Tuesday, and would extend its winning streak to five in the series.
The Hoosiers have dropped three straight games — all to nationally ranked opponents — to fall to 12-8 overall and 4-5 in league play.
Indiana lost 70-62 at No. 10 Illinois on Saturday in Champaign.
Since the start of 2024, Indiana is 2-5 overall. The two wins were at home over Ohio State (71-65) and Minnesota (74-62).
Indiana is 10-2 at home this season with losses to Kansas and Purdue.
Iowa (12-8, 4-5) vs. Indiana (12-8, 4-5)
When: Tuesday, 6 p.m.
Where: Bloomington, Indiana, Assembly Hall (17,222)
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
Series record: Indiana leads, 106-82
Last meeting: Iowa swept the season series in 2022-23, winning 91-89 in Iowa City and 90-68 in Bloomington.