IOWA CITY — At 6-foot-9, 265 pounds, Caleb Swanigan is an imposing physical specimen.
So, it’s a bit unusual — and very revealing — that most of the comments coming from Iowa’s players and coaches Wednesday about Purdue’s sophomore power forward had nothing to do with how big and strong he is.
They used adjectives such as quick, tenacious, efficient, aggressive, skilled, polished and unselfish.
They forgot amazing.
Swanigan has had four games this season in which he has had more than 20 points and 20 rebounds — the other 347 teams in NCAA Division I have combined for three such games — and he will be a primary concern again tonight when the Hawkeyes host Purdue in an 8:06 p.m. game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Of course, Swanigan isn’t all Purdue has going for it, as the Hawkeyes learned just two weeks ago in the Big Ten opener in West Lafayette.
The 17th-ranked Boilermakers made 10 3-point field goals in the first half en route to an 89-67 victory. They also had 27 assists, by far the most by any team against the Hawkeyes this season, and they’re currently second in the country in assists per game.
“You've got to stop both components of their offense, if you can,’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “Playing good low-post defense, but then also closing out and getting to the 3-point shooters. And their spacing is good, and their ability to move the ball and pass the ball and willingness to do that is really impressive.’’
Not only are the Boilermakers’ guards obviously playing extremely well, but they also have 7-2, 280-pound Isaac Haas down low.
“They've got multiple low-post scorers. They've got multiple drivers,’’ McCaffery added. “They can play fast. They can grind you in the halfcourt if they want to, and they're physical both defensively and on the glass.’’
And yes, they have arguably the best player in the country so far this season.
McCaffery said Swanigan has completely transformed his body since last season, when he was a solid rebounder but not exactly a dynamic offensive force.
Iowa freshman Tyler Cook, who played against Swanigan frequently at the AAU level, said he barely looks like the same player.
“His body is a lot leaner, a lot more athletic, moves a lot quicker and faster than he did,’’ Cook said. “He’s a lot more skilled in every way possible.’’
Iowa’s other freshman frontcourt starter, Cordell Pemsl, said he never saw anything like Swanigan and Haas before this season, and admitted he was a little bit in awe of them before that first matchup.
By the way, he’s the one who used the word “tenacious’’ to describe Swanigan.
“The energy level is something I haven’t seen before in a big like him,’’ Pemsl said. “It was a challenge, but I’m ready for it …
“I would definitely say he’s the most skilled and polished player I’ve played against this year,’’ he added. “It’s something I want to do. I want to go up against guys like that so I can see what I’m worth and what I can do.’’
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Almost everyone in the Hawkeyes camp said the one thing they need to do better tonight is to get off to a good start.
They didn’t do that back on Dec. 28. Purdue freshman Carsen Edwards scored the first eight points of the game and within seven minutes, it was 25-6.
“We lost the game in the first five minutes,’’ Pemsl said. “We were never able to get a rhythm, we were never able to get more than one stop in a row. So by that time, we got down and it was hard for us to come back. So our main concern this time is to get off to a good start and to understand the game plan, and not only to know it but to execute it.’’
Senior guard Peter Jok said the game plan from the first matchup has been altered considerably although he wouldn’t say what that meant.
Cook said the Hawkeyes don’t need to change the plan so much as their intensity level.
“We just didn’t come out and fight,’’ he said of the earlier loss. “We didn’t have any fight at all or have a chance of winning that game. We’ve just got to keep fighting … for 40 minutes.’’
Jones is ‘close’: McCaffery said senior forward Dale Jones is close to returning from a broken hand and could be back as early as a Jan. 20 home game with Maryland.
The coach admitted, however, he’s not exactly sure how he will find playing time for Jones, who missed most of last season with a knee injury and has played just two minutes this season.
“But the thing that Dale Jones can do is he can score the ball,’’ McCaffery said. “The hardest thing for him is going to be: “Now I have to feel like any time coach puts me in I've got to make 10 threes in a row or else I'm never going to play again.’ It can't be that mentality. It's got to be ‘OK, what does my team need for me to do today?’’’