Iowa's Mike Gesell doesn't pay much attention to statistics, either while playing or perusing a box score. But when pressed to pick a category worth following, he cited assist-to-turnover ratio.
Good choice, because Gesell doesn't have to run his finger down the list very far to find himself.
The sophomore point guard from South Sioux City, Neb., is fourth nationally at 4-to-1. He was first as recently as a week ago for the No. 22 Hawkeyes (11-2), who don't play again until hosting Nebraska (8-3) on New Year's Eve to open Big Ten play.
“I'm just trying to win games, so I don't really look into stats much,” Gesell said in a phone interview from Iowa City. “Personally, though, it's a good accomplishment. I think everybody wants a point guard who shares the ball and doesn't turn it over.”
That works for Iowa coach Fran McCaffery.
“Mike never takes a possession off,” McCaffery said. “To me, that's a true sign of character.
“This game is all about how you impact every possession. It's not taking plays off and still scoring 18 points and thinking you played a good game. There is a lot more to the game, and he gets that.”
McCaffery learned Gesell's value last season when the 6-foot-1 190-pounder missed the last four regular-season games with a bad foot — an injury aggravated in a 64-60 loss at Nebraska.
“He got hurt, he couldn't start and he couldn't play the point anymore because of the stress on his foot,” the coach said. “At that point, some guys just go away.
“Not Mike. He was phenomenally instrumental in so many of our wins in the last 11 games. He helped in so many different ways.”
As a freshman, Gesell started 30 of 34 games, averaging 8.7 points and 3.0 assists a game in 25.1 minutes. He won the Hawkeyes' academic award and shared its top freshman honor.
Some of his statistics are down slightly this season — 21.1 minutes, 6.3 points, 3.7 assists — but that's because Iowa arguably is the nation's deepest team. It's like McCaffery guides Noah's Ark, with two of everything. The Hawkeyes regularly use a 10-man rotation, and guard Josh Oglesby (out 12 games with a broken foot) returned Sunday and scored 13 points in a rout of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
“We all sacrifice some of our own playing time for team success,” Gesell said. “In games, if someone is having an off night, we know someone else can step up.”
That much competition for playing time can lead to infighting on some teams, but not Iowa.
“That's the only way we can make this work,” Gesell said. “We could easily have people arguing with each other and fighting for playing time. But we all put the team first. It's a luxury to have that.”
Iowa's only losses are 88-83 in overtime to No. 8 Villanova and 85-82 at No. 14 Iowa State. The latter game, in front of a sellout crowd at ISU's Hilton Coliseum, has stuck with Gesell.
“Games like that are the reason you play basketball,” he said. “Even though we weren't able to pull it out, it was a great experience. We're a better ballclub because of that game.”
Gesell had a tough ending, missing two free throws with 13 seconds left and Iowa trailing by one.
“I was pretty upset for a day or two,” he said. “But you can't let that hang on. I have confidence in myself to come back.”