A sign of just how mature Tyler Cook has become came in Iowa’s 96-93 loss to Michigan State last Tuesday.

Cook had grabbed a rebound and was heading for what looked to be a fast-break dunk. Instead, the Iowa sophomore forward stopped and passed back to guard Jordan Bohannon, who knocked down a 3-pointer to put the Hawkeyes up, 68-64, with 12 ½ minutes to play.

There has never been a time when Iowa coach Fran McCaffery hasn’t been impressed with Cook. But that moment stuck out to him when talking about Cook three days later.

“He is a thinker and a worker,” McCaffery said. “He knows he’s good and he wants to be great. He is making progress to get to that point. I think what you are seeing with him is a more versatile player at both ends.

“Like the play the other night where he got a long rebound and he led the break and everyone thought he was going to try and take one more dribble and try and dunk it. He came to a jump stop and found Bohannon for a three. Those kind of plays are who he is. He can make those type of plays.”

In a season when so much has gone wrong for the Hawkeyes, the steady improvement of Cook has been one of the biggest positives. He’s averaging 15.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, and is seventh in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage, making 56.9 percent of his shots.

There have been times after games when Cook has been in workout gear, having gone up to the practice gym at Carver-Hawkeye Arena to get in extra shots.

For a team that needs a leader, Cook has become a player to rally around. There is an air to him that is impressive for a player that is getting better with experience. There is no moping after a bad play — instead, he just moves on.

“Yeah, that’s how we recruited him,” McCaffery said. “We knew he was going to be an impact player. You are right, he does have the demeanor. He doesn’t let a lot of mistakes linger. He has confidence in himself, whether it’s shooting the ball or handling the ball. He competes and plays hard.

“Again, it comes back to his preparation. He’s in the gym all the time and I mean now and though the year. He has a really good demeanor to play this game. It’s a combination of competitiveness and an intellectual approach and you are seeing him get better and that’s what you want to see as a coach.”

You only need to look at the play-by-play of Iowa’s 82-64 loss at Ohio State on Saturday. Cook picked up his second foul of the first half with 8:37 left in the first half and the Hawkeyes trailing just 19-18. The Buckeyes’ lead was 10 by halftime, and they carried that momentum into what turned into an awful second half for Iowa.

When Cook isn’t plagued by foul trouble, he is a difficult cover even in a conference that has strong inside players. He had 26 points in the loss to Michigan State, going 11-of-22 from the field.

Cook has scored 20 or more points in eight games this season, and before Saturday’s game had averaged 20.6 points in a five-game stretch.

What will be interesting to see is how the rest of the conference views Cook when it comes to All-Big Ten voting. His numbers are deserving, but when your team is 12-15 overall and 3-11 in conference play, voters tend to look in other directions.

Asked Friday if Cook is an All-Big Ten player, McCaffery said, “I definitely think he is. I’ve been really impressed with him.”

For now, McCaffery isn’t hesitant about leaning on Cook.

“It’s a combination of things,” McCaffery said. “One, does he want it and can he do it? The answer to that is yes on both counts. I am comfortable with it and that’s what we need him to do. And that’s what he’s doing.”

HELP IS ON THE WAY

While Iowa was losing to Michigan State on Tuesday, one of the players McCaffery signed for next season was making Iowa high school history.

Joe Wieskamp of Muscatine High School became the state’s all-time leading scorer in Class 4A, breaking the record set by Jeff Horner, a former Hawkeye.

Wieskamp had 44 points in a win over Burlington High School, giving him 2,208 points for his career. Horner scored 2,194 points.

Wieskamp is averaging 35.3 points this season, best in Iowa, and 13.8 rebounds.

“I've watched Joe since he was in fifth grade,” McCaffery said. “I've just watched him grow up. Really an amazing, amazing player. A lot of times when you think about guys, all-time state scoring record, that's a lot of points. He's hunting baskets. He's a volume shooter.

“He is one of the most efficient guys you'll ever see. I never saw a guy get 30 on 12 shots. He does it all summer. He does it in the spring. Shoots a high percentage. I mean, the other night he made eight threes in the game I went to. He went for 54. Never hits the rim. It was a swish. Then he drives it, moves it. Really, really an incredibly efficient player.”

“I'm thrilled for him. He's a terrific young man, great family. Worked really hard. Has been a great sort of representative for that town.”

THE CLEMENS HARDWARE COLLECTION

It’s becoming a running joke between Western Illinois women’s coach JD Gravina and Zack Kirby, the women’s basketball contact in the university’s athletics communication office.

“Every time he walks into my office, I’m like, ‘What award did Emily (Clemens) win now?’” Gravina said after the Leathernecks’ win over Omaha on Wednesday night.

Before that game, Clemens, the Leathernecks’ senior point guard, was honored for becoming a.) Western Illinois’ all-time leading scorer and b.) the all-time assists leader in the Summit League.

“I feel like we honor her before every game,” Gravina said, laughing. “We’re going to run out of games pretty soon.

“To think, when we recruited her, that she would be the all-time leading scorer at this university, even for her, it’s beyond words. Now, the assist record doesn’t surprise me as much, because we knew she was a really good playmaker, good passer. Now, to break the conference record? There are a lot of great players who have come through this conference.”

Clemens was the Summit League’s player of the year last season, and was the preseason player of the year heading into this season. She is fifth in NCAA Division I play with 194 assists, and is fourth with 7.8 assists per game.

Clemens leads the Summit League in scoring at 18.2 points per game and in steals per game at 3.2, which ranks 12th best nationally.

The numbers that Clemens puts up should put her in consideration for All-American status, but Gravina knows that’s a tall task because of the way bigger schools are viewed as opposed to the mid-majors.

“You are talking about a different level there, but that’s natural,” he said.

Clemens was on the 20-player watch list for the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the top point guard in women’s basketball, but she wasn’t on the list when it was cut to 10 at the end of January.

Clemens was named the espnW national player of the week in late December after the Leathernecks upset Stanford, and she was part of one of the weekly NCAA Starting Five, honoring the top players for the week in women’s basketball.

“I think people have recognized her, for the most part,” Gravina said. “I would have liked to have seen her hang around on the Lieberman Award list a while longer.”

It didn’t take long for Clemens to be honored again. The day after the game against Omaha, she was named as one of 10 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award, a national honor for players determined by work on and off the court.

TAKEAWAYS FOR THE WEEK

• Gravina loses six seniors off his team at the end of this season, but junior guard Taylor Higginbotham looks ready to take charge of the team.

Higginbotham is averaging 17.2 points per game, third best in the conference, and is second in steals behind Clemens.

• Iowa’s loss to Michigan State on Tuesday showed what the Hawkeyes were expected to be this season — a team that had enough talent to hang with the best in the conference.

But they also showed what they actually are this season. A few stops, especially late, and they would have scored the upset. Instead, the Spartans escaped, showing an ability to finish games, something Iowa hasn’t had for the most part.

It is a season that looks to be maddening to the end.

• Iowa freshman forward Jack Nunge had 18 points in Saturday’s loss to Ohio State, his first double-digit scoring game since mid-December.

The consistency with Nunge’s game will come with more experience.

THE WISE AP BALLOT

Who’s No. 1?

Let’s see … No. 1 Villanova lost, No. 2 Virginia lost, No. 3 Purdue lost twice.

I actually kicked around the idea of putting Michigan State at No. 1, but the Spartans’ overall resumé kept me from pulling the trigger.

So, the new No. 1 on my ballot is … Virginia.

Here’s why I like the Cavaliers — they play defense. Good defense. Really, really good defense.

That means something now. That will mean something in March.

Stock rising: Clemson, second in the ACC behind Virginia, moved up seven sports to No. 8. Ohio State, leading the Big Ten, leading the Big Ten and owning the tiebreaker at the moment over Michigan State and Purdue, moved up five spots to No. 9.

Stock falling: I thought about dumping Oklahoma, but the Sooners hang in at No. 22 after dropping six spots.

Tennessee also drops six spots, to No. 19, after being routed at Alabama.

Say hello: New Mexico State is in at No. 24. The Aggies are 9-0 in the WAC, and you know how I feel about undefeated conference teams at this point in the season. They’re also 22-3 overall.

Texas A&M is back on the ballot at No. 21 after a road win over Auburn and a home win over Kentucky.

Say goodbye: Kentucky is out. So is Michigan.

1. Virginia

2. Villanova

3. Michigan State

4. Xavier

5. Cincinnati

6. Purdue

7. Texas Tech

8. Clemson

9. Ohio State

10. Auburn

11. Duke

12. Gonzaga

13. Kansas

14. North Carolina

15. Saint Mary's

16. Wichita State

17. Rhode Island

18. Arizona

19. Tennessee

20. West Virginia

21. Texas A&M

22. Oklahoma

23. Nevada

24. New Mexico State

25. East Tennessee State