LAST SEASON – In early February, Iowa was most people’s pick as the most impressive team in the Big Ten. They’d handled MSU easily twice and pretty much everyone else as well, using a senior laden lineup along the way. Then a 2-5 close landed them at 12-6 in the league, continuing a streak of seasons without a Big Ten title going back to 1979. Iowa sort of limped into the post-season, where they won an opening round NCAA game before getting run off the court by eventual champion Villanova. It was a down end to what was about 2/3 of a tremendous season for Fran McCaffrey and company. What it leads to is a rebuilding situation, though one not without potential…losing 4 starters creates a challenge for any program. However, the return of Peter Jok was big, and that gives Iowa a fighting chance at earning another NCAA bid if things break right.
With Mike Gesell and Sapp Clemmons gone, the Hawks are in rebuild mode in the backcourt. The one certain starter is the guy they could not afford to lose, 6’6″ senior wing Peter Jok. Jok has improved steadily during his time in Iowa City, to the point that last season he emerged as a serious scoring threat, averaging 16.1 ppg on 43/40% shooting. He’ll need to do that and maybe even a bit more for this edition of Hawkeye basketball to succeed. Jok has a nice combination of athleticism and skills. He’s a very tough cover in part because of his quick release…it’s tough for defenders to do much with him if he gets even a hint of open space.
Who will fill out the other spot is where the questions come in. Iowa played a very tight rotation (to their detriment IMO), so they aren’t bringing back reserves with a great deal of experience to move up. Christian Williams is a 6’6″ sophomore who played sparingly until very late in the season, and when he was given an opportunity, he exceled. Williams isn’t a pure point guard necessarily but he did show some potential to run a team and I think he’s going to get first crack at the job. Brady Ellingson is a 6’4″ soph who has athleticism and reportedly some deep shooting touch, though he struggled in that area last year. Iowa also returns 6’4″ redshirt freshman Isaiah Moss, who was a highly regarded recruit out of Chicago but couldn’t crack last season’s playing group.
Iowa’s recruiting class didn’t add much in the way of likely instant help at the guard spots. Jordan Bohannon is a 6 foot point guard who has Big Ten bloodlines (his father played QB for Iowa and two brothers played basketball at Wisconsin). He’s reportedly a good deep shooter but was not a heavily recruited player and may have some athletic limitations. Still, given that he’s at least a natural point, he might see some rotation minutes by default. Iowa also made a late addition to their class in Ohio product Maishe Dailey, a 6’4″ combo guard who originally committed to Rutgers. Neither of these guys are seen as major talents but due to Iowa’s youth and lack of obvious answers beyond Jok, they may get early opportunities.
Up front, things look a bit better. Iowa doesn’t return any starters but Dom Uhl and Nicholas Baer were impact guys off their bench last season and should be able to move into larger roles. Uhl is a 6’9″ junior who averaged 6ppg and 3.6 rpg but could easily double those numbers with increased minutes. He’s developed into a reliable shooter and though he doesn’t have great size, he showed he can protect the rim as well. On a smaller team, he probably shapes up as the likely 5 man.
Baer was a preferred walk on who was an early season sensation. His play leveled off a bit from there but he still ended up with good numbers…4.8ppg on 50/39% shooting. He’s also active defensively and can block shots. I’d be comfortable calling him a poor man’s Jarrod Uthoff, as he has some rough similarities to that guy’s game but isn’t quite the same level of athlete or talent.
6’7 soph Ahmad Wagner had a decent first year, averaging 10 mpg and shooting extremely well when he was on the court. He will have a chance at expanded minutes and could add some toughness to the Hawk equation.
Dale Jones is a 6’7″ PF who came in with expectations as a JUCO last year but got hurt very early and never had a chance to demonstrate what he could do. In 6 games, he shot 40/45%, thus showing that his reputation as a deep shooting threat wasn’t undeserved. It’s hard to know what to expect from Jones. Iowa needs help and needs some scoring punch up front, but he needs to stay healthy. I expect him to be in the rotation somewhere, but what role remains unclear.
Iowa did add some help in recruiting. Their top guy is 6’8″ PF Tyler Cook from Missouri. Cook was a top 50 recruit who should play major minutes and perhaps even start as a freshman. Cook isn’t a stretch 4 type…he likes to bang and play in the paint and Iowa can use the help there. Expect him to make an immediate impact and he could emerge as Iowa’s second best player before this year is out.
Ryan Kreiner and Cordell Pemsl are the other two freshmen recruits, both of whom are 6’8″ PF types. Kreiner profiles as an interior type, though he has a chance to develop into a skilled 4/5 who can shoot some from range. For now, his size may give him a chance to earn some reserve minutes at the 5. Pemsl had some injury problems in HS but is another name to watch for the future.
BOTTOM LINE – This is a rebuilding year for The Fightin’ Frannies, no question. Iowa goes from the most experienced team in the conference to one of the least, and it’s likely that will show up from time to time on the court. Jok returning gives them a chance to be competitive, as he showed last year that he’s capable at times of flat out carrying a team with his offense. I think Uhl can be an impactful starter and though I think Baer maybe overacheived a bit early, he too has potential to be a solid player. Cook is a major recruit, probably the best in McCaffrey’s Iowa tenure (certainly so by ranking). So yeah, there are pieces to work with.
The problem is, in addition to inexperience, in the backcourt. Iowa doesn’t have an obvious answer at the point. Williams might be OK, Bohannon might outplay his ranking and his youth, but those are big question marks. I also don’t see obvious answers to help Jok a great deal in terms of providing wing/perimeter scoring.
I think Iowa will compete and they have enough talent that they can be on the borderline for a Tourney bid, but it’s going to come down to the guards.