IOWA

LAST SEASON 

It looked like a major rebuild for Fran McCaffery entering last season, having lost 4 starters and with an incoming class that was big on numbers but not on supposed impact players (only Tyler Cook was seen as likely to be that as a freshman). The non conference schedule supported that notion, with senior Peter Jok fighting a one man war and losing a lot. The Hawks not only lost but were blown out frequently, losing by 8 to Seton Hall and Memphis, 14 to Notre Dame, 33 to Virginia and by 9 to Nebraska-Omaha. Yet, in Big Ten play, this team found itself. The Hawks got productive minutes from a slew of young players, providing McCaffery with his deepest bench by far since he’s been in Iowa City, and it ended up as a 10-8 season in the Big Ten for Iowa.

Jok was the big dog offensively and he’ll be missed, but Iowa fared well without him in the lineup when he was hurt during a stretch in conference play, and the thought is they have enough in totality to overcome his loss. Last year was an indicator that, while Fran may not have yet elevated Iowa to true upper tier status in this conference, he’s built himself a program, one which can be sustained beyond one recruiting class or a couple of high end players. That’s progress for Iowa, which hasn’t seen even that level of play in a couple of decades.

PLAYERS LEAVING

Peter Jok – Jok is the big loss and in fact the only loss for the Hawks. At 19.9 ppg, he was easily Iowa’s top scorer and IMO he was as good a shooter of contested shots as you’d have found anywhere in the college game last season. That part of his game made him a top end collegiate player, and when combined with decent athleticism and handle, he was a serious offensive weapon. Iowa thinks strength in numbers can help replace him but he’s clearly a big, big loss, especially on the offensive end.

PLAYERS RETURNING

Tyler Cook – Cook was the gem of last season’s recruiting class and by and large he lived up to the billing. A 6’8″ 230lbs forward, Cook averaged 12.3 ppg and 5.3 rpg. He’s an outstanding finisher around the rim, hitting 55% from the floor. If he can improve his free throw shooting (just under 60% last season), that would be a big help as his style of play will put him on the line a fair amount. It’s reasonable to expect his game to take another step forward. His size, strength and athletic burst and explosion inside combine to make him a potential All Big Ten player at some point down the line, and he’s a key guy for this Hawk team.

Jordan Bohannon – I will freely admit, I was a Bohannon skeptic. To me, he didn’t pass the look test as a high end Big Ten point guard and his play in the non conference seemed to support that notion. However, no Iowa player progressed more during the season than did Bohannon, and in the end he was named to the All Freshman team (he shouldn’t have been, at least over Nick Ward, but I digress) and gave Iowa fans confidence that their point guard spot has been solved for the next 3 years running. He averaged almost 30 mpg and shot 39% overall but 42% from 3, where he emerged as a serious weapon for Iowa. He also contributed 5.1 apg and had a 2.5/1 assist to TO ratio, demonstrating his ability to run the show and create for others. I still think he’s vulnerable on the defensive end, but as a floor leader and scorer, there’s no question that he proved he’s up to the task.

Cordell Pemsl – Pemsl is a 6’9″ 250lbs sophomore bruiser who emerged out of relative obscurity to become a regular starter for McCaffery. His 8.9ppg and 5.0 rpg represented solid contributions to Iowa’s interior game, and he shot almost 62% from the floor, showing a good ability to finish and also to play within himself on offense. Pemsl averaged 19 mpg and that’s probably about what he’ll see this year, as Iowa’s success seemed to come via rotating in several players to keep them all fresh.

Nicholas Baer – Baer is a long 6’7″ junior and former walk on who continues to provide steady contributions for this team. Occasionally starting, but more often coming off the bench, Baer gives Iowa an interesting combination of perimeter shooting (almost 40% from 3) and defensive activity (led the team with 48 steals and 43 blocks). Baer isn’t a guy likely to ever develop into a focal point of a team’s offensive attack but as a support player on offense and a high activity guy on defense, he’ll provide strong minutes in the Hawk rotation.

Isaiah Moss – Moss is a 6’5″ redshirt sophomore who emerged last season to claim 28 starts while averaging 17 mpg. A decent shooter (41/36%), Moss is the closest thing to a “pure” wing on the Hawkeye roster and I’d expect him to see something of an expanded role with Jok now gone. Iowa needs what he might be able to provide at both ends as an athletic perimeter player.

Ahmad Wagner – A 6’7″ 230lbs junior, Wagner started 18 times last season and fits in as a hybrid 3/4 guy. He averaged 4.8ppg and 3.4 rpg and will once again be asked to provide energy for this team as mostly an inside the arc contributor.

Brady Ellingson – Ellingson is a 6’5″ junior who has one primary role on this team…shoot the ball. He hit 47% of his 3s last year in about 14 mpg and I would expect that zone buster/designated shooter spot will once again be what’s asked of him.

Dom Uhl – Uhl is a 6’8″ senior who saw his role shrink a little bit after he’d been good as a freshman and sophomore big man reserve. He really struggled shooting the ball after he’d been a reliable option previously, and that plus the emergence of some younger big men contributed to his more limited minutes. Uhl still has the potential to help this team as a stretch big man and veteran presence, but he simply has to produce better than he did last season or else he risks falling further down the Hawk rotation.

Ryan Kriener – Kriener is another Iowa bruiser inside. The 6’9″ 250lbs sophomore saw limited minutes until about halfway into Big Ten play, when he started to play more regularly. Like Pemsl, Kriener isn’t going to blow you away with his skill set or athleticism, but he knows who he is and gives McCaffery another big body who isn’t afraid to use his size in the paint.
Christian Williams – Williams is a 6’7″ junior who seems to be at something of a crossroad. He played 13 mpg and is a legitimate point guard even at his size. However, he really struggles to shoot the ball (sub 20% from 3 last season) and that has made him easier for opponents to guard. As it stands, he’s a solid backup option behind Bohannon, but if he can improve his shooting consistency and his defense, he could perhaps expand his role and play more alongside him as a wing. Iowa needs more at that spot, so such a development would be very welcome.

Maishe Dailey – Dailey is a 6’5″ sophomore who played limited minutes for Iowa as a first year guy. Reportedly a solid shooter, Dailey is another guy who could force his way into an expanded role on the wing if he can display improved consistency and strength. 

PLAYERS ARRIVING 

Connor McCaffery – The son of the head coach, it’s already been determined that the 6’6″ McCaffery will play baseball next season and redshirt in basketball. He’s a solid basketball prospect…not a world beating athlete but very skilled and with a strong motor and some toughness. That decision might suggest that Fran feels confident in his other options for replacing some of Jok’s contributions, as his son could have been in that mix.

Jack Nunge – Nunge is a 6’9″ 195lbs PF out of Indiana. It seems obvious that he needs a year to gain strength, so that plus Iowa’s number of options inside suggest a redshirt year may be coming for him as well. In the long run, they see him as a guy who could develop much like Aaron White or Jarrod Uthoff did as 3/4 hybrid guys because Nunge is reportedly very skilled as a shooter and has a decent handle, but again, he likely needs a year to gain some strength before that can happen.

Luke Garza – Garza is a 6’10” 230lbs 5 man out of Washington DC. He fits the current mold of Hawk big men, as he’s not a great athlete but has good size, strength and toughness. The one edge he may have on guys like Pemsl and Kriener is that he reportedly has a good midrange game already and should be able to extend his range out to the arc in time. I’m not sure whether he’ll play much of a role this season, because Iowa does have a lot of depth inside, but he seems a reasonable bet to at least be a role player in the near term.

THIS SEASON

Losing Jok is a blow for sure, but you have to like any team returning as much in the way of contributions and contributors as do the Hawks. I think Tyler Cook could be set to really take off as a high end Big Ten player, as he has the size, toughness and athleticism to do major damage as a 4 man in this conference. He’s probably the only “star” caliber player on the roster but I expect Fran to go with the “strength in numbers” approach again which worked so well for him last year. Iowa has a lot of size and strength in this lineup and will use that to attempt to wear opponents down and outlast them with depth.
One big negative is the lack of many true wings on the roster. Only Moss among guys who played much last season really fits the bill. If Williams or Dailey can improve, that would be a big positive toward putting this team in solid NCAA Tournament contention. I think Iowa is likely to be a borderline NCAA Tournament team. I can see good arguments either way, which probably means they’re in the discussion late but not a sure thing. Improvement from their young group will likely make them a tough opponent for anybody in this conference, as additional experience should only help them continue to grow.