The 2016-’17 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview' series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2016-’17 season with analysis on each program's previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team's starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local "insider" who covers said team.
Way back in 2010 — when I was still a bright eyed and bushy tailed junior at the University of Iowa — the Hawkeyes basketball program was in dire shape. The few fans that actually remained, were exhausted of the brand of hoops Todd Lickliter was advocating. Carver Hawkeye Arena best resembled a noiseless graveyard forgotten by time whether students were on campus or not. And whatever recruits Iowa did land, shortly realized their potential was being wasted and took their talents elsewhere (I still miss you Aaron Fuller!).
There needed to be a change. Gary Barta (and he alone) had to bring in someone that could “re-energize” the team and whatever potential recruits Iowa had. Someone that was known for rebuilding programs. Someone that would fill Carver and earn the trust back from the fans and students. And someone (most importantly) that would actually compete for a Big Ten Championship.
The man Barta landed on — after conducting talks with people all over the college basketball landscape — was Fran McCaffery, who stole the show with his grandeur plans for the offense, defense, recruiting and general basketball operations the moment he was introduced at his press conference:
“I’ve often asked, what is your recruiting philosophy? It’s pretty simple. Recruiting is about relationships, relationships with players, coaches, parents, relatives, and I think more importantly, honesty and integrity. So if I explain my vision for a student-athlete and what we think that will be, it’s important to follow through on that promise, and as long as we continue to tell the truth, we can all deal with that.”
Quite prevalent Iowa, no?
Oh, and there was also this:
“Style of play, and I think that’s something that I want to talk about and I’m excited about. We’re going to push the ball. We’re going to run. We’re going to press. We’re going to change defenses. We’re going to disrupt rhythm, and I think that’s how you have to play. Some coaches, they lock into one defense, they play half-court basketball, and they run set plays. Well, we’re going to run set plays. We’re going to run motion. We’re going to run ball screen action, and I believe in doing a variety of different things. You will not have a better prepared basketball team take the floor in terms of tape review, scouting reports, what we show the team, what we show — what we look at ourselves. We will be ready.”
“The one thing that I can assure you is that we will play the game the right way. A lot of coaches like to sit here in situations like this and say, We’re going to play up tempo. Everybody wants to hear that. Well, we’re going to play up tempo, but we’re going to play the game the right way. We’re going to make decisions on the break that make sense. We’re going to press when it makes sense to press, and we’re going to play zone when it makes sense to play zone. And that will be based on scouting and hours and hours of tape review.”
I just got the same goosebumps reading that transcript again as I did watching it all unfold in person. But that’s besides the point. In the grand scheme of things, McCaffery has done a fantastic job rebuilding this program from the depths of despair. He’s done even better in the recruiting department.
McCaffery has held up his end of the bargain. Rebuild. Gain back the trust of the fan base. Play some exciting basketball. Get to the tournament. Get to the tournament again and win. Be in contention for top level recruits. Land the signature of those top level recruits. Contend for a Big Ten title.
Now, as all of that comes to a head, McCaffery is going to have to take the current young nucleus that should be plenty able to “disrupt rhythm” and “press” and “push the ball” and “change defenses” and do a “variety of different things” and win.
BTPowerhouse Season Preview Podcast
Along with reading BTPowerhouse's season preview post for the Iowa Hawkeyes, make sure to check out the site's podcast preview of the Hawkeyes, featuring BTPowerhouse Manager Thomas Beindit and BTPowerhouse Editor Jerome Scherwin Jr. breaking down Iowa’s roster, incoming recruits, schedule, and season outlook.
1. 2015-’16 Season Performance
- Record: 22-11 (12-6)
- KenPom Team Rating: #22
- RPI Rating: #28
- Postseason Appearance: NCAA Tournament
This was surely the most successful season Iowa has had in a decade. At the height of their run (a nine game winning streak that lasted over a month), Iowa looked as though they were never going to lose another game and were capable of making the Final Four. That’s what happens when you have a lethal two headed offensive monster in Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok and a top end starting defense that suffocated the opponent. Not only did Iowa — who was led by four seniors — sweep the two games against Michigan State by a combined 30-points, but they also beat Purdue twice and Michigan during that stretch.
The team was on fire. Through January, Iowa only had four losses and were 10-1 in the Big Ten with their only loss coming at Maryland by six points. Uthoff was not only pushing Denzel Valentine for the Big Ten Player of the Year award, but was being talked about as a contender for National Player of the Year awards. Adam Woodbury was actually getting the credit he deserved. Anthony Clemmons became a substantial part of the offense as a glorified pressure relief valve. Mike Gesell was as sweaty as ever (and dropping dimes at an exhausting clip).
And then the bottom fell out from underneath them. Everything that Iowa did so well to begin with, stopped working. The guys looked tired. There were lapses in scoring. The defense took a big hit when Woodbury was taken out. And quite honestly, the lack of trust that McCaffery had in the bench ended up hurting the starters (Uthoff, Clemmons, Gesell and Jok each averaged 27 minutes or more per game).
Including the NCAA Tournament, Iowa finished the last third of the season 3-7 with some pretty questionable losses at Penn State, at Ohio State and against Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament. They couldn’t finish. Some of the old gaffs that plagued the first couple of years under McCaffery came back and reared their ugly head once again (it’s encouraged to end and start halves with scoring).
Despite all of those issues, Iowa found themselves in the NCAA Tournament once again as a seven seed, they figured out a way to finally have their One Shining Moment moment:
And then got completely outclassed by eventual NCAA Tournament Champion, Villanova in Brooklyn.
2. Offseason Exits
Four seniors. 3,922 points. 1,920 rebounds. 1,130 assists. 288 blocks. 11,510 total minutes.
Like I said in the introduction, Iowa is starting all over again; but this time they are doing so on solid footing. The four seniors that graduated will go down as the first wave of players that believed in McCaffery’s vision, committed to the process (drink) and changed the stars of this Iowa program for the foreseeable future.
Everything that Iowa becomes from here on is because of Gesell and Woodbury and Clemmons and thankfully Uthoff. They believed. They achieved. But most importantly, they made Iowa basketball relevant again.
3. New Additions
This season Iowa will be adding four freshman to the mix in Ryan Kriener, Cordell Pemsl, Jordan Bohannon, and Tyler Cook. Cook, who looks to be the ultimate prize from this class, is rated as a four-star power forward according to ESPN (No. 38th in their Top 100). Cook has turned the heads of basically every single person that has come into contact with the him. McCaffery has gushed about how great he could be as a true freshman and the media has turned him into the college basketball version of Batman (which I am absolutely guilty of for those that read my Iowa frontcourt preview).
But Cook isn’t alone in his venture to win a Big Ten Championship for White Magic.
Bohannon is also a four-star point guard recruit and the best in-state prospect according to ESPN. For those that were wondering, yes he’s part of THOSE Bohannon’s, so you know he steps into Iowa City with the propensity to knock down long range shots and fill up the box score (he averaged 25 points per game during his senior season and shot 43% from three).
In terms of Kriener and Pemsl, they both have caught the attention of the coaching staff for their size and what they can do on the court offensively.
4. Team Strengths
This is almost weird to say, but Iowa’s greatest strength is it’s athleticism. I’ve written this before during the offseason, but the Hawkeyes point guards can transition into wings who can transition into power forwards who can transition into ball handlers.
It goes back to McCaffery’s introductory press conference when he talked about playing all types of styles on both ends of the floor. With the current construct of the roster, McCaffery has the capability to manufacture all sorts of lethal lineups. He can go big. He can go small. He can go super athletic. He can go shooters only. He can go all defense.
The pieces are all there to create favorable matchups all over the floor on the offensive and defensive ends.
And because of this, depth should be a major issue... but in a good way. McCaffery more than likely has 12 players that he reasonably has at his disposal that he will trust them to get their jobs done. How he ends up managing those minutes while keeping everyone happy is going to probably be a problem, but one I’m sure that coaching staff is happy to have.
5. Team Weaknesses
This team is brand spanking new. Pretending to know exactly what the weaknesses will be for the upcoming season is something only a fool would do. So often in college basketball, teams and players and coaches surprise you. They also disappoint.
So, rather than spewing what could eventually be hot takes, how about I just lay out all of the questions that are facing Iowa during the 2016-17 season:
What will the defense look like without Woodbury as the anchor (or a sub seven footer for that matter)? Who is going to score when Jok has all eyes on him defensively? Who will actually be this years Peter Jok? Can the redshirt freshman and sophomores play up a grade level? Can Tyler Cook an All-Big Ten caliber player as a true freshman? Along with that, can he generate easy buckets on the block? What is Dom Uhl? Can Nicholas Baer be more than just a flash in the pan every third game? Did Ahmad Wagner really add a guard-able jump shot? Can Christian Williams step in for Mike Gesell and make it seem as though nothing change? Can Bohannon force teams to not clog the paint? Will Williams/Bohannon lineups flourish like Gesell/Clemmons lineups did a year ago? Can McCaffery really play 12 guys?
6. Top Player
You already know who it is:
Last season, Jok averaged a career high 16.1 points per game, shooting 43.1% from the field (40.2% from three). He displayed one of the quickest triggers in college basketball as well as the propensity to hit big, back breaking shots when Iowa needed them the most (Remember overtime of the Florida State game last year to lock up the Big Ten/ACC Challenge win?).
After flirting with the NBA, he has come back for a senior campaign in hopes of escalating himself up the draft boards — something McCaffery is fully on board with. As one of the top shooting guards in the country and the best player on a young team, Jok isn’t going to be afforded the same luxuries he had last season as the “number two” next to Uthoff.
“I just try to tell whoever is guarding me in practice to play just as hard as they can, to try and be aggressive with me.”
But that admittedly only goes so far. What about the actual maturation of his overall game, you might ask? Jok’s taking care of that too:
First, he’s looking to diversify his offensive game. He was seen working with assistant coach Kirk Speraw on his post moves before Wednesday’s practice.
“Everybody is going to try to face-guard me and try to play hard on me,” Jok said of the grueling road ahead. “I’ve got to score other ways than just shooting. Post-up’s one of the ways I’ve got to score this year.”
7. 2016-’17 Schedule Breakdown
- 11/11 - Kennesaw St.
- 11/13 - Savannah St.
- 11/17 - Seton Hall
- 11/20 - UT Rio Grande Valley
- 11/25 - Virginia
- 11/29 - at Notre Dame
- 12/3 - Nebraska Ohama
- 12/5 - Stetson
- 12/8 - Iowa State
- 12/17 - Northern Iowa
- 12/20 - North Dakota
- 12/22 - Delaware St.
- 12/28 - at Purdue
- 1/1 - Michigan
- 1/5 - at Nebraska
- 1/8 - Rutgers
- 1/12 - Purdue
- 1/15 - at Northwestern
- 1/19 - Maryland
- 1/25 - at Illinois
- 1/28 - Ohio State
- 1/31 - at Rutgers
- 2/5 - Nebraska
- 2/8 - at Minnesota
- 2/11 - at Michigan State
- 2/18 - Illinois
- 2/21 - Indiana
- 2/25 - at Maryland
- 3/2 - at Wisconsin
- 3/5 - Penn State
8. Projected Starting Lineup
- PG: Christian Williams (So.) - 90%
- SG: Jordan Bohannon (Fr.) - 50%
- SF: Peter Jok (Sr.) - 100%
- PF: Ahmad Wagner (So.) - 75%
- C: Tyler Cook (Fr.) - 100%
(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)
To be honest, I just ripped last years favorable two point guard lineup and filled it out in my head with the current roster.
During Big Ten Media Day, McCaffery hinted at playing a similar system to the one he leaned on last year with Gesell and Clemmons. If it made sense last year, it probably makes sense now. Williams can guard three positions on the floor and has shown flashes that he can play the type of offensive style that McCaffery covets as his main ball handler. Bohannon is going to be ready to go offensively and if he’s proven that he can keep up with his defensive assignments, playing him with Jok is only going to relieve the offensive pressure.
Of course, Jok is a non-debatable; he’s in.
And then there’s the forward positions. I haven’t seen anything outside of some YouTube videos, but I think it’s fair to say that Cook is probably too good to not start right away. In terms of Ahmad Wagner, he has the experience and the girth to start down low and I’m just not sure how this staff views Dale Jones at this point, so he’s in too.
This lineup is versatile, can move up and down the court with ease and should be able to score in the post and from the wings. It has a little bit of everything that I know McCaffery likes. Could they end up going with Williams/Jok/Wagner/Jones/Cook lineup? Of course they can. But I do think that at some point in the future, when things settle down, that talent will ultimately win out and we’ll see the five I named above starting together.
9. Team Perspective from Ben Ross of Black Heart Gold Pants
Fran McCaffery’s sixth year at the helm of the Iowa program will, to me, be his most interesting. The team returns just one starter in potential all-B1G guard Peter Jok, and only a handful of guys who saw significant minutes last year. There’s a very real chance two or three true freshman start for Iowa, which isn’t exactly a hallmark of McCaffery’s coaching tendencies.
Power forward Tyler Cook is the highest-rated recruit McCaffery has ever brought to campus, so more than anything I think Iowa fans are most excited to see what the 6-9, 235-lb big man can do in a lineup that will likely feature four other pretty athletic bodies. Iowa’s non-con features a good mix of cupcakes and some elite basketball talent, so I think we get a look at a lot of lineups and some experimentation with this team before B1G play begins.
I think Iowa fans are cautiously optimistic about this team making the tourney. A starting lineup that features only one returning starter in Jok, an often-timid forward in Dom Uhl, and a former walk-on in Nicholas Baer isn’t exactly ideal, but this where we get to see what kind of coach McCaffery truly is.
In the past, McCaffery has been criticized for his team peaking early in the season, only to fall flat on its face in February and come tournament time. (I like to call this phenomenon the reverse-Izzo. Remember when Iowa was ranked No. 3 last year? That was fun!) Anyway, I don’t think that’s going to happen this year simply because of the inexperience in the lineup. I think we see a team that gets better as the year progresses, but falls just short of making the tournament. I predict we get some memorable wins over a blueblood or two, but also suffer from mind-numbing losses to inferior competition.
It might be my disdain for Iowa football talking, but this is the most excited I’ve ever been for a basketball season.
10. Overall Season Outlook
In terms of the outlook for both this season and the “second act” of McCaffery’s coaching career, I think Patrick Vint over at Go Iowa Awesome put it best:
The biggest question for 2016-17, though, is whether McCaffery can continue that trajectory without that class. We know he can build something from nothing, and we know he has something more than nothing on this roster, particularly with Tyler Cook, Ahmad Wagner and Dom Uhl at his disposal. The question becomes what Iowa basketball under McCaffery can do next, and how the 2016-17 sets the table for that second resurgence.
Setting the table is the perfect analogy for this season. Iowa doesn’t necessarily HAVE to get back to the NCAA Tournament for 2016-17 to be a success (although it would be nice). Instead, we should be looking at the growth of the young talent on this roster.
The non-conference slate could get messy. Games against Seton Hall, Virginia, Notre Dame, Iowa State and Northern Iowa are going to be learning experiences that should only help solidify who’s ready to play come Big Ten season and who is going to need a little extra seasoning before they are ready to contribute on a consistent basis.
There is an abundance of youthful talent up and down this roster that is going to have every opportunity to play their way into minutes on the floor. Who steals away those minutes has yet to be decided, but as long as Iowa goes into the Big Ten season with a core group of eight or nine dependable “college” basketball players, anything can happen.
Of course, Peter Jok is going to have thrive with the burden of bailing out stale offensive sets while playing the most minutes he’s ever played in his career. He’s going to have to stay healthy. He’s going to have to create his own shots. He’s going to have to lead. And if he can do all of that while staying efficient, he’s going to get paid.
With so many positionless athletes and that can do a little bit of everything well, Iowa has the potential to shock some teams in the Big Ten on their way to nine or ten wins (Ken Pom currently has them slated at a 9-9 conference record) and from there, a fourth straight NCAA Tournament bid isn’t too far-fetched.