There are going to be people — pundits, experts, former coaches — that tell you that Fran McCaffery and the Iowa Hawkeyes are going to be in for a bumpy rebuild. They are going to tell you that losing Jarrod Uthoff and Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons and Adam Woodbury is going to be too much. They are going to tell you that the 2016-17 season is NIT or bust. That a team with such young, raw, athletic talent can’t possibly make it to the big dance.
I think they’ll ultimately be wrong.
That’s not to say there aren’t concerns or questions going into the season. There absolutely are. But there is also some top shelf athletic talent on this team — some of which Iowa has never bolstered before. These guys should be able to keep Iowa in the Top-5 or 6 teams in the Big Ten, jockeying with the likes of Michigan, Maryland and Ohio State.
McCaffery and his coaching staff have surely done more with less in the cabinets.
But for any of this to happen, there are three pressing questions that need to be answered:
1.) Can Peter Jok take an NBA-level jump?
It’s funny to me that Iowa has a legit Big Ten Player of the Year candidate and many folks around college basketball are just brushing that to the side as if it’s not important. Jok is one of the top shooting guard’s in the conference let alone the country. He has impeccable touch and a quick release around the perimeter that will garner tons of attention (opening up the paint for Ahmad Wagner and Tyler Cook among others). He’s continuously proven that he takes the offseason extremely seriously and has done nothing but improve on multiple aspects of his game since he’s arrived in Iowa City.
“Nobody’s worked harder since the season ended than Peter Jok — on his body or on his game,” McCaffery said in late May. “I’ve been really proud of his leadership.”
After going through the NBA Draft process, Jok received invaluable feedback on the aspects of his game (i.e. dribbling and turnovers, dribbling and turnovers and dribbling and turnovers) that need immediate improvement if he hopes to become an NBA level talent when his eligibility ultimately runs out.
And from all accounts, Jok has higher aspirations for himself than anyone of us or his coaches. He knows that there is going to be a ton on his shoulders. That he is going to have to be the main scorer for a young team. That he’s going to receive the attention Uthoff got last year.
And he’s ready for it.
To make things even better for Jok, you must remember that McCaffery is on record saying that they are going to do everything they can to vault Jok up draft boards this season. With that type of support, a bigger leap than the one we saw last year seems inevitable.
2.) Can Tyler Cook play like an upperclassmen?
Kentucky and Duke and Michigan State and Indiana and North Carolina and Kansas among many, many others have all retooled their lineups with talented, other worldly freshman and have had plenty of success.
Iowa will try to replicate that with Tyler Cook.
There is a ton of hype around Cook coming into the season. Anyone that has paid attention to the program is guilty of it — your’s truly included. He’s got a college basketball ready body, he’s extremely skilled and has already proven that he’s putting in the necessary individual work to make sure he’s ready to start his freshman season off with a bang:
If Cook can play above his age on the offensive end, while creating one thick and intrusive defensive unit with Wagner on the blocks, Iowa will surely upend expectations.
3.) What type of play will Iowa get from Nicholas Baer and Dom Uhl?
You know what they say, you have to let the Baer eat, and eat he did against Villanova. In fact, he was the only one that did eat against the future NCAA Champion in Brooklyn a few months back. And for his outstanding efforts as a walk-on redshirt freshman throughout the 2015-16 season, Baer earned a scholarship.
Now he needs to build on that. He will surely be thrust into the 6th man role for this team and will need to eliminate the mistakes he made last season.
The same can be said of Dom Uhl.
If Uhl can just somehow become a consistent contributor while eliminating the turnovers and head scratching mental lapses he has displayed during his Iowa career (I know, I know, he’s only played basketball for a few year), he could be McCaffery’s most valuable toy.
It’s no secret that Uhl would have rather played from the perimeter last season (something he wasn’t able to do last season because of the log jam at the position), but because of necessity, Uhl was often dispatched as a back up center. This should be Uhl’s biggest asset coming into this season. He’s STILL a match-up nightmare for opposing small and power forwards... if he can stay on the floor.