Like the corn fed version of Hootie (the country version that is), I am a True Believer in Fran McCaffery, Sherman Dillard, Andrew Francis and Kirk Speraw. I believe in their talent assessment as a staff. I believe in their ability to put multi-faceted, multi-positional athletes in positions where they will succeed. I believe that they can win the Big Ten regular season crown at some point. I believe that they can win the Big Ten Tournament at some point. I believe that they can keep Iowa in the upper-crust of the conference for as many years as they stay in Iowa City.
Am I bit delusional?
But before some of you get your “Twitter Fingers” ready, understand that this belief is founded on the fact that I came into my Iowa fandom during the three years that was the Lickliter Dumpster Fire. I watched three straight seasons of some of the worst, unmotivated and disorganized basketball I’ve ever seen (it was tied for the lead with the Tim Floyd Chicago Bulls). As one of 40-50 students who actually attended Carver during those terrible, no good, awful years, I honestly believed that Kurt Looby and Seth Gorney and Cyrus Tate and Justin Johnson and Jake Kelly and Anthony Tucker and Matt Gatens and Brennan freaking Cougill were the tip of the Iowa iceberg.
Read those names again.
In the same vein, I also never thought that Iowa would ever get out of that funk, let alone see the likes of Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury, Isaiah Moss, Ahmad Wagner, Tyler Cook, Jordan Bohannon, Connor McCaffery or Luke Garza join the fray.
McCaffery and the Franimal House changed all of Iowa’s stars. They brought in talent that teams like Duke, UNC and Kansas usually reeled in right in front of us. They truly made Iowa basketball something to be proud about (despite the timeouts and the late game collapses that have absolutely plagued this staff). That’s why I’m ultimately optimistic about all three of the following storylines for the upcoming Iowa season.
It’s why I remain a believer.
Storyline to Watch #1: Christian Williams and Jordan Bohannon will need to match at least 80% of the output of Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons at the point guard position
It’s always difficult to replace two seniors that played the majority of a teams minutes at any position, but that’s exactly what McCaffery is up against this season after the graduation of Gesell and Clemmons.
According to KenPom, Gesell and Clemmons were second and third in percentage of total minutes played last season and over the last 5 games (but was the case for most of the season), Gesell and Clemmons played 99% of the teams total minutes at the point guard position.
Those are big shoes to fill. They’re even bigger when you only have a true sophomore (who played sparingly in 20 games the season before) and a true freshman to take their place.
Iowa is going to be forced into finding (and solidifying) their offensive captain with some trial by error and in-game tinkering during the out of conference slate. But if Williams can consistently play like he did during some of those short stints last season (i.e. the home loss to Indiana) and if Bohannon can just be a Bohannon like all of the Bohannon’s before him, the odds are in Iowa’s favor.
Storyline to Watch #2: Peter Jok, NBA Draft Pick
Peter Jok tried to flirt with the NBA at the end of last season... and the NBA didn’t really flirt back. But hey, at least they gave him some constructive criticism for when he tried to swoon them again in 2017.
McCaffery is on the record saying that he and the coaching staff are doing everything they can to make sure they can get Jok drafted after this season. Jok is on the record saying that he’s ready to take on the offensive burden and take that next step in his game.
And now I’m on the record saying that Jok is going to be one of the most dominant shooting-forwards in the Big Ten and quite possibly the NCAA.
Storyline to Watch #3: Creating necessary depth
It’s no secret that Iowa lost a ton to graduation after last season’s run. So the question now is, who among Isaiah Moss, Ahmad Wagner, Nicholas Baer, Dale Jones, Dom Uhl, Brady Ellingson, Cordell Pemsl and Ryan Kriener is going to play beyond their experience and age? Who is going to take the opportunity in front of them and grab the available playing time and make an immediate impact?
Despite my beliefs, I’ll admit there are only a few guarantees on this team heading into 2016-17. As I mentioned above, Jok is my lock to make one of the biggest leaps in the sport. And I believe Cook will dazzle even as a true freshman. But beyond that, their are plenty of question marks.
Can Baer play like he did against Villanova for an entire season as McCaffery’s sixth man? Can Wagner stay on the court as Cook’s “Post Bash Brother”. What the heck is Uhl? Can Ellingson find his touch from outside and be a consistent second unit scoring threat? Can Jones stay healthy? Can the youthful talent on this team play beyond their years? Is Isaiah Moss the truth?
*** NOTE: ISAIAH MOSS WILL BE THE TRUTH***
If McCaffery can create answers to some of those questions, Iowa should be able to stay afloat among the upper echelon of the Big Ten.