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2017-’18 Iowa Hawkeyes Season Preview

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BTPowerhouse previews the upcoming season for the Iowa Hawkeyes and what fans should expect from the program heading into the 2017-’18 season.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017-’18 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview' series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2017-’18 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.

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In sports, the line between good and great is incredibly thin. Depending on a single bounce, one injury, or a mistake, a team can find themselves on the wrong side of that line. Most fans understand how difficult it can be to win at a high level, but very few seem to comprehend just how microscopic a detail can be that makes the difference.

During last season, Iowa sat on the unfortunate side of that spectrum. While the Hawkeyes were a respectable unit that went 19-15 overall and 10-8 in Big Ten play, the team routinely hinged between victory and defeat. In fact, eight of the team’s losses last year came in overtime or by 10 points or less. And considering how narrowly Iowa came to making last year’s NCAA Tournament, that’s a frustrating fact for Hawkeye fans.

To put that even further into perspective, just look at Iowa’s postseason positioning. The Hawkeyes landed as a one seed in last year’s NIT. Even one more regular season win would have put Iowa on the verge of an NCAA bid. And if the team had avoided losing to Nebraska Omaha in non-conference play? Well, that discussion’s over. Iowa would have made its fourth straight NCAA Tournament, it’s first such run since 1989.

Instead, Iowa found itself on the outside looking in last March. It wasn’t an embarrassing season, but it was a disappointing one, especially knowing that, with a fortunate bounce or two, Iowa might have kept its NCAA Tournament streak intact. The Hawkeyes were decent, but just not quite good enough to get the job done.

The questions will now be whether Iowa can take the necessary step forward and convert some of those close losses into wins and pull off another upset or two. The good news is that with a deeper and more experienced roster, a step forward seems reasonable. The loss of Peter Jok will be substantial, but if Iowa can find a way to navigate that departure, the team can be one of the better ones in the Big Ten.

Let’s take a look at whether the Hawkeyes can get the job done.

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 Cornhuskers, featuring BTPowerhouse Manager Thomas Beindit and Black Heart Gold Pants Contributor Jerome Scherwin breaking down Iowa's roster, incoming recruits, schedule, and season outlook.

1. 2016-’17 Season Performance

  • Record: 19-15 (10-8)
  • KenPom Team Rating: #71
  • RPI Rating: #81
  • Postseason Appearance: NIT

Iowa was not a great basketball team last season. In fact, Iowa probably wasn’t even a good team last season. The Hawkeyes were conclusively below the nation’s elite teams (see Iowa’s blowout loss to Virginia) and solidly behind the Big Ten’s best teams. Simply put, good teams don’t end up playing in the NIT at season’s end.

However, the picture of Iowa’s season is a lot more complicated than that. As mentioned above, closes losses plagued Iowa at numerous times last season. A win in any of those games would have been massive for the team’s overall resume and postseason hopes.

The bigger issue, though, was Iowa’s inconsistency. The Hawkeyes would routinely perform beautifully one night and follow it up with an absolute stinker in the next game. The same happened in inverse as well. We’ll get into some of the reasons for that inconsistency later, but there’s little denying that it existed. Here are just a few examples:

  • December - Loses to Nebraska Omaha, beats Iowa State five days later.
  • Early January - Beats Michigan, loses to Nebraska four days later.
  • Mid-January - Beats Purdue, blowout loss to Northwestern three days later.
  • Late-January - Loses to Illinois, follows it up with three-straight wins.
  • February - Loses to Illinois at home, wins four straight, including at Maryland and at Wisconsin.
  • March - Follows up four-game winning streak with blowout loss to Indiana.

Weird things happen, at times, in college basketball. We all know that upsets happen and fans can’t expect to win every game. But the examples above illustrate Iowa’s inconsistency issues last season. This wasn’t a season where the team started in one place and steadily improved until season’s end. The Hawkeyes took steps forward, steps backward, and swung wildly between good, decent, and bad throughout the season.

That inconsistency left Iowa with an underwhelming resume on Selection Sunday. As mentioned, Iowa was never a terrible team, but 18 regular season wins with a few bad losses wasn’t going to put the Hawkeyes in the NCAA field. Iowa then went to the NIT, where the team won its opening round matchup, but then fell to TCU in overtime.

Highlights of the season included a non-conference win over Iowa State and conference wins over Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Purdue, and Wisconsin. The wins over Maryland and Wisconsin were particularly impressive considering that both came late on the season and on the road. Low points of the season included a devastating home loss to Nebraska Omaha in non-conference play, a home loss to Illinois late in league play, and a crushing loss against Indiana to open the Big Ten Tournament.

Individual statistical leaders were Nicholas Baer, Jordan Bohannon, and Peter Jok. Baer led the team in rebounds, steals, and blocks. Bohannon led the team in minutes and assists. Jok led the team in points, usage, and total win shares.

2. Offseason Exits

During last season, Iowa had to go through some major growing pains with one of the nation’s youngest rosters. In fact, KenPom put the Hawkeyes at 345th nationally in its experience rating. The team consistently started three freshmen and four underclassmen players. Six of the team’s top seven players in total minutes were also underclassmen. Simply put, Iowa had some growing up to do.

The good news is that with so much youth playing last season, Iowa is set to suffer very little attrition this offseason. After all, with four underclassmen starting and six playing major minutes, it’s hard to lose too many contributors without a massive exodus of NBA talent or a scandal. Iowa had neither of those occur this offseason. As such, Iowa is set to return the vast majority of its roster from last season.

But even if most of the roster returns, Iowa did see two players depart in Peter Jok and Dale Jones. And since Jones played a whopping 16 minutes during all of the 2016-’17 season, the only real offseason attrition comes from Jok. It’s hard to find many teams that are looking at just replacing one contributor for a next season.

Unfortunately, replacing Jok is easier said than done. He may only be one player, but he was a substantial contributor for the Hawkeyes last season. He led the team in scoring and was second on the team in minutes, rebounds, assists, steals, and three-point buckets. Jok’s efficiency (112.1 ORtg) was also extremely impressive given that he was one of the most utilized players in the nation. He took 31.2 percent of Iowa’s shots when on the floor.

Jok also came up big in a number of individual games last season. He was named KenPom MVP in nine of the team’s games last season, including in Iowa’s wins against Indiana, Iowa State, and Purdue. Without Jok, it’s hard to think that Iowa would have even had a chance to make the NCAA Tournament late last season. The Hawkeyes didn’t make it, but a player like Jok can at least keep a team in the conversation.

It’s also important to emphasize just how much Jok did during his four seasons with the Hawkeyes. He wasn’t just one of Iowa’s best players during that period, he was one of the Big Ten’s biggest contributors. In fact, Jok’s 19.9 points per game last season topped any Big Ten player during the overall season. Even if a team has a complete roster, replacing a player of that caliber is not easy.

3. New Additions

This season, the Hawkeyes will be adding three new recruits. These recruits are Luka Garza, Connor McCaffery, and Jack Nunge. According to 247Sports, Garza and McCaffery are four-star prospects and Nunge is a three-star. McCaffery and Nunge are listed as power forwards and Garza is listed as a center.

The recruits receiving the most attention heading into next season are Garza and McCaffery. To start, Garza showed major flashes during Iowa’s international trip this season. He scored more than 20 points in multiple games and posted an impressive 25 points and 11 rebounds in one game. Given his size, he should have a great chance to play major minutes upfront and to start at center.

McCaffery cooled down a bit as a recruit since his original commitment to Iowa in 2014 (yes, that’s an accurate date), but he’s still talented enough to step in and contribute on the wing in year one. The Hawkeyes have a bunch of options on the wing in players like Nicholas Baer, Isaiah Moss, and Ahmad Wagner, but no proven star player that can replace what Jok did last season. McCaffery will get minutes. It’s just unclear as to how many with the team’s wing depth.

It’s also worth noting that McCaffery does have the skills to play in the backcourt as well. Many are anticipating that Jordan Bohannon will lock down the point and players like Brady Ellingson, Isaiah Moss, and Christian Williams can make a mark at the two spot. However, McCaffery could see minutes playing alongside Bohannon. That could very well be the best way to utilize him as a freshman.

The final incoming prospect is Nunge. He’s rated as the No. 156 player in the nation and the 39th best power forward in the 2017 recruiting class by 247Sports. Nunge projects as a solid player for the Hawkeyes down the line, but will have an uphill battle to see playing time in year one. Iowa has six scholarship players who can play at the four with more experience than him. Unless Nunge was completely underrated in his recruiting evaluations, it’s safe to antiicipate that he will redshirt the upcoming season or see very limited minutes.

Iowa may not have a recruiting class loaded with five-star talent, but, in my opinion, this might be the most underrated class for this year’s Big Ten. Garza and McCaffery were just narrowly outside the top 100 and both are good enough to see real minutes in year one. In fact, Garza will likely start for Iowa when the season tips. And while Nunge is only rated as a three-star, his overall profile fits what Iowa has looked for with Fran McCaffery, versatile forwards that can play multiple positions, develop, and prosper as upperclassmen.

With so many returning contributors, it’s hard to see Iowa’s incoming recruiting class making that massive of an impact in year one. After all, there’s only so many minutes to go around and Iowa is returning four starters and all of its key bench players from last season. The competition for playing time will be fierce.

4. Points of Optimism

While many conferences have closed the gap, the Big Ten has consistently been regarded as the league with the best head coaches over the last decade. The conference brings in great coaches, gives them time to develop their systems, and retains them. Head coaching dictates much about whether a team’s going to have success in college basketball and the Big Ten has consistently brought in great head coaches.

One coach who doesn’t receive his due is Fran McCaffery. My guess is that he’s overlooked by many national pundits because he hasn’t had elite NCAA Tournament success. But when McCaffery’s tenure at Iowa is evaluated based on the school’s history, he’s done an excellent job.

McCaffery recruits to his system, develops his players, and fields competitive teams on a yearly basis. Over the last six seasons, Iowa has made three NCAA Tournaments and three NIT appearances. Notably, Iowa finished in KenPom’s top 30 teams during four of those seasons and had at least 18 wins in all six years. Other teams have had better runs over those six years, but that’s a nice, consistent performance and McCaffery deserves credit.

And now, McCaffery has a roster composed of what he likes best: depth, experience, and versatile options. Iowa could very well be the deepest and most experienced Big Ten team heading into next season. Depth and experience don’t mean everything (stares at Duke and Kentucky), but it’s a great place to start. After all, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that upperclassmen generally outperform underclassmen.

If Iowa is going to have success this year, that’s where it needs to start. With four returning starters and every reserve back in the fold, Iowa and McCaffery will have a great group to work with. Bohannon projects to be a really nice player in the backcourt and Cook could do some major damage upfront. Add in plenty of role player options and it’s easy to see why many Hawkeye fans are expecting some significant improvement.

The other thing that should get Iowa fans excited for this season is just how young the team was last year. As mentioned earlier, Iowa was 345th nationally in KenPom’s experience rating last season. This was a team that relied on freshmen and an absurd number of underclassmen. These players made mistakes that they likely won’t make this season. Even if that means another win or two, it could be huge for Iowa’s postseason hopes.

Specifically, two players who could take a major step forward are Bohannon and Cook. The two played substantial minutes for the Hawkeyes last season as freshmen and project to improve this season. Bohannon was a great perimeter player and should be able to expand his role somewhat this season and Cook projects to become a more efficient player inside and on the boards. Even moderate improvement from both would mean huge things for Iowa.

Iowa may largely be working with the same hand of cards it had last season, but it’s a deep hand with a lot of options. No single player is going to determine this season for the Hawkeyes, which is always an exciting thought. Improvement can come from just about anywhere on the roster and it won't’ take that much to elevate Iowa from an NIT team to one that can make some noise in the Big Ten.

5. Team Weaknesses

Even if Iowa does have one of the deepest rosters in the Big Ten, there are going to be more than a few questions about next year’s Hawkeye squad. Of course, this probably shouldn’t be all that surprising considering that Iowa ended up in the NIT last season. There are always going to be questions about an NIT team.

The first (and most significant) question is whether Iowa can find a star player this season.

Now, after reading the preceding sentences, many Hawkeye fans are likely grumbling to themselves, opining that the team did have star players last season. And there’s no denying that the team had at least one. Jok was one of the Big Ten’s best players and was a matchup advantage on a nightly basis for the Hawkeyes. When a player can score like Jok did during his career at Iowa, he’s going to be considered a star.

However, that’s where I draw the line. While many want to anoint Bohannon and Cook as star players, there simply isn’t enough evidence to support those conclusions. Both had really nice freshmen seasons and made the All-Big Ten Freshman Team, but Bohannon was underwhelming for a large portion of the season and Cook didn’t even play half of Iowa’s minutes. As such, it’s hard to claim either as a top 15 player in last year’s Big Ten.

This may seem like a critical approach to two players who stood out as freshmen, but keeping things in context is crucial. The list of players who have had “nice” initial seasons is a mile long. The question is whether they can elevate their game from good freshmen into star players in the Big Ten. Right now, it’s a question mark and something that will have a massive impact on how Iowa performs next season.

Maybe my focus on star players seems misplaced, but having high-end contributors is immensely important for reaching the goals that Iowa is pursuing. Teams can often underwhelm with a star players, but it’s pretty rare to see a nationally competitive team without at least one star. For instance, all six Big Ten teams that made last year’s NCAA Tournament had a first or second-team All-Big Ten player. Simply put, it’s hard to picture Iowa matching that mark without a top 10 player in the league.

Moreover, it’s also important to reemphasize the loss of Jok here. He led the team in PER, usage, and minutes, points, three-pointers, and free throws per game. Jok was also second in rebounds, assists, and steals per game. Even if Iowa can do the above and find a star player, it’s going to be difficult to replace Jok. Many will hope that Iowa can replace him “by committee” next season, but that might even be a tall task.

Iowa also returns some major questions in the team’s frontcourt for next season. While the primary frontcourt contributors are still on the roster, Iowa was not a great team upfront. The Hawkeyes were 296th in defensive rebounding rate and 152nd in block rate. The team was also 95th nationally in free throw attempts and lacked a big man that could consistently get to the rim.

Fans are hopeful that Garza can be the answer to these issues this season. He has the size that last year’s roster lacked and the frame to be a great rebounder. However, it’s hard to ever fully believe in a freshmen until he actually gets on the court. My guess is that Garza will help considerably in this regard, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Garza is still an incoming freshman and was rated outside the top 100 by 247Sports.

There’s a lot to be hopeful about for the Hawkeyes next season, but there will be some serious questions as to the team’s potential until it can shown that it has some major starpower and has fixed its frontcourt issues.

6. Top Player

Heading into last season, there wasn’t much doubt that Jok was Iowa’s best player. He had opted to forego the NBA Draft and return to school and figured to be an All-Big Ten player by season’s end. Here’s what I wrote in last year’s preview:

“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.”

But Jok is now gone and Iowa will have to figure out who will lead the team this season. It’s unlikely any player will be able to replicate what Jok did over the last few seasons, but perhaps someone can come close. The task should also be a bit easier considering that Jok did miss a few conference games.

The top two candidates here will be Bohannon and Cook. Based upon last season only, Bohannon looks like the frontrunner. He averaged 29.6 minutes, 10.9 points, 5.1 assists, and 2.2 rebounds per game and shot an impressive 41.6 percent on 214 three-point attempts. Along with that, he took significant steps forward as the season progressed, seeing his minutes increase and scoring double-digits in the team’s final six games.

Cook may not have had the freshman season Hawkeyes fans envisioned when he originally committed to the program, but he did have a nice debut. He averaged 24.5 minutes, 12.3 points, and 5.3 rebounds in his 27 games, including double-digits in seven of his final nine games. Cook also really shined inside the arc with an 8.7 offensive rebounding rate (21st in the Big Ten) and a 56.5 two-point shooting percentage.

Behind these two, the returners to watch will be Baer and Moss. Baer and Moss averaged 23.8 and 17.1 minutes respectively and right around seven points per game. Baer was far more efficient and much better on the boards, though, with a 121.1 offensive rating and a 9.3 offensive rebounding rate last season. But Moss is a younger player with more potential (on paper) and will look to take the next step.

A few wildcards to keep in mind in this race will be Garza, McCaffery, and Pemsl. Both Garza and McCaffery are highly regarded freshmen that should make an impact this season and Pemsl is entering his second season and looking to take a step forward. Most are expecting these three to be role and/or rotational players, but they do have the potential to surprise and elevate their game to the next level.

7. 2016-’17 Schedule Breakdown

  • 10/27 - Williams Jewell College (Ex.)
  • 11/1 - Belmont Abbey College (Ex.)
  • 11/10 - Chicago State
  • 11/12 - Alabama State
  • 11/16 - Grambling State
  • 11/20 - Louisiana Lafayette (Cayman Islands)
  • 11/21 - South Dakota State/Wyoming (Cayman Islands)
  • 11/22 - TBD (Cayman Islands)
  • 11/28 - at Virginia Tech
  • 12/7 - at Iowa State
  • 12/10 - Southern
  • 12/16 - vs Drake (Des Moines, IA)
  • 12/19 - Southern Utah
  • 12/22 - Colorado (Sioux Falls, SD)
  • 12/29 - Northern Illinois
  • 12/2 - Penn State
  • 12/4 - at Indiana
  • 1/2 - Michigan
  • 1/4 - Ohio State
  • 1/7 - at Maryland
  • 1/11 - at Illinois
  • 1/17 - at Rutgers
  • 1/20 - Purdue
  • 1/23 - Wisconsin
  • 1/27 - at Nebraska
  • 1/30 - Minnesota
  • 2/3 - at Penn State
  • 2/6 - Michigan State
  • 2/10 - at Ohio State
  • 2/14 - at Michigan
  • 2/17 - Indiana
  • 2/21 - at Minnesota
  • 2/25 - Northwestern

Iowa is coming off an NIT season and has a schedule that corresponds with that fact. There are a lot of tricky games, but few where the Hawkeyes will be substantial underdogs. Iowa will have plenty of opportunities to build its win total and its resume.

For some perspective, just look at how Iowa’s non-conference opponents were rated on KenPom last year:

  • 1-50: Iowa St. (17); Virginia Tech (50)
  • 51-100: Colorado (72)
  • 101-200: Louisiana Lafayette (146); South Dakota St. (185)
  • 200+: Northern Illinois (205); Drake (258); Southern (326); Grambling State (327); Southern Utah (333); Chicago State (335); Alabama State (342)

While last year’s KenPom ratings don’t tell a full story on what’s to come, they do tell a pretty compelling story. Iowa has a schedule loaded heavily with underwhelming opponents. Perhaps a few teams will surprise (it’s also worth mentioning that Iowa should play a quality team in its final game in the Cayman Islands), but seven games against teams outside the top 200 isn’t exactly a brutal slate. None of Iowa’s upcoming opponents were projected in the top 25 by CBS in August, either.

However, even if most of Iowa’s non-conference games look underwhelming on paper, there are a few that merit more discussion. To start, road games at Iowa State and Virginia Tech are going to be very challenging. Both teams made last year’s NCAA Tournament and bring back plenty of talent. Iowa State will also be looking for revenge after Iowa upset the Cyclones last season.

Along with that, Iowa will get Colorado on a neutral court and capable Louisiana Lafayette and South Dakota State teams. Not to say any of those three teams will be favored over the Hawkeyes when the games tip (all three finished below Iowa on KenPom last season), but they’re good enough to pose some reasonable upset threat. All three should help Iowa’s resume and RPI as well. Assuming Iowa wins, of course.

In conference play, Hawkeye fans generally know what to expect. Every game will be challenging, especially with teams like Illinois, Indiana, and Rutgers on pace to make significant improvements.

The good news for Iowa is that the team got off relatively easy this season. With Indiana, Ohio State, and Penn State as double-plays, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin as home-only games, and two of Iowa’s remaining road games against Nebraska and Rutgers, it’s hard to ask for a more manageable slate.

To put Iowa’s Big Ten schedule into perspective, consider that the Hawkeyes will only play three league opponents (Maryland, Michigan, and Minnesota) on the road that made last year’s NCAA Tournament. More simply put, that means Iowa can get to 15 conference wins without beating a single (projected) top-tier team on the road.

Yeah, it’s a favorable schedule.

Of course, Iowa isn’t going to win all 15 of those games. But the important thing will be taking care of business at home and beating the underwhelming opponents on the road. If the Hawkeyes do that, it’s had to see the team missing the NCAA Tournament.

8. Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG: Jordan Bohannon (So.) - 95%
  • SG: Isaiah Moss (So.) - 60%
  • SF: Nicholas Baer (So.) - 60%
  • PF: Tyler Cook (So.) - 95%
  • C: Luke Garza (Fr.) - 70%

(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)

While Iowa has a plethora of experienced players returning this season, there are plenty of questions as to who will lock down starting roles. That’s not because these players aren’t worthy of starting, but because there is going to have ample competition. For instance, there will likely be three of four players on the wing that would be more than capable of locking down on a starting position on most teams.

One position that is known, however, is point guard.

There, Bohannon projects to lock down a starting spot after an impressive freshman campaign. He played 72 percent of the team’s minutes last season and was arguably Iowa’s most consistent shooter from three-point range. If Bohannon can find a way to increase his usage (51st in the Big Ten in percentage of shots taken while on the floor) while keeping similar efficiency (111.0 offensive rating) numbers, he could be an All-Big Ten player. The more realistic scenario puts Bohannon somewhere between what he was during last season and a top five player in the league.

The other backcourt position projects to be filled by Moss. He started at the end of last season, but played less than 20 minutes in seven of the final nine games. He also failed to play even 50 percent of the team’s minutes. Moss was only a freshman last season, admittedly, but neither of those are encouraging stats. That’s the primary reason why his name will be written in the starting lineup in pencil and not in pen.

There are two players that project to be the primary challengers to Moss. Those two are Ellingson and McCaffery. Ellingson will be a redshirt junior next season who has failed to play even 35 percent of Iowa’s minutes in any of his prior seasons. It’s pretty unlikely that he can beat out Moss for the starting role, but he still deserves to be mentioned considering some of his performances in Big Ten play last season. Notably, he scored double-digits on three separate occasions and earned KenPom MVP honors in the team’s wins over Nebraska and Ohio State.

McCaffery is far more of an unknown, but projects to be one of the best players on the team. His recruiting profile suggests someone who will be a great player for the Hawkeyes at some point.

But some point and next season are two entirely different things. After all, McCaffery is really nice prospect, but last year’s Big Ten prospects rated similarly (Penn State’s Lamar Stevens and Minnesota’s Eric Curry) weren’t necessarily dominant. All told, the safe bet here is Moss starting with the other two coming off the bench.

On the wing, there are a plethora of options.

To start, there should be little debating that Cook will lock down a starting role. Given his size and how the depth chart projects, he figures to start at the four spot. He might have more upside than anyone on the roster and has showed much of that last season. After all, he averaged 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game and came up huge late in the season, scoring double-digits in seven of the team’s last nine games. If Cook elevates his rebounding and defense a bit and avoids so many turnovers, he could also be in play for All-Big Ten consideration this season.

The question is who will start alongside Cook. Not only does Iowa return Baer and Wagner, but the team also returns an upperclassman in Dom Uhl and underclassmen in Pemsl and Ryan Kriener. Both Baer and Wagner played significant minutes last season with offensive ratings over 100. Baer was also a killer on the offensive boards and Wagner displayed a diverse game in more limited minutes. Baer figures to be the starter.

Of the remaining three players, Pemsl played the most minutes last season. He averaged 19.3 minutes per game and saw 20 or more minutes in five of the team’s final 10 games. Pemsl’s 17.4 defensive rebounding rate was also particularly impressive. There’s little doubt he will get minutes this season. Kriener and Uhl will fight for the remaining minutes. Neither played 20 minutes in any game during the last 10 games of last season.

The final starting spot should be Garza’s to lose. He’s only a freshman, but has the raw size and strength to see major minutes in his first season. If Iowa is going to reach its ceiling, it’s with Garza starting. The Hawkeyes don’t have a true center outside of Garza. Playing an undersized player for backup minutes (10 to 15 minutes a game) will be fine, but Iowa needs Garza to manage the starting role.

Overall, Iowa figures to have one of the more proven lineups in the Big Ten. Bohannon should be one of the Big Ten’s better starting guards, Baer and Cook should be a great wing group, and Garza is enticing as a center. If the Hawkeyes can find an option at the two spot, Iowa could turn into one of the Big Ten’s better teams.

9. Team Perspective From Jerome Scherwin of Black Heart Gold Pants

“Basketball Jones. I got an Iowa Basketball Jones!

And why shouldn't I? Fran McCaffery is bringing back one hell of a young but veteran team that finished tied for fifth in the Big Ten last season with a 10-8 conference record. Yeah, sure. Things were a little rough at first (the four game losing streak against Virginia, Memphis, Notre Dame and Omaha...) but fortunately, it thrusted this young roster into the spotlight to see if they would sink or swim.

Yes, Peter Jok is gone and that's unfortunate, but Iowa will bring back 77% of its offense from last season and have a plethora of guys willing and ready to take those available minutes (Isaiah Moss I'm looking at you buddy). Jordan Bohanon is getting pumped up by his head coach for his ability to be Steph Curry-like, Tyler Moss is apparently unrecognizable from the player we all fell in love with last year, Cordell Pemsl gave up Sprite and Popcorn and lost 20-pounds, Nicholas Baer might get an opportunity to put his 6th Man of the Year intensity on display from the opening tip and Luka Garza is talented to start from day one.

Iowa fans are ready for the season to start because this is the official start of the second act that is McCaffery's tenure as a head coach. Can Iowa finish in the Top-4? Of course they CAN. It's going to be tough and they're going to have to have some luck bounce their way. But no matter where they ultimately finish, lock up an NCAA Tournament appearance.” - Jerome Scherwin.

10. Overall Season Outlook

Perhaps no coach has quietly been more successful seven seasons than Iowa’s Fran McCaffery. Despite little national attention and fanfare, McCaffery has built a great program in Iowa City. The team has won 18 or more games and made the postseason in six of his seven seasons at the helm, including three NCAA Tournament trips. That’s a major step forward for a program that had made it just twice in the nine years before McCaffery took over.

And this season figures to be the second chapter in the third act of McCaffery’s time at Iowa. He had his first group of recruits like Devyn Marble and Aaron White, his second group in players like Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff, and he will now have his third group in players like Jordan Bohannon and Tyler Cook.

The question is whether McCaffery can lead a similar progression as fans enjoyed in the first two acts. With a great returning base of players, it’s there for the taking. And while Bohannon and Cook will attract most of the attention, Nicholas Baer and Isaiah Moss could be great role players for the Hawkeyes. Iowa also adds a talented 2017 recruiting class that could be one of McCaffery’s best with the program yet.

However, there are concerns. To start, replacing Peter Jok will be no easy task. He was one of the Big Ten’s best players last season and arguably one of Iowa’s greatest players in program history. Players like Jok simply don’t walk through the door on a yearly basis. Iowa will need to find a way to replace those lost contributions.

Moreover, fans have to wonder how big of a step players like Baer, Bohannon, and Cook can take in this season. While Cook’s ceiling is sky high, the other two may have already reached most of their potential. It’s certainly up for debate, but it does raise questions. And they’re important questions considering that the Hawkeyes still need to improve on last season. After all, Iowa failed to make last season’s NCAA Tournament.

The good news is that with a proven coach and plenty of proven players, Iowa should be back in the NCAA Tournament picture. The development of the team’s youth will determine whether Selection Sunday is a stressful one.

Big Ten Prediction: 7th Place