The Iowa men's basketball program missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years last season. With standout scorer Peter Jok being the only significant piece from last year's roster gone for the Hawkeyes, expectations are high in Iowa City and many think this team can be legitimate contenders in the Big Ten this year.
Whether or not this Iowa team is for real or not depends on three key storylines which will determine their success in 2017-18.
Though there's a lot of young players on this Iowa roster, these guys know what it takes to compete at a high level in the Big Ten.
Much of the talent and youth starts with the two star-studded sophomores, point guard Jordan Bohannon and forward Tyler Cook. As freshmen, both Bohannon and Cook provided a great spark for the Hawkeyes along with Jok and will take over the leadership role this year after playing second fiddle in their first season in the Black and Gold.
Other second-year players who will see a jump in their minutes this year are guard Isaiah Moss and forward Cordell Pemsl. Each started in multiple games last year for Iowa, and are also expected to see a bigger role in their sophomore season.
Could this class create a better legacy than Gesell/Uthoff/White/Woodbury when it's all said and done?
How do we spread these minutes around?
This team has lots of talent. That being said, though, how are Fran McCaffery and the rest of the coaches going to distribute these minutes to make everyone happy?
If I had to guess, this is what MY projected lineup for the 2017-'18 Iowa Hawkeyes would look like:
PG: Jordan Bohannon
SG: Isaiah Moss
SF: Tyler Cook
PF: Ahmad Wagner
C: Luka Garza
6th man: F Nicholas Baer
Guards: Christian Williams and Brady Ellingson
Forwards: Dom Uhl, Cordell Pemsl, Jack Nunge, and Ryan Kreiner
There are no red flags regarding backcourt depth, but in the frontcourt there is some traffic. It's not a bad problem to have, but there are a lot of forwards with limited minutes to go around. I'm sure the coaching staff has something in mind as to how they're going to attack this depending on the situation, but it is something to pay attention to as the season approaches.
Can a great Big Ten draw lead to big success?
Iowa lucked out and have arguably the most reasonable conference schedules among all the Big Ten teams this year.
Two-plays (home and home): Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State.
One-plays (home): Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin.
One-plays (road): Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, Rutgers.
Hawkeye fans felt a great sigh of relief after they heard they wouldn't have to travel to three of the toughest venues in the Big Ten: Mackey Arena, Breslin Center, and Kohl Center.
It's not just the home schedule that jumps out, but Iowa plays road games at three of the projected worst teams in the conference this year: Illinois, Nebraska, and Rutgers.
The NCAA committee always loves a Big Ten team with a respectable conference record (except Indiana in 2016). Iowa should find themselves in the upper tier of the conference with the cards they've been dealt with for conference play.
There's no doubt this Iowa team should hear their name called on Selection Sunday in March. The Hawkeyes have a boatload of talent returning and handful of newcomers who can help put them back in the Round of 64. Fran McCaffery has a young but dangerous group this year that could sneak up on some teams when the season arrives.