The 2019-’20 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview’ series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2019-’20 ‘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.
Over the last decade, the Big Ten has reached some incredible heights. Three programs have found themselves in the Final Four and numerous others have at least made it to the second weekend in March. Outside of winning the national championship, the Big Ten has had an incredible run in recent years, highlighted by programs like Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, and Wisconsin.
And when things are going that well, teams are bound to get overlooked. And perhaps no program has been more overlooked than Iowa during this run.
Although Iowa hasn’t been fortunate enough to advance to the Final Four or win any Big Ten titles over the last few years, the Hawkeyes have still been quite impressive. Iowa has made the NCAA Tournament in four of the last six seasons and finished with at least 20 wins and in the top 40 on KenPom in five of the last seven years. Those numbers might not match up with the conference’s top tier, but they’re still really impressive. And if things had just fallen a little differently in some of those years, Iowa could have hung some banners as well.
The challenge now is to sustain and build on that success moving forward. Outside of the impressive run in the 1980s, Iowa has never made the NCAA Tournament in five of seven seasons. That will be on the line this season. And with so much uncertainty elsewhere in the league, opportunity awaits. Perhaps Iowa can get in the top portion of the league and challenge in the Big Ten Tournament as well.
Unfortunately, things won’t be easy. Iowa lost players like Tyler Cook and Nicholas Baer this offseason and the program announced that star guard Jordan Bohannon would be sidelined for much of the season with an injury. Add in the transfer of Isaiah Moss and there are some real holes in the lineup. Fran McCaffery and his staff are going to have to find a way to replace some key players to keep things rolling.
Iowa generally projects to, once again, be in bubble range this season. But can the Hawkeyes outperform expectations? Let’s take a look.
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 Sean Bock of 247Sports breaking down Iowa’s roster, incoming recruits, schedule, and season outlook.
1. 2018-’19 Season Performance
- Record: 23-13 (10-10)
- KenPom Team Rating: #37
- NET Rating: #40
- Postseason Appearance: NCAA (R32)
Iowa’s most recent campaign fits distinctly into the “good, but not great” category. The Hawkeyes had some nice moments, but never had the consistency, especially away from home, to reach that next tier. A tough Big Ten slate and some rough late season losses prevented the team from reaching the highest levels of college basketball.
Perhaps the most impressive part about Iowa’s performance last season was how well the team lived up to expectations early on. The team scored massive wins against opponents like Iowa State, Michigan, and Oregon, and only lost to the following opponents through the first 27 games of the season:
- 11/30 - vs Wisconsin (16th on KenPom);
- 12/3 - at Michigan State (3rd on KenPom);
- 1/3 - at Purdue (9th on KenPom);
- 1/24 - vs Michigan State (3rd on KenPom);
- 1/27 - at Minnesota (46th on KenPom); and
- 2/19 vs Maryland (24th on KenPom).
There’s virtually no way to criticize the above losses. Iowa went 21-6 through its first 27 games with every loss coming to an NCAA Tournament team, three coming away from home, three coming against top 10 opponents, and five coming against top 25 opponents. Iowa’s “worst” loss through 27 games last season came on the road against Minnesota, who made it to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. Just about every fanbase out there would take that performance.
What came after, though, removed much of that positivity.
After starting 21-6, Iowa lost five of its next six games, including a home loss to Rutgers and a road loss to a reeling Nebraska squad. The Hawkeyes dropped to a 10 seed on Selection Sunday as a result of those losses. The team rebounded with a win against Cincinnati before falling in overtime against Tennessee, but one has to wonder how things might have looked if Iowa hadn’t finished the regular season so poorly.
The moment most fans are going to remember is the heartbreaking loss to Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament. A win there would have gotten Iowa to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999. Beating Rutgers and Nebraska wouldn’t have guaranteed a win in the second round, but perhaps an easier first round matchup could have helped the team in its second game of the opening weekend. It will be something Iowa fans will wonder about for years.
Highlights of the season included wins over Iowa State and Oregon in non-conference play, the massive upset over Michigan in Big Ten play, and the win over Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament. Low points of the season included the losses to Rutgers and Nebraska and the heartbreaker to Tennessee.
Individual statistical leaders were Nicholas Baer, Jordan Bohannon, Tyler Cook, and Joe Wieskamp. Baer led the team in blocks and steals. Bohannon led the team in minutes and assists. Cook led the team in scoring, rebounds, and usage. Wieskamp led the team in overall win shares.
2. Offseason Exits
There’s little debating that Iowa will be losing a lot this offseason. All told, Iowa will be losing four players in Nicholas Baer, Tyler Cook, Maishe Dailey, and Isaiah Moss. All four were significant contributors last season, including two that started for the team in the NCAA Tournament.
The biggest departure for the team will certainly be Cook. He was one of the more impressive players in the Big Ten over the last few years and was an absolute force on the boards in Iowa City. His raw athleticism is what separated him over the last few season and his ability to play on both ends of the court can’t be understated. Cook had his off nights, but more often than not, he was carrying the team to its marquee victories.
Baer and Moss will also be significant departures. Moss started for the team last season and Baer played starter minutes as well, finishing with 47.2 percent of the team’s minutes last season. Moss was a fantastic shooter from three-point range and Baer brought a unique combination of shooting and rebounding. Neither of these guys had elite athleticism like Cook, but both were significant contributors for the team.
Between these three players, Iowa will be taking a massive hit on the wing. However, it doesn’t end there because the team will also be losing Dailey, who played around 30 percent of the team’s minutes last season. Dailey’s contributions lagged significantly behind the other three, but he stepped up when needed off the bench. And with the others also leaving, his impact will be felt just a tad more.
There’s no way to sugarcoat the fact that the Hawkeyes are losing a lot this offseason. However, the losses aren’t necessarily devastating, either. McCaffery and his staff had to expect that Cook was leaving this offseason, Baer and Dailey weren’t even technically starters, and Moss had his challenges as well. The only player in the group that Iowa probably can’t replace this season is Cook and, as mentioned, Iowa had to figure he was leaving last spring. So, even if the losses are significant, there is hope.
3. New Additions
This season, the Hawkeyes will be adding three new recruits and one transfer. The new recruits are Patrick McCaffery, Joe Toussaint, and Aidan Vanderloo. Toussaint and Vanderloo are listed as guards and McCaffery is listed as a small forward. McCaffery is rated as a four-star prospect by 247Sports, Toussaint is listed as a three-star, and Vanderloo arrives as a walk-on.
The player receiving the most attention from this group is certainly McCaffery. Not only because he’s the highest-rated prospect, but also because he figures to be an early contributor. He is rated as a top 100 prospect by 247Sports and is listed at 6-foot-8 and 175 pounds. And given Fran McCaffery’s track record at developing wings, it seems like Patrick could have quite a career ahead of him.
Toussaint also figures to have a shot at making an early impact, primarily due to injuries on the roster. With Bohannon sidelined for at least the early portions of next season, Iowa should have a lot of minutes available in the backcourt. Look for Toussaint to make an early run. Vanderloo arrives with little hype, but was a consistent three-point shooter in high school. Perhaps he can bring that to Iowa.
The other major offseason addition for Iowa is Bakari Evelyn, who transferred into the program from Valparaiso. By most general measurements, Evelyn was a solid, but not great player last season for the Crusaders. He played a lot of minutes, hit 31.4 percent from three, but finished with an 84.9 offensive rating. He was undoubtedly brought in to try and make up for Bohannon’s injury. He should provide depth and experience. It’s probably unrealistic to expect him to be more than an adequate starter in the Big Ten.
All told, Iowa’s adding a decent group of newcomers this season. Probably not enough to overcome the offseason departures (especially with Bohannon out), but it’s a solid group that could contribute significantly down the line. McCaffery projects to be a star, Evelyn could start early on, and Toussaint has potential. Fans will hope they can outperform expectations a bit early on.
4. Points of Optimism
Although Iowa’s offseason departures are going to leave many skeptical about the Hawkeyes, there is some real potential with this team. Not only because Iowa has had a consistent track record with McCaffery at the helm, but also because there is some talent on this roster. The wing position is also remarkably deep and Iowa has a sneakily good frontcourt heading into this season. If a few other areas can produce, watch out.
As mentioned a few times already in this preview, McCaffery has a proven history on the wing. Players like Jarrod Uthoff and Aaron White immediately come to mind in this regard. Add in others like Tyler Cook and it’s easy to see why McCaffery has developed his reputation for developing players on the wing.
Well, this year should fit into that camp once again. Not only does Iowa welcome Wieskamp back after a solid season, but the team also returns Cordell Pemsl and adds a newcomer with a lot of hype in Patrick McCaffery. Wieskamp should be one of the better players in the Big Ten this season and the other two could turn into nice starters this season. After all, both McCaffery and Pemsl have talent.
Along with the wing group, Iowa also returns a proven starter upfront in Luka Garza and a known backup in Ryan Kriener. Nunge also put in a lot of work this offseason and is expected to contribute upfront. None of the three have shown themselves to be a top-tier Big Ten players so far, but Garza is one of the better big men in the league and the other two are upperclassmen. If they can each give the team 10 minutes or so a night, watch out.
Iowa’s roster might not scream “Big Ten title contender” heading into this season, but there’s more than meets the eye here. The Hawkeyes have what figures to be a really good wing group and the frontcourt could be sneakily good as well. If the team can figure out a few things, another NCAA Tournament appearance is possible.
5. Points of Concern
We may have talked about the wing and frontcourt groups in the “optimism” section, but the backcourt certainly deserves to be listed in this section. Though I hate to be too negative in a season preview, Iowa has some major questions in that regard heading into this season. What was a strength last year will likely end up being a significant issue for the squad this season.
The biggest issue here is the injury to Bohannon. It’s something that was unexpected and really can’t be overcome, at least on paper. Iowa went out and got Evelyn, which should help, but he’s no Bohannon. Even if Iowa tries to replace Bohannon by committee, there’s going to be some regression. Unless Toussaint massively outperforms expectations this season, Iowa’s probably going to take a significant step back at the point guard position.
And unfortunately, that’s not all either.
Bohannon may get the attention, but Iowa also lost Isaiah Moss this offseason as well. Moss started 35 games for the Hawkeyes last year and hit 42.1 percent from three-point range as well. He was a really productive option offensively and Iowa doesn’t have a clear replacement. Perhaps Iowa can rotate a few different players at the position with Wieskamp sliding down, but there aren’t a lot of great options. The Hawkeyes are simply going to have to hope that someone emerges that can take Moss’ minutes.
One other question comes with regard to Wieskamp himself. While he’s put up some impressive numbers for the Hawkeyes so far, nobody can guarantee what he will do this season. Iowa desperately needs him to take the next step and be a star, but can he do it? It’s arguably the team’s biggest question mark behind the backcourt.
An underwhelming backcourt doesn’t necessarily derail a season, but it’s certainly going to be something McCaffery and his team have to figure out how to overcome.
6. Top Player
Heading into last season, Iowa had a handful of standout players that seemed to have the potential to be the team’s best player over the course of the season. Of course, the most likely candidates were Bohannon and Cook. Here’s what Jerry Scherwin wrote before the season began last year:
As noted in the points of optimism, Tyler Cook. Cook is Iowa’s top player if he wants to be.
But if for some reason all of those pieces don’t come together, Iowa’s top player is also one of the conferences best point guards in Jordan Bohannon. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but in my eyes, there was no more important player for the Hawkeyes last season than Bohannon. He does everything for McCaffery. He creates shots when Iowa has nothing going. He was the only ball handler that was able to be trusted late in games. He shot 43 percent from three, had a 5/2 assist to turnover ratio while playing 31.8 minutes per game (34 during conference play).
All told, that prediction was pretty spot on. Cook was the team’s best player over the course of the season and used that to launch himself into the NBA. And Bohannon was close behind him. They formed the core of a team that was just a play or two away from making the Sweet 16. Not exactly a bad run for the group.
But with both of those guys now departed from the roster, Iowa has no clear “best player” heading into this season. The most logical pick here is Wieskamp, who showed some massive potential as a true freshman. However, he’s been inconsistent since arriving on campus. Moreover, he needs to take another step if he’s legitimately going to be an All-Big Ten player for the Hawkeyes this season. Last year was good for a freshman, but this is a new year with new expectations.
If Wieskamp doesn’t end up being the team’s best player, other potential options are Garza and incoming freshman Patrick McCaffery. Both have talent and should play a lot of minutes this season. Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine anyone else outperforming Wieskamp over the course of the year.
7. 2019-’20 Schedule Breakdown
- 11/4 - Lindsey Wilson College (Ex.)
- 11/8 - SIUE
- 11/11 - DePaul
- 11/15 - Oral Roberts
- 11/21 - North Florida
- 11/14 - Cal Poly
- 11/28 - Texas Tech (Las Vegas, NV)
- 11/29 - Creighton/San Diego State (Las Vegas, NV)
- 12/3 - at Syracuse
- 12/6 - at Michigan
- 12/9 - Minnesota
- 12/12 - at Iowa State
- 12/21 - Cincinnati (Chicago, IL)
- 12/29 - Kennesaw State
- 1/4 - Penn State (Philadelphia, PA)
- 1/7 - at Nebraska
- 1/10 - Maryland
- 1/14 - at Northwestern
- 1/17 - Michigan
- 1/22 - Rutgers
- 1/27 - Wisconsin
- 1/30 - at Maryland
- 2/2 - Illinois
- 2/5 - at Purdue
- 2/8 - Nebraska
- 2/13 - at Indiana
- 2/16 - at Minnesota
- 2/20 - Ohio State
- 2/25 - at Michigan State
- 2/29 - Penn State
- 3/3 - Purdue
- 3/8 - at Illinois
By any reasonable evaluation, this figures to be one of the tougher schedules in the Big Ten. Iowa is projected to play a number of marquee opponents in non-conference play, most of the best (projected) Big Ten teams on the road, and some of the nation’s best programs in hostile environments. A good portion of this schedule is going to be more about survival than anything else. Hawkeye fans better get ready for some ups and downs.
The non-conference slate has its traditional filler games, but Iowa is going to have five to six really challenging games. The Hawkeyes will get DePaul at home, Iowa State and Syracuse on the road, and Cincinnati, Texas Tech, and either Creighton or San Diego State on neutral courts. Four of those teams played in the NCAA Tournament, Creighton made it to the third round of the NIT, and both DePaul and San Diego State were top 125 on KenPom.
Past success doesn’t automatically equate to future success, but that looks like six pretty challenging non-con games and just one of those games comes at home. Realistically, Hawkeye fans are just going to have to hope some of those opponents under perform. That might sound like a pessimistic outlook, but it’s reality. Texas Tech made the national title game last year and Iowa is playing on the road against Iowa State and Syracuse. It’s unrealistic to expect Iowa to win those games with ease. It’s going to take a bit of luck.
Conference play is generally what you would expect, but the thing that really pops out is how backloaded this slate looks on paper. That’s going to make taking care of business early crucial for this team. Here’s a look at the first nine games of league play:
- 12/6 - at Michigan
- 12/9 - Minnesota
- 1/4 - Penn State (Philadelphia, PA)
- 1/7 - at Nebraska
- 1/10 - Maryland
- 1/14 - at Northwestern
- 1/17 - Michigan
- 1/22 - Rutgers
- 1/27 - Wisconsin
That’s certainly not an “easy” slate, but it’s more than manageable if the Hawkeyes can overcome some of the team’s roster challenges. Only three of the first nine games come in true road environments and two are against teams that failed to make last year’s NCAA Tournament in Nebraska and Northwestern. Iowa also gets three teams at home in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin that are projected by many to take steps back this season.
While it’s unrealistic to expect Iowa to go 9-0 or something in the opening stretch, it’s going to need to be relatively close there because the team’s final 11 league games include six road games and home games against teams like Illinois, Ohio State, and Purdue, who could all be top 25ish teams. There are some winnable games there, of course, but the level of difficulty is certainly going to go up quite a bit.
Overall, Iowa has a lot to like in its schedule, at least from a fan perspective. The team is going to have a plethora of marquee games at home and on the road to enjoy. However, it’s a difficult slate that could derail the team if it loses momentum. It’s going to make taking care of business against the manageable opponents even more important.
8. Projected Starting Lineup
- PG: Bakari Evelyn (Rs. Sr.) - 85%
- SG: Patrick McCaffery (Fr.) - 65%
- SF: Joe Wieskamp (So.) - 95%
- PF: Ryan Kriener (Sr.) - 51%
- C: Luka Garza (Jr.) - 95%
(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)
The interesting thing about Iowa’s lineup this season is that it’s a mix between certainty and complete uncertainty. The Hawkeyes have three guys that are almost guaranteed to start, but two spots that could come from a variety of players. This is exacerbated by the fact that several of the team’s players, like Wieskamp, can play multiple spots. Either way, this lineup could come together very nicely if a player or two can emerge.
At the point, there’s little debating that Evelyn will lock down the starting spot. To be frank, I’m not particularly high on Evelyn. He was so-so at Valpo and will now be asked to step up his game in the Big Ten as an upperclassman. I just don’t think it’s particularly likely that he suddenly becomes a top-tier point guard after being decent, but not great over the course of his career at other schools. However, with Bohannon going down, he’s Iowa’s best option. The only other real choice at the position is Toussaint, who’s a true freshman with mixed hype. So yeah, it’s probably going to be Evelyn.
The other spot in the backcourt, on the other hand, is a major question mark. With Moss transferring, there’s a pretty big hole in the lineup and no sure-fire bet to fill the spot. My guess is that Patrick McCaffery will grab the spot on account of his potential. And while Wieskamp is potentially an option here as well, he would be better served by staying on the wing.
And this narrative should continue into the wing group. Wieskamp is a sure-fire starter for the Hawkeyes this season and should settle in at the three or four. The question will be who emerges around him. The safest bet here is Kriener, who played some significant minutes last season. But with that said, it’s only by the smallest of margins. Other players who will be competing include Michael Baer, Nunge, and CJ Frederick. Nunge has purportedly put in a lot of work this offseason and Baer and Frederick are wildcards. My guess is that Fran McCaffery will move Wieskamp to whatever spot will get the team’s best option on the floor. As such, things are pretty fluid here.
The frontcourt, however, will not be in doubt. Garza will be the clear starter upfront for the Hawkeyes and should dominate minutes there. Fans are hoping that he can really hit the ground running this season. Backup options will include Kriener and Nunge. Expect both to rotate there over the course of the season.
Iowa’s lineup isn’t exactly loaded, but the team should have two really solid starters and a handful of players that can emerge around them. If the freshmen class can outperform expectations, Iowa could have a pretty dangerous group.
9. Team Perspective From Sean Bock of 247Sports
“Fran McCaffery loses Tyler Cook, Isaiah Moss, and Nicholas Baer from last year’s team that made it to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, but brings back some intriguing pieces that will keep Iowa fans optimistic. Junior forward Luka Garza and sophomore wing Joe Wieskamp will step into the leadership role for McCaffery, and have the potential to put together All-Big Ten caliber campaigns. The big question here for Iowa is the status of point guard Jordan Bohannon. The senior had offseason hip injury that could force him to miss the entire 2019-20 season.
Over the offseason, Iowa added Valparaiso grad transfer Bakari Evelyn, who will likely lead the offense this season at the point. Keep an eye on freshman point guard Joe Toussaint as he could get more run as the season progresses. Upperclassmen Ryan Kriener, Connor McCaffery, and Cordell Pemsl also return and will make a big impact. Two guys coming off redshirt seasons to watch are sophomore RS forward Jack Nunge and freshman guard CJ Fredrick. These two have improved a lot in the past year, and will be great four year pieces for the Hawkeyes.” - Sean Bock.
10. Overall Season Outlook
The word “transition” is something that no college fan wants to hear about their favorite team. Everybody likes to be hopeful and optimistic before a season begins. Most fans know their team probably won’t end up winning the national championship, but we can at least keep that faint hope alive before the games begin.
Iowa has had a historical run over the last few years. Things haven’t gone perfectly, but the Hawkeyes have consistently competed in the Big Ten, made the postseason, and gotten players to the NBA. If the team can make this year’s NCAA Tournament, Iowa would arguably be in its best seven-year run in program history.
Simply put, things have been good. Again not perfect, but good.
But keeping things running that smoothly over an extended period of time isn’t an easy task, especially if the program isn’t recruiting at an elite level. Iowa doesn’t generally have the luxury or reloading its roster in the offseason. McCaffery has found success by grabbing decent recruits and developing them into top players in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes have reached these heights by building things internally.
Building that way is extremely gratifying, but it also comes with its downsides and Iowa is likely going to experience some of those this season. The Hawkeyes got hit hard with offseason departures and then lost the team’s star guard to injury. It’s left the roster relatively thin and inexperienced.
Even with all that said, there’s still talent on this roster and Iowa has potential stars in Garza and Wieksamp. After all, this is a team that made the NCAA Tournament last year and was just a bucket or two away from making the Sweet 16. However, it’s hard to look at Iowa and think this is going to be anything other than a transitional season. Iowa projects to be starting at least two players who look more like depth options than Big Ten starters and will be relying on a litany of underclassmen. Those kind of things don’t generally project favorably for a program that isn’t recruiting elite five-star prospects on a yearly basis.
Iowa will likely grow during the course of the season, but expect some tough losses early in the season that prevents the team from reaching its overall goals. Still, Iowa’s program remains in good shape with McCaffery at the helm.