The 2022-’23 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview’ series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2022-’23 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.
In 2020-21 the Hawkeyes had a legitimate Final Four contender led by star center Luka Garza. All of the offensive fireworks, depth and star talent couldn’t get Fran McCaffery’s program past the opening weekend, ironically not being able to keep pace against Oregon in the second round. Falling short from their preseason goals heading into the season it wasn’t a particularly great offseason for Iowa, losing three key starters and expecting to fall back down to earth with Garza off to the NBA.
Luckily for Iowa fans they had Keegan Murray, who went from someone to keep an eye on and transformed into a top five pick within a single season. Murray’s breakout year, paired with plenty of depth and shooting, helped Iowa impress once again and ended with the Hawkeyes winning the Big Ten Tournament. That of course couldn’t get Iowa over the hump in the postseason, losing to 12 seeded Richmond in the opening round. In over a decade McCaffery has yet to get the Hawkeyes past opening weekend.
There’s some similarities once again heading into this year as the expectations for Iowa are dramatically lowered after the loss of their star player, this time Keegan Murray, and a pair of experienced guards (Jordan Bohannon, Joe Toussaint). And just like last year, any chance of Iowa surprising people this season will likely fall on the shoulders of a Murray...this time Keegan’s twin brother Kris Murray.
Will Iowa be able to surprise people a second year in a row? Or will we finally see some regression after an impressive run as of late for the Hawkeyes?
1. 2021-’22 Season Performance
- Record: 26-10 (12-8, 4th in Big Ten)
- KenPom Team Rating: #13
- NET Rating: #14
- Postseason Appearance: NCAA Tournament (R64)
After losing standout Luka Garza and starts CJ Fredrick and Joe Wieskamp the Hawkeyes weren’t expected to be major contenders last year. That sentiment didn’t change much after a 7-0 run over largely cupcakes was immediately followed by losing to Purdue, Illinois and Iowa State. A 4-4 run in conference play beginning in January, leaving the Hawkeyes at 14-7 (4-6), didn’t do much to change the opinion of the Hawkeyes.
Iowa gained plenty of momentum down the stretch, though, going 8-2 at the end of the regular season and only losing two games by a combined seven points to Michigan and Illinois. That momentum carried over into the Big Ten Tournament, with Iowa scoring at least 80 points in the first three games on their way to a matchup with Purdue for the Big Ten Title. The Hawkeyes landed the upset, working their way up to landing a five seed in the NCAA Tournament.
While Iowa closed off the season with a 12-2 run in Big Ten play, that momentum wouldn’t continue as they reached the postseason. In the opening round of the NCAA Tournament the Hawkeyes lost to the 12 seeded Richmond Owls. An Iowa team that was one of the most prolific offenses in the nation could only muster 65 points. Outside of Keegan Murray and Patrick McCaffery no one scored more than 6 points.
Iowa’s success was once again based on their ability to score, with Fran McCaffery’s squad coming in at fifth in points per game. Their offensive rating was even better, landing fourth out of 358 teams. Defensively the Hawkeyes were weak once again, ranking 239th in defensive scoring and 182nd in defensive rating.
The emergence of Keegan Murray, who led the team in points, rebounds and blocks, was the key reason for Iowa’s success. With Murray exploding onto the scene, an experienced backcourt and plenty of scorers scattered across the roster, Iowa used their offense to have one of the more impressive regular seasons in the country.
Of course that didn’t change the end result of another early postseason exit. While you can argue they overachieved last year, a five seed that won the Big Ten Title getting bounced in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament was almost as disappointing as having a legit Final Four contender the year before and getting ran out of the gym in the second round. In 12 seasons Fran McCaffery has yet to make it past the second round (outside of 2015-16, where the Round of 32 was called the “third” round).
2. Offseason Exits
The Hawkeyes got hit hard this offseason when it came to departures. Star forward Keegan Murray left for the NBA, getting drafted by the Sacramento Kings with the fourth overall pick. Murray exploded last season with 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, earning himself consensus first-team All-American honors and winning the Karl Malone Award.
Murray was the main reason Iowa landed in the top four in the Big Ten and trended up to a five seed. After the loss of Luka Garza the Hawkeyes were expecting considerably more regression instead of proving to be a legitimate contender in the Big Ten. With Murray no longer in the mix the Hawkeyes will need to develop a new offensive leader, something that they will need to find on their returning roster as they have a thin recruiting class heading in to Iowa City this fall.
Also gone this season is Jordan Bohannon, who spent six seasons starting for the Hawkeyes. His final season with the Hawkeyes didn’t see him make the jump some thought he was going to make, but he was still the second leading scorer and a prominent three point shooter. His experience will be a huge loss for the Hawkeyes heading forward as he had been an anchor in the backcourt for more than half a decade.
Joe Toussaint also departs, transferring to West Virginia. The guard had issues with consistency and lost his starting role during the season. Toussaint performed relatively well off the bench, but he ended up heading elsewhere to have a larger role and more playing time. In 36 games Toussaint averaged 4.3 points and 3.2 assists per game in 17.4 minutes while shooting a tepid 25.7% from three.
Also departing is Austin Ash, who played a limited reserve role in 18 games last year.
3. New Additions
- 3-Star Guard Dasonte Bowen
- 3-Star Guard Josh Dix
- Amarion Nimmers (Preferred Walk-On)
- Dante Eldridge (Preferred Walk-On JUCO Transfer)
Iowa brings in a slim recruiting class this season with a pair of three star guards in Dasonte Bowen and Josh Dix. Bowen is a high tempo point guard that can cut to the rim and is a solid defender. His jump shot could use some work, but has been improving. He should fit in well with Fran McCaffery’s strength-in-numbers style of play and could see plenty of early playing time as a key rotational piece.
Dix will have a bit more work to do to crack the rotation. The second commit in this years class, Dix suffered a season ending injury in his senior season and is still working to get back to 100%.
Also in the mix are a pair of preferred walk-ons in freshman Amarion Nimmers and JUCO transfer Dante Eldridge. Nimmers is a combo guard that has a high offensive upside and could be a player that eventually sees playing time down the line for the Hawkeyes. Eldridge is the son of assistant coach Courtney Eldridge and averaged 8 points and 4 rebounds per game at the junior college level. He’s more of a defensive minded guard compared to Nimmers.
4. Points of Optimism
The biggest point of optimism for Iowa is the potential in Kris Murray and the fact that Iowa has been here before. Just last year the Hawkeyes lost their star and were expected to fall off and yet they won the Big Ten Tournament and landed a five seed in the NCAA Tournament. A lot of the reasons they were able to find success last year remain in place, potentially paving the way for another season contending in the Big Ten.
In 2020-21 Keegan Murray only started four games, averaging 7.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game in 18 minutes an outing. His playing time was limited, but he showed flashes in his first season with the Hawkeyes, The following season saw Murray averaging 23.5 points and he quickly became one of the top players in the country.
Last year twin brother Kris Murray had a season relatively similar to Keegan’s freshman outing. In 35 games the forward started only one, averaging 9.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in about 18 minutes a night. With a stat line that also includes hitting just under 39% from three, there are hopes that Murray will follow in his brothers footsteps and see a sizable improvement as his playing time increases.
Past Murray a lot of optimism lands in Fran McCaffery’s stable of shooters and that his system at Iowa usually ends up with the Hawkeyes scoring plenty of points. Iowa can score enough to hang with just about anyone and that should continue once again.
5. Points of Concern
Iowa can’t keep reloading after losing star players. Kris Murray has potential but it’s still somewhat naïve to assume he’ll simply replicate his twin brothers success. The potential lack of a star player and offensive leader could considerably limit the Hawkeyes offensive firepower and that’s a problem because defensively Fran McCaffery has struggled to field an Iowa team that can actually defend.
Their inability on the defensive side of the ball was a huge problem the past two seasons and if their defense was at least somewhat competent it’s safe to say the Hawkeyes would have made it past the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Losing Murray would be problematic enough, but the loss of Jordan Bohannon leaves Iowa with a huge loss experience wise in the backcourt. Bohannon rewrote the record books at Iowa and while there were higher expectations for his sixth season, Bohannon still was second in scoring and one of the teams best shooters.
6. Top Player
The only player returning to score more points per game than Murray was Patrick McCaffery, who also saw considerably more minutes than Murray. With Kris Murray likely to see an increased role and starting minutes this year, there should be a considerable increase in his stats this season.
Murray already has shown potential, with a 29 points outing against Indiana and reaching double figures 16 times. The bigger concern is Murray didn’t do much to close the season, scoring 31 points in the last five games throughout the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament.
Nonetheless, Murray has shown the ability to score the ball, shoot from three and clean up on glass. He may not have the upside of Keegan, but he’s the most well rounded offensive player on the Hawkeyes this season.
7. 2022-’23 Schedule Breakdown
- 10/31 - Truman State (Exhibition)
- 11/7 - Bethune Cookman
- 11/11 - North Carolina A&T
- 11/16 - at Seton Hall (Gavitt Tipoff Games)
- 11/21 - Omaha (Emerald Coast Classic Preliminary Game)
- 11/25 - Clemson (Emerald Coast Classic - Niceville, Fl.)
- 11/26 - Cal or TCU (Emerald Coast Classic - Niceville, Fl.)
- 11/29 - Georgia Tech (ACC Challenge)
- 12/6 - Duke (Jimmy V Classic - New York, NY.)
- 12/8 - Iowa State (Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series)
- 12/11 - Wisconsin
- 12/17 - Southeast Missouri State
- 12/21 - Eastern Illinois
- 12/29 - at Nebraska
- 1/1 - at Penn State
- 1/5 - Indiana
- 1/8 - at Rutgers
- 1-12 - Michigan
- 1/15 - Maryland
- 1/18 - Northwestern
- 1/21 - at Ohio State
- 1/26 - at Michigan State
- 1/29 - Rutgers
- 2/4 - Illinois
- 2/9 - at Purdue
- 2/12 - at Minnesota
- 2/16 - Ohio State
- 2/19 - at Northwestern
- 2/22 - at Wisconsin
- 2/25 - Michigan State
- 2/28 - at Indiana
- 3-5 - Nebraska
Iowa’s 2022-23 schedule is interesting because there’s a level of difficulty while at the same time still remaining somewhat manageable.
Take for example their Gavitt Tipoff Games opponent. A road trip to Seton Hall isn’t an easy game for the Hawkeyes, but the Pirates will be bringing in a new coach and there’s opportunity for Iowa to pad their resume with a quality win early. The Emerald Coast Classic provides two more opportunities, with an average Clemson team and then most likely a solid, but definitely winnable, matchup with TCU. Even the ACC Challenge outing against Georgia Tech should favor the Hawkeyes.
The beginning of December could be tough sledding for the Hawkeyes, with the possibility of another three game losing skid like they had last year at said point. Iowa will travel to New York to face Duke, followed by a rivalry game against Iowa State and their Big Ten opener versus Wisconsin. They do benefit from having both Iowa State and Wisconsin at home.
The beginning of conference play around the new year isn’t particularly rough, with Iowa facing off against Nebraska, Penn State, Indiana, Rutgers, Michigan, Maryland and Northwestern. That run looks better then having to play at Ohio State and Michigan State back to back, followed a week later with Illinois and road trips to Purdue and Minnesota. The late January and early February portion of the schedule could prove rough for the Hawkeyes during the middle of conference play. Things don’t lighten up that much to close the season, either, with Wisconsin, Michigan State and Indiana making up three of the last four games.
8. Projected Starting Lineup
- G: Ahron Ulis
- G: Tony Perkins
- F: Patrick McCaffery
- F: Kris Murray
- F: Filip Rebraca
Iowa’s starting lineup will likely include plenty of size, even if they’re not that big (especially compared to some of the schools in the Big Ten with more dominant centers). A starting lineup that very well could include three players at 6’8” and 6’9”, Iowa’s reliance in the frontcourt stems in part because of their lack of their depth in the backcourt following the departures of Bohannon and Toussaint.
Both Ulis and Perkins were prominent players last year, but neither averaged more than 20 minutes per game. They’ll likely have to anchor a backcourt that will look considerably different without Bohannon back there. Coaches son Connor McCaffery will likely continue to eat up minutes after averaging 17 per game last year, impressive because he’s an offensive liability that still finds playing time on a team that is almost exclusively offensively minded. Wing Payton Sandfort should see more minutes this year and hit 36.6% of this threes as a freshman. The lack of depth could open the door for Bowen and Dix to crack the rotation as well.
The frontcourt will definitely be the strong suit for Iowa, highlighted by Kris Murray. If Murray (who might have been drafted had he left for the NBA) can come anywhere close to matching his brothers improvement last year, he’ll prove to be one of the better scorers and rebounders in the league. Patrick McCaffery brings some much needed shooting into the mix, helping stretch the floor as a 6’9” forward that can hit from the perimeter.
Filip Rebraca averaged 5.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last year and will likely anchor Iowa inside. Even then, there’s no guarantee his minutes will go up as Iowa could field a small ball lineup that focuses on finding ways to score. The problem with that approach is the team doesn’t have much established depth, didn’t bring in any established transfers and their pair of three-star guards aren’t likely ready to immediately make a splash just yet.
There’s experience on the starting lineup, but if Murray doesn’t takeoff this year there’s some serious questions as to where the team will turn for answers. That mixed with a thin backcourt and Iowa’s inability to land anyone on the transfer market leaves a team with known commodities but seemingly a much more limited amount of potential this year.
9. Realistic Team Goals
If not for last season’s surprise success, you could argue the expectations would be a bit more level-headed. But after reloading on the fly in the previous season, there are some Iowa fans hoping Fran McCaffery can build around Kris Murray this time around.
A lot of their success this season will likely fall on Murray’s shoulders, especially when you consider the slim additions to the roster this season. Offensively the Hawkeyes should find ways to score points, but if McCaffery can’t improve his teams defensive ability Iowa is never going to fully piece things together.
Nonetheless, Iowa should be able to keep pace offensively with most teams in the league so they should be capable of hanging around with most opponents on any given night. That alone should be enough for Iowa to make a run back to the postseason, the only question is if they can once again trend upward from a middle of the pack Big Ten team and instead contend towards the top of the conference.
10. Overall Season Outlook
Fran McCaffery has produced a consistent product at Iowa. The only problem with that is it’s one that has yet to learn how to consistently play defense and that continues to plague the team year after year. More than a decade into his tenure in Iowa City and McCaffery still has yet to make it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament and while there’s potential with his team once again, the end result will likely be the same.
The Hawkeyes should once again impress on the offensive side of the ball and find some success in the Big Ten, but until Fran can get the defensive issues squared away and bring in some additional talent it’s hard to see Iowa reaching the same level of success they’ve had the past two seasons.