Young, talented Hawkeyes look to return to NCAA Tournament
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa lost its best player from a team that failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.
Yet the feeling in Iowa City is that the Hawkeyes could be on the verge of returning to prominence in the Big Ten.
Iowa (19-15 in 2016-17) won’t have Peter Jok, the league’s leading scorer at 19.9 points per game last season. But everyone else is back, including rising sophomores Jordan Bohannon and Tyler Cook, and the Hawkeyes might have as many as a dozen guys who are good enough to see minutes in the Big Ten.
Whether that leads to a return to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence is a matter of debate. But coach Fran McCaffery isn’t shying away from the quiet optimism of his fan base heading into 2017-18
“I don’t get up here and try to present a doom and gloom so that if we do win games then we create the perception that we somehow overachieved. I have an expectation for that team,” McCaffery said.
Here are some of the story lines to follow as Iowa prepares for its eighth season under McCaffery, which begins on Nov. 10 against Chicago State:
THE NEXT STEPH CURRY?
McCaffery raised plenty of eyebrows when he compared Bohannon to the Golden State Warriors superstar on media day earlier this month. The 6-foot point guard has shown a Curry-like ability to pull up and drill 3s from anywhere on the court and make plays off the dribble that are often too quick for the defense to react to. Bohannon averaged 10.9 points as a freshman, shot 41.6 percent on 3s and finished the season with three consecutive double-doubles.
“I appreciate the comparison, but I know that obviously I’m not in those shoes yet,” Bohannon said.
Cook, a 6-foot-7 forward, was the highest-rated recruit McCaffery ever landed for the Hawkeyes. Though he struggled at times as a freshman, Cook still finished with 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. If he has a breakthrough season the Hawkeyes should have at least an outside shot at pushing for the Big Ten title.
“The next step in his development is really simple: it’s just consistency. He was phenomenal at times. Sometimes his turnover numbers were a little bit higher. But I think what you’re going to see is a guy who has much better pace to his game right now. He’s really matured,” McCaffery said.
THE YOUNG BIGS
The one thing Iowa was missing a year ago was a true center. This season the Hawkeyes have two of them in freshman Luka Garza and Jack Nunge, and both of them are expected to make an immediate impact. Garza was arguably Iowa’s best player during its trip to Europe in August, and the coaching staff is high on Nunge as well.
“Both of them are tremendous players. They’re incredibly versatile. They come ready. It’s not like we have to develop them,” McCaffery said.
Iowa also returns the reigning league sixth man of the year in Nicholas Baer, who’ll see plenty of minutes regardless of whether he starts or not. After that, the Hawkeyes have almost too many guys to find playing time for. Forwards Cordell Pemsl, Ahmad Wagner, Ryan Kriener and Dom Uhl and guards Isaiah Moss, Christian Williams and Brady Ellingson will likely fight for minutes into Big Ten play.
HE SAID IT
“He reminded me a lot of Steph Curry when you watch him play. He can pull the jumper right in your face. He’s fearless. He’s got unbelievable range. But he can go by you and he’s a really good passer. He’s a much better athlete than people think.” — McCaffery said of Bohannon.