Iowa Takeaways: A dilemma for Connor McCaffery, Nunge's dominant debut, Moss injures ankle
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa started slowly but dominated the second half of its men’s basketball exhibition opener Friday, outrunning William Jewell College 105-81 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Jordan Bohannon led the Hawkeyes with 19 points and four assists. But all the intrigue centered around who will back up the sophomore at point guard after Christian Williams decided Thursday to transfer from the program.
Here’s what we learned:
Connor McCaffery's sudden dilemma
Williams’ departure may be felt most heavily by Connor McCaffery, a freshman point guard who was planning on redshirting this season and playing baseball in the spring. On Friday, coach Fran McCaffery’s son was the first option at giving Bohannon some rest and even played alongside him for a long stretch of the second half.
“I want to do whatever I can to help. J-Bo can’t play 40 minutes a game in the Big Ten. It could be too hard on his body,” Connor said after scoring five points with three assists in 18 minutes.
He said he won’t make a decision until next week. He has been practicing at point guard with the basketball team but also missed 3-4 weeks earlier in the fall to practice baseball with coach Rick Heller’s squad.
“I’m not leaning one way or the other. I need to get coach Heller’s thoughts first and go a little more in-depth with my dad. There’s just a lot of different things that go into it that I haven’t even looked at yet because I was focusing on tonight’s game. I wasn’t expecting (Williams to transfer) at all,” McCaffery said.
Fran McCaffery didn’t want to talk much about Williams’ decision.
“I didn’t know it was coming, but we wish him well,” he said when asked about it.
McCaffery was pleased with how his son played. Connor looked comfortable, particularly in the second half. He missed all five of his shots, but sank five of his six free throws. It was obvious that he fit into his father’s system.
“He’s been coming to practices for 13-14 years, so he knows what we want to do. He knows our play sets,” Fran McCaffery said. “He’s really smart. During timeouts, ‘Hey, let’s run this for Jack (Nunge).’ He thinks that way and that’s what you want at that position.”
Junior shooting guard Brady Ellingson would be the other option to backup Bohannon, but he hasn’t been practicing at that position this fall. He had seven points and three assists in 14 minutes Friday.
But it sure appeared as if Connor McCaffery is in the best position to help out his dad’s team this winter. He seemed overwhelmed that, two months into his college career, he’s facing such a big decision that could affect the fortunes of two Hawkeye programs. He also seemed conflicted about possibly having to go back on his word to Heller.
“Maybe I flip and redshirt in baseball and play basketball,” he said. “That’d be something that’s also up to the baseball coaches. I had been planning on being with them, so to switch could cause some issues.”
Bohannon said Williams was one player who took him under his wing last season.
“I love Christian. We all did,” Bohannon said. “He was a great teammate to all of us. We just want him to be happy.”
Williams has said he wants to finish his college career closer to his hometown of Decatur, Illinois.
Moss limps out
Isaiah Moss started at shooting guard for Iowa and even scored the game’s first point on a free throw. But he sprained his ankle while committing a foul seconds later and limped to the locker room.
The sophomore returned to the game, played 10 more minutes and scored two more points, but didn’t play in the second half.
“It’s not bad, but it stiffened up on him at halftime,” McCaffery said of the injury.
Moss was in a walking boot after the game but pronounced himself fine. Iowa has one more exhibition remaining, on Thursday against Belmont Abbey. Moss certainly won’t be in any rush to get back for that one. The Hawkeyes open their regular season Nov. 10 against Chicago State.
Nunge is the star
Nunge, a 6-foot-11 freshman forward, was the best player for the Hawkeyes on Friday, making all six of his field goals to finish with 16 points and nine rebounds in just 17 minutes of play. His length was a problem for William Jewell, a Division II program, on both ends of the court.
“It seemed like he did everything right,” McCaffery said. “I don’t remember Jack making any mistakes. That’s pretty special for a freshman.”
Nunge’s first shot was an open 3-pointer from the top of the key that he swished.
“I just let it fly and when it went down, I think that helped a lot,” he said.
Later, he took a nice feed in the lane from Dom Uhl and charged to the basket for a layup and a foul. Nunge, normally shy, flexed both biceps to the crowd under the basket.
“I felt it. I made a strong finish. In practice, that’s what all the other guys do,” Nunge sheepishly explained.
Nunge also blocked two shots and harassed the shorter Cardinals in the passing lanes. It was a great example of the complete game he can bring.
“Coach is always stressing in practice, ‘Get your hand in the passing line so they can’t make direct passes,’” Nunge said. “That’s something that me and Luka Garza (also a 6-11 freshman) brought this year — is length.”
They sure did. Garza added 17 points and nine rebounds after earning the start at center. Those two will cause a lot of problems for a lot of teams in their Iowa careers.
Garza and sophomore forward Tyler Cook showed a nifty high-low option that the Hawkeyes can use this winter. At the outset, it was Garza playing on the wing feeding Cook, a 6-9 forward, in the post. Later, Cook drifted outside while Garza stayed low.
Cook finished with 16 points.
“I played a lot of minutes with Luka today, and of course, Luka likes to post and I’m able to do a lot of things on the court,” Cook said. “Whenever he’s in there, I’ve just got to give him his space. He does the same thing for me. We can space the floor out and kind of interchange positions. I can’t really predict where I’ll be at.”
The Hawkeyes looked listless for much of the first half, surrendering 46 points and being outrebounded 23-20. It was reminiscent of the beginning of last season, when Iowa started 3-5 largely because of an inability to defend.
The second half brought a much more determined effort and the Hawkeyes wore down the Cardinals, shooting 69.7 percent from the field and owning a 25-12 rebounding edge.
“As the game went on, a lot of our guys did a much better job defensively, moving their feet, getting their hands up so you’re not chopping guys,” McCaffery said.
“They went small. We went big, and we got some shot blocks (nine for the game).”
Not much Baer
As expected, McCaffery used 13 players by halftime, wanting to get a long look at all of his options on a deep team. The starting lineup was Cook, Moss, Garza, Bohannon and Nicholas Baer. Next off the bench, in order, were: Ellingson, Ahmad Wagner, Cordell Pemsl, Ryan Kriener, McCaffery, Maishe Dailey, Nunge and Uhl.
McCaffery will have some difficult decisions to make about playing time, and he said games like Friday’s will be a part of that process.
Baer, a junior who was Big Ten sixth man of the year last winter, played only nine minutes Friday but figures to be a much bigger factor going forward. He looked fatigued, and so McCaffery pulled him early in the second half. He was the only Hawkeye scholarship player who didn’t score.