Hawkeye hoops rotation breakdown: How will Fran McCaffery spread out the minutes?

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Jordan Bohannon and Tyler Cook each averaged 32 minutes of playing time in Big Ten Conference basketball games last year for an Iowa team that finished 23-12.

Cook is with the Cleveland Cavaliers now.

Bohannon? Well, no one really knows what he’s going to give the Hawkeyes after having May surgery on his right hip. He’s going to try to play in some early-season games. He’s likely going to skip others. Will the senior point guard be available for coach Fran McCaffery when the January Big Ten slate resumes?

“Yeah, we can sneak him in a few games and maybe he gets 18 and we win a game,” McCaffery said of Bohannon. “We said it's a five- to nine-month rehab, so all of a sudden he starts to play and then he's realizing, ‘I'm still in pain and I can't move the way I wanted to move. I want to shut it down.’ And then we can do that.

“So I think if we go in that direction, that's how it will play out.”

The annual exercise of projecting who will earn playing time for Iowa when the games matter most is complicated by the Bohannon quandary. The guess here is that he’ll be shelved by January, a de facto coach on the sideline while newcomers get their shot.

In addition, the Hawkeyes must find players to fill the roles left by transfers Isaiah Moss (26 minutes per Big Ten game) and Maishe Dailey (11), plus the graduated Nicholas Baer (19). That’s 60 percent of the team’s court time that must be made up somehow.

Here’s an attempt at guessing how Hawkeye playing time will be dispersed (sorted by average minutes; total equals 200) in a typical game against Big Ten-level competition.

Joe Wieskamp stands for a portrait during Iowa basketball during media day in Iowa City Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.

Joe Wieskamp, 6-6, 210, So.

Position: Starts at small forward

Analysis: Wieskamp is the clear alpha male on this team now. He might have been even had Bohannon and Cook been around. He’s that good. An ultra-efficient scorer, Wieskamp now needs to be much more. He’s too smart to hunt for shots. But he’s also too valuable to defer to other teammates as he often did last winter while averaging 11.1 points on 49 percent shooting. “Last year, he just kind of fit in as a freshman. Even though he's only a sophomore he's a veteran guy and he's a guy that we're all going to lean on,” McCaffery said. “I think he's really worked on becoming a little more versatile off the dribble. He could always do that, but he was kind of a rip-and-drive, drive pull-up, catch-and-shoot guy. He's always going to be terrific at those three things, but I think you're seeing him do more off the dribble, not only for himself but for other people.”

Projected minutes per game: 34

Luka Garza, 6-11, 260, Jr.

Position: Starts at center

Analysis: Garza is Iowa’s only other returning starter, and among his goals this season will be to lead the team in rebounding. He has always been a reliable scorer, averaging 13.1 points per game last season on 53 percent shooting. But his rebounding numbers dipped from 6.4 per game as a freshman to 4.5 last year with Cook at his side. The Hawkeyes have struggled to get defensive stops in recent years. Garza needs to help make sure that when they do this year, he finishes them with the basketball in his hands more often. Garza is a player that runs himself to exhaustion. He also was whistled for 74 fouls last year, when he averaged 23 minutes per game. Iowa needs more than that out of him now, and he knows it. He is a terrific sidekick for Wieskamp.

Projected minutes per game: 28

CJ Fredrick stands for a portrait during Iowa basketball during media day in Iowa City Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.

CJ Fredrick, 6-3, 195, RS-Fr.

Position: Starts at shooting guard

Analysis: This is an assumption, but it’s been clear all offseason that McCaffery is bullish on what Fredrick can bring to his backcourt. He came out of Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky known for his perimeter shooting. And Iowa will take all of that it can get without Bohannon (79 3-pointers made last year), Moss (48) and Baer (45). But Fredrick added 25 pounds while redshirting in order to be more physical on drives to the basket, and on defense. If he can do all of that as well as advertised, he’ll be hard to take out of the lineup.

Projected minutes per game: 27

Connor McCaffery, 6-5, 205, RS-So.

Position: Starts at point guard

Analysis: Fran McCaffery’s oldest son was Bohannon’s understudy a year ago, and showed a keen understanding of what his father wants to do on offense. Connor McCaffery can keep the basketball moving, with 102 assists vs. 43 turnovers. But he shot only 30 percent from the field in Big Ten games. He knows that won’t cut it if he’s to see significant minutes. Look for more dribble penetration out of McCaffery, a sturdy ball-handler who is difficult to knock off balance. Also helping his playing time is the fact that he can play on the wing as well, possibly letting Wieskamp get a breather on occasion.

Projected minutes per game: 25

Iowa forward Jack Nunge (2) warms up during an open practice following the Hawkeyes men's basketball media day, Wednesday, Oct., 9, 2019, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Jack Nunge, 6-11, 245, RS-So.

Position: Starts at power forward

Analysis: Nunge started 14 games as a true freshman two years ago, averaging 5.7 points. He then made the unusual but mature decision to sit out a year ago to reshape his body and his game. He’s up 15 pounds and now feels both strong and durable enough to body up in the post against Big Ten defenders. He also can still be a threat on the wing, where he made 19 of 57 3-pointers as a freshman. The reappearance of a new-look Nunge is among the most intriguing storylines of this season. He may be a key to the season that few people are talking about. Yet.

Projected minutes per game: 24

Ryan Kriener, 6-10, 255, Sr.

Position: Backup at both post positions

Analysis: He’s the lone senior standing from a 2016 rookie class that included Bohannon, Cook, Dailey and Cordell Pemsl. And he’s an ideal sixth man after three years of improvement that have seen him average 4.2 points on 54 percent shooting. He doesn’t compare to Baer in terms of his role on the court, but he certainly does in the leadership he can bring. There will be games in which Kriener’s contributions will be the difference between winning and losing.

Projected minutes per game: 20

Iowa guard Bakari Evelyn speaks with reporters during a men's basketball player media availability, Wednesday, July 24, 2019, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Bakari Evelyn, 6-2, 180, RS-Sr.

Position: Backup at both guard spots

Analysis: McCaffery accepted his first graduate transfer after the loss of Moss (now at Kansas) and likely year off for Bohannon. Evelyn was most recently the point guard at Valparaiso, but his 3-point shooting might be his biggest contribution to this team. He made them at a 38 percent clip as a sophomore before dipping to 30 percent while dealing with an injury last year. Evelyn gives the Hawkeyes a veteran presence in a young backcourt. What else will he give them? Stay tuned.

Projected minutes per game: 18

Patrick McCaffery, 6-9, 190, Fr.

Position: Backup at both forward spots

Analysis: The 190 pounds represents a weight gain for Fran McCaffery’s middle son. So, yes, everyone is aware that he needs to put on more mass before becoming a big contributor against Big Ten teams. But Patrick McCaffery also possesses skills that no other Hawkeye can provide, and someone will need to give Wieskamp some minutes off at the small forward spot. McCaffery can cover ground at a deceptively fast pace in the open court. His 3-point shot improved dramatically as an Iowa City West senior. And his length can cause problems on the defensive end. He’s a strong change-of-pace option in a limited role as a rookie.

Projected minutes per game: 9

Iowa forward Cordell Pemsl warms up before a NCAA Big Ten Conference men's basketball game on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Cordell Pemsl, 6-9, 248, RS-Jr.

Position: Backup power forward

Analysis: Pemsl lost last season after knee surgery. But fans certainly know what he can bring to the team. Toughness. A never-back-down attitude. An effective inside game. Pemsl’s lack of versatility may mean a diminished role. His minutes would have to come at the expense of Nunge or Kriener. But there’s no doubt he’ll make his presence felt at times. It’s what he does.

Projected minutes per game: 8

Joe Toussaint, 6-0, 185, Fr.

Position: Backup point guard

Analysis: Toussaint brings a little New York City moxie to the Hawkeyes. He’ll certainly get his chances to play in non-conference games. But by the time Big Ten play arrives, McCaffery may opt for bigger, more experienced bodies in his backcourt. Toussaint also needs to develop a perimeter shot. That’s not to say Toussaint won’t be a good player here in time. It may just be that that time is not now.

Projected minutes per game: 5

Riley Till stands for a portrait during Iowa basketball during media day in Iowa City Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.

Riley Till, 6-7, 200, RS-Jr.

Position: Backup at both forward spots

Analysis: McCaffery admired Till’s work ethic and maturity so much that he awarded him a scholarship for this season. Till is someone McCaffery will turn to when foul trouble crops up. Or when he just thinks his team needs a collective kick in the rear. He averaged 2 minutes per Big Ten game last year, and that seems about right again.

Projected minutes per game: 2

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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