Leistikow: What D.J. Carton's decision says about Hawkeye basketball

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

In today’s era of rapidly changing news cycles and year-round college football and basketball coverage, there's no great time for a reporter to take vacation.

So, naturally, a lot happened while I was unplugged for the last two weeks.

Bettendorf point guard D.J. Carton, a five-star Class of 2019 prospect, sent Iowa basketball a message about its relevancy by going out of state to play for another Big Ten Conference school.

My thoughts on some notable stuff that happened while I was away:

Big swing … and a big miss on D.J. Carton

By all measures, Iowa’s basketball coaching staff did everything it could to land Bettendorf five-star point guard D.J. Carton … and came up well short.

Carton’s Saturday revelation that he will be playing for Ohio State stings the Hawkeyes. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

Here was an in-state player who … plays the Achilles heel position for the Fran McCaffery program … who has friendships with current and future Hawkeye players … whose grandfather played for Iowa in the 1950s … who grew up about an hour from Iowa City.

And Iowa didn’t make the top three.

Iowa is fine at point guard, you could argue, in 2019-20 — when Carton will be a Buckeye freshman. Jordan Bohannon will be a senior; Connor McCaffery will be a sophomore. Bohannon should go down as one of the all-time greats at Iowa, and McCaffery is a proven-in-high-school ball-handler who understands the point-guard role. But neither can break down a defense, one-on-one, like Carton.

Carton could’ve been the program-elevating player the Hawkeyes needed, even if he only stayed for a few years.

In recruiting, it's all about projection. Those who have seen a lot of Carton have little doubt he'll be a can't-miss impact player at the next level. Ohio State certainly felt that way, and invested resources to also make him its No. 1 priority (maybe even showing him more love than Iowa did).

I don’t think there’s any way around this fact: Iowa going 4-14 in conference play last season vs. Ohio State’s 15-3 had a lot to do with Carton’s decision. One program is viewed as grasping for relevancy; the other is viewed as on the ascent under second-year coach Chris Holtmann.

Just two seasons ago, Iowa delivered an encouraging 19-15 campaign on the heels of three straight NCAA Tournaments. That same season, Ohio State limped to a 6-10 Big Ten campaign in Thad Matta’s final season in Columbus.

In recruiting, bad basketball can quickly weigh down a program.

And if Tyler Cook, the most athletically gifted current Hawkeye, decides to turn pro after his junior season … that puts even more urgency and importance on Fran McCaffery in year nine getting Iowa back into the Big Ten's top six this winter.

Iowa football is a Big Ten long shot ... and afterthought

In the category of “stuff we already knew,” it was recently released by Bovada that Wisconsin is a heavy favorite to win the Big Ten’s West Division in football. Just how heavy, though, is eye-opening.

That online betting website had the Badgers as a 4 to 9 favorite — meaning you’d need to risk $90 to win $40. Iowa was tied with Nebraska as a distant second-best bet, at 10 to 1. (A winning $10 wager would net $100.)

Northwestern (11 to 1), then Minnesota and Purdue (each 14 to 1) are also viewed in the same cluster of teams, with Illinois (100 to 1) seen as the division’s punching bag.

You can find Wisconsin, coming off a 13-1 season with almost every key player returning, an even heavier favorite (1 to 3) elsewhere.

Two takeaways:

1. As single-game tickets went on sale Monday, circle Sept. 22 vs. Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium as THE GAME of the season. It’s been clear on our radio shows this summer, Iowa coaches are using the Badgers as the measuring stick for 2018 success.

For now, the road to Indianapolis (site of the Dec. 1 Big Ten title game) travels through Madison. If Iowa puts a "W" next to its name Sept. 22, the road to Indy would suddenly go through Iowa City.

2. The Hawkeyes will fly way under the radar when Big Ten Media Days are held next week (July 23-24) in Chicago. They always do. It was even that way in 2016, after their 12-2 season.

I haven't settled on a season prediction yet for Iowa. But I will say this definitively: An overlooked program with 28 wins in the past three seasons and a proven returning quarterback in Nate Stanley makes 20th-year coach Kirk Ferentz quietly happy.

Nov 11, 2017; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Kendric Pryor (3) catches a touchdown pass over Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Manny Rugamba (5) during the second quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Manny Rugamba has departed … how big is this loss?

Rugamba, one of the most encouraging and electric new players on Iowa’s 2016 team, tweeted recently that he would transfer to another school. That’s quite the fall from grace for a player who went into the 2017 season being discussed as the heir apparent to four-year starter Desmond King and a future star.

Instead, Josh Jackson became a first-team consensus all-American; and Rugamba had a sophomore slump that began with a one-game suspension and ended with him being a main culprit for Iowa’s surprising loss to Purdue in its 2017 home finale.

Rugamba’s departure tells me that he was going to have a hard time keeping up with a suddenly deep (but very unproven) group of hungry defensive backs. The presumptive top two corners — sophomore Matt Hankins and junior Michael Ojemudia — have five combined career starts. (Rugamba had 11.)

Come on down, Trey Creamer and Josh Turner — redshirt freshmen from the South who have a year of program seasoning.

Come on down, Julius Brents, D.J. Johnson and Terry Roberts — three of five incoming true freshmen defensive backs who will make fall camp a very interesting one for Phil Parker in the Iowa secondary.

I also wonder with the Rugamba news turns Amani Hooker into the team's best option as nickel corner. Teammates have said the talented junior strong safety has excellent cover skills, and the Hawkeyes could easily rotate in another safety (whoever isn't starting between Jake Gervase, Brandon Snyder and Geno Stone) to back-fill Hooker's spot on third-and-long.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with the Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.