Hawkeye hoops rotation breakdown: How will Fran McCaffery spread out the minutes?
IOWA CITY, Ia. — An Iowa men’s basketball team that often used 11 players in Big Ten Conference games last season now needs to make way for a talented rookie who figures to be an instant starter.
Dividing up minutes among 13 scholarship players is an annual dilemma for Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery, and the task is no easier just because Dom Uhl graduated, and Brady Ellingson and Ahmad Wagner transferred after a 14-19 campaign.
Enter freshman wing player Joe Wieskamp, a blue-chip newcomer from Muscatine. Look for him to start at small forward when the Hawkeyes host Guilford at 2 p.m. Sunday for their lone exhibition game.
“You almost think he’s going to be soft,” McCaffery said of the four-star recruit. “But he’s like a Navy Seal. That would be a mistake on your part to underestimate him.”
OK, the newcomer will get his minutes is what McCaffery seems to be indicating. He’ll join four starters from last season — center Luka Garza, power forward Tyler Cook, shooting guard Isaiah Moss and point guard Jordan Bohannon — for what should be a strong nucleus.
Nicholas Baer, the lone senior on the team, will go back to his best role as first man off the bench.
“He really locks in on the bench, studies it,” McCaffery said of Baer, who was the conference’s Sixth Man of the Year two seasons ago. "Our team needs an energy boost. Our team needs a big bucket. Our team needs a stop.’ Then he’ll go out and do it.”
McCaffery’s son, Connor, is healthy after a year lost to illnesses and is primed to be Bohannon’s backup, something that was lacking a year ago. After that, estimating who will play, and how much, becomes a tricky exercise. McCaffery has shown that he likes to give everybody a chance, sometimes to a fault.
“It depends on the game. How the game’s going. If we’re up a little bit, you give a little more rest. If it’s not, they don’t want to come out anyway,” McCaffery said of his lineup choices. “You’ve got to be smart. You can’t leave them out there if they’re exhausted and breaking down. Sometimes you play to their competitive instincts. Everybody wants to play all 40.”
Nevertheless, 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.
Jordan Bohannon, 6-1, 185, Jr.
Position: Starts at point guard
Analysis: The first thing you might notice is that Bohannon, the shortest player on the team, managed to grow an inch from last season. The second thing will be that the goal is to play him less while getting more production from the Hawkeyes’ best shooter. Bohannon played 34 minutes per Big Ten game a year ago and was worn down by the time it ended with an overtime loss to Michigan. He averaged 13.5 points and 5.4 assists on 43 percent 3-point shooting. That was without Connor McCaffery to spell him, and even allow him to move to shooting guard at times. “He knows how to right the ship and get the most out of players to get the win,” Bohannon said of Fran McCaffery. “To have my body be a little more well-rested and healthier for the Big Ten Conference would be a good thing.”
Projected minutes per game: 32
Tyler Cook, 6-9, 250, Jr.
Position: Starts at power forward
Analysis: Cook took a look at leaving for the professional ranks after last season, and all signs are that this will be his last year as a Hawkeye. He returns determined to prove that not only is he an NBA talent but also the leader this team needs. “I’ll take the heat and I’ll take less of the credit. I’m OK with that. Every day I’m coming in and trying to set an example,” Cook said. “There is not one thing that I won’t be better at. That’s an honest answer.” That needs to start with a commitment to defense and better ball-handling. Cook led Iowa with 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds last year. Getting those figures to 18 and 8 would be a positive step for the team. He is their best and most consistent performer.
Projected minutes per game: 30
Joe Wieskamp, 6-6, 205, Fr.
Position: Starts at small forward
Analysis: This was the biggest position of weakness for Iowa a year ago. Baer started 17 games but never found his shooting touch. Freshman Jack Nunge got 14 starts but is better-suited to be a low-post player. Wagner earned minutes but was on his way to transitioning to a football career, which he’s now doing at Kentucky. Wieskamp gives Iowa an instant upgrade. He’s a natural scorer, an underrated rebounder and his teammates have all expressed surprise at how strong he is as a defender. McCaffery has said he’s trying not to be put too much pressure on Wieskamp too soon. But he’s an athlete that seems to want that pressure.
Projected minutes: 26
Luka Garza, 6-11, 245, So.
Position: Starts at center
Analysis: Garza’s offseason included September surgery to remove a nine-pound cyst from his abdomen. The good news is he returned to full-contact practice last week, ahead of schedule, and is expected to be able to play in the season opener against Missouri-Kansas City on Thursday. Expect Garza’s minutes to be limited to start, but by Big Ten play, the hard-working big man should be firmly in the fray, looking to improve on a freshman season that saw him average 12.1 points and 6.4 rebounds.
Projected minutes per game: 23
Isaiah Moss, 6-5, 208, RS Jr.
Position: Starts at shooting guard
Analysis: Iowa’s most up-and-down player the past two seasons is in serious need of some consistency in this one. At his best, he gives the Hawkeyes a dimension no other player can, as a 3-point threat that also excels in the open court. Moss, too, flirted with the NBA after last season, but that was never a serious option. He needs to be a better off-the-ball defender to earn more playing time, assuming he keeps up his scoring load. He averaged 11.1 points while making 88 percent of his free throws. He’s a weapon when he wants to be. He needs to want to be more often.
Projected minutes per game: 22
Nicholas Baer, 6-7, 218, RS Sr.
Position: Sixth man, playing on the wing
Analysis: Baer’s relentless energy has become legendary among Hawkeye fans. There’s certainly no concern about him mailing in a performance. But he suffered a severe shooting slump a year ago, seeing his field-goal percentage drop from 44.8 percent to 40.2; his 3-point percentage decline from 39.7 percent to 30.7; and his scoring average go from 7.5 points per game to 5.3. McCaffery has said Baer is shooting as well as he did as a sophomore. Baer knows he needs to help spread the floor this year. He can do that in limited minutes.
Projected minutes per game: 14
Ryan Kriener, 6-9, 255, Jr.
Position: Backup center
Analysis: Kriener was playing the best basketball of his Iowa career at the end of last season, with 15 points against Minnesota and 14 vs. Michigan. His season was upended by a pair of concussions that sidelined him for six games. Kriener has the longest wing span on the team, at 7 feet, 2 inches, and used it last year to block seven shots and come up with 13 steals. He is a player who seems to be coming into his own, and the Hawkeyes could use him to supplement Cook and Garza in the low post.
Projected minutes per game: 12
Cordell Pemsl, 6-8, 230, Jr.
Position: Backup forward
Analysis: Pemsl is another player who saw his production drop last season, when he averaged 5.7 points after a debut year in which that figure was 8.9. He has gone on a dramatic weight-loss campaign and is hoping to help the Hawkeyes as someone who can defend both forward spots while extending his shooting range. How well he’s able to manage that will determine his playing time. There’s no questioning his desire or toughness.
Projected minutes per game: 12
Connor McCaffery, 6-5, 205, RS-Fr.
Position: Backup point guard
Analysis: His debut season was shortened to four games after a well-chronicled sequence of injuries and illnesses. But McCaffery said he’s healthy now and practicing exclusively as a point guard, where his passing ability and knowledge of his father’s offense will come in handy. He won’t be asked to score much. But if he can distribute and defend, and allow Bohannon to move off the ball, he will be as valuable as anyone on the team. He fills a role that was sorely lacking a year ago.
Projected minutes per game: 12
Jack Nunge, 6-11, 235, So.
Position: Backup power forward
Analysis: Nunge was a double-figure scorer in six of Iowa’s first 11 games last year, only to see his production wane as the season went on. He was asked to play on the wing and in the post and seemed to suffer for that lack of clarity in his role. Now, he’s strictly a post player, 10 pounds heavier and hoping to be able to tangle with the big men in the Big Ten. He can still step outside to shoot the 3-pointer (he was 19-of-57 a year ago), but look for a stronger, more confident player this season. The only issue is that, with Kriener and Pemsl also in the mix, how does Nunge see more court time?
Projected minutes per game: 9
Maishe Dailey, 6-7, 200, Jr.
Position: Backup wing player
Analysis: Last year, Dailey was asked to be an option at point guard, and it was an unnatural fit. He’s back at his natural wing position now, where his defense and timely 3-point shooting make him a valuable reserve. He has long been asked to shoot more (he was 28-for-72 from the arc last year), and if he heeds those words could find himself taking minutes from Baer and Moss.
Projected minutes per game: 8
CJ Fredrick, 6-3, 190
Position: Backup guard
Analysis: The Cincinnati native was always a candidate to redshirt rather than try to force his way into a crowded rotation. That possibility increased with word that he suffered a rib injury in practice last week. If the Hawkeye backcourt experiences some attrition again, this could all change. But Fredrick seems willing to spend a year improving his game while adding muscle.
Projected minutes per game: 0