Looking ahead: 2016-17 Hawkeyes have big questions, upside
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Watching Iowa basketball next season will take some getting used to, and that goes for the head coach, too.
Fran McCaffery loses four scholarship seniors, all of them valuable, from his sixth Hawkeye team, which lost Sunday to Villanova, 87-68, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s going to be a really different experience for me next year,” McCaffery said, “when I look out there and those guys aren’t here.”
But you’ll still see the influence of “those guys” — a second-team All-American in Jarrod Uthoff, four-year starters in Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury, and a gritty defender in Anthony Clemmons — in the 2016-17 Hawkeyes. It just won’t be as polished as the latest version, which set a school record for fewest turnovers (10.3 a game).
“For us to be as successful as them,” freshman Ahmad Wagner said, “we’re going to have to work extremely hard, just like they did.”
Wagner was asked to pick the one thing he learned the most from the senior class that won 89 games at Iowa.
“Work ethic,” he said. “… Even though we have long, grueling practices, you’ve still got to get in on your own time. Get shots up, shoot free throws, a lot of things you do by yourself.”
In less than seven months, it’ll be 2016 Iowa basketball media day. Here's a look at storylines that will develop between now and then:
Much about Peter
McCaffery considers himself blessed that he’s had high-character guys throughout his six years.
“You don’t show up and win a game. That’s a lifestyle you have to experience and know and understand,” McCaffery said. “I’ve been fortunate, since I’ve gotten here. You go back to Jarryd Cole, he was my first captain. And you just go right on down the line.”
Matt Gatens, Eric May, Devyn Marble, Aaron White and now these seniors have followed. Next year will be Peter Jok’s turn to lead. He’s certainly got the swagger, and he’s turned around his work habits and diet to go from out-of-shape freshman to all-Big Ten junior.
Jok could be to Iowa next year what Buddy Hield was this year to Oklahoma — a pure scorer who is counted on to carry his team. Jok will be the only fourth-year senior on the roster next year.
“For sure, I’m ready for that, to be in that position,” Jok said.
Point guard unknowns
For at least 85 percent of the season, Iowa fans wondered how next year’s Hawkeyes would survive after losing Gesell and Clemmons, who have collectively manned the point for four years. Then 6-foot-6 freshman Christian Williams emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, in the home finale against Indiana — and cautious optimism has set in since.
In finally cracking McCaffery’s nine-man rotation, Williams showed confidence and an ability to score from inside and out, not to mention rebound with his 6-11 wingspan. He’s still raw, but he’s got upside and the ability to play three positions. Incoming freshman Jordan Bohannon, Iowa’s 2016 Mr. Basketball, will be on an accelerated path because the Hawkeyes will need someone besides Williams to handle the ball.
In 36 minutes in Iowa’s final five games, Williams pumped in 16 points.
“I think as the season progressed, I got a little more confident,” Williams said.
What about Baer?
Perhaps Iowa’s most reliable bench player this season was a walk-on. Redshirt freshman Nicholas Baer is waiting patiently for a scholarship that he’ll eventually get (Iowa doesn’t have any available until 2017-18 unless someone transfers first).
The 6-foot-7, 200-pound forward needs to add a little more bulk for the Big Ten grind, but his instant energy is exactly what Iowa needed off the bench this season, and it’s probably best served as his role going forward.
The way Baer played against Drake in a pinch earlier this year (13 points, seven rebounds, six blocks) and in late-season games against Illinois and Villanova (combined 23 points), he showed why he could someday be the Big Ten Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year.
Unlike the past several years, when it was obvious who Iowa’s top contributors would be, the 2016-17 lineup is a blank canvas. So many questions need to be answered.
How will outside-shooting power forward Dale Jones respond from December knee surgery? McCaffery said recently his recovery was going very well and that he could be playing in a few months.
How much growth did 6-5 guards Brandon Hutton and Isaiah Moss make while redshirting as freshmen? Both are wild cards. Same question for 6-foot-5 shooting guard Andrew Fleming, who said he had to “swallow pride” when he didn’t play as much has he would have liked? And what’s the future for 6-foot-3 Brady Ellingson, who fell out of the rotation in favor of Williams but was still ahead of Fleming?
The young guys are confident they can put their own stamp on Hawkeye basketball.
“The guys that are younger in this room are capable of stepping up and having big seasons,” Fleming said. “Ahmad, he was great for us this year. Christian, we saw spurts of him toward the end of the season, it looks like he’s going to be a great point guard for us.
"I think overall, with the guys that are coming in, we’ll be able to lead the way, even as sophomores.”
As mentioned, the starting five will be very fluid. But here’s one early forecast.
Point guard: 6-6 Christian Williams (soph.) — He got valuable experience down the stretch and showed versatility and is capable of being an excellent defender.
Shooting guard: 6-6 Peter Jok (sr.) — Jok has always flexed from the 2 to the 3, but either way, he could be Iowa’s first 20 ppg scorer since Adam Haluska in 2007.
Small forward: 6-9 Dom Uhl (jr.) — The German can play the 3, 4 or 5 and can be great if he finds consistency. He shot 45 percent from 3 last season and can be a 10-12 ppg scorer as a junior.
Power forward: 6-8 Tyler Cook (fr.) — McCaffery’s most heralded recruit since Gesell/Woodbury, Cook is an athletic, powerful player. Fresh off a big-school Missouri state championship, he'll have a shot to make an instant impact.
Center: 6-7 Ahmad Wagner (soph.) — He plays big and fast, perfect for the Big Ten and McCaffery’s up-tempo style. An excellent defender who needs to polish his offensive game and free-throw accuracy.
IOWA: A LOOK BACK, AND A LOOK AHEAD
Record: 22-11, 12-6 (tied for third in Big Ten); lost in second round of NCAA Tournament
Who’s gone: F Jarrod Uthoff (unanimous first-team All-Big Ten), 18.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.7 bpg; G Mike Gesell, 8.1 ppg, 6.2 apg; G Anthony Clemmons 8.9 ppg, 3.7 apg; C Adam Woodbury, 7.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg. Combined, they accounted for 58 percent of Iowa’s minutes played.
Who’s back: G Peter Jok (16.1 ppg, 40.2 percent from 3) has every chance to become Iowa’s fourth straight first-team all-Big Ten selection but defenses will key on him even more with Uthoff gone; G Christian Williams inherits the point unless a graduate transfer comes to Iowa City; F Nicholas Baer (4.8 ppg) is an energy player who knows his role; F Dom Uhl (6.0 ppg) is likely to jump into the starting lineup; F Ahmad Wagner (2.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 10.1 mpg) has double-double potential; F Dale Jones was a weapon from 3 (45 percent) and on the boards until he got hurt; Gs Brady Ellingson, Andrew Fleming, Brandon Hutton and Isaiah Moss will battle for time at the 2 and/or 3.
Who’s new: F Tyler Cook (6-8, 240, St. Louis) is a Rivals Top 100 national player with enormous talent and Big Ten size; F/C Ryan Kriener (6-9, 240, Spirit Lake) could contend immediately for time at the 5; G Jordan Bohannon (6-0, 170, Marion) led Class 4A in scoring at 25.8 ppg and will likely be needed at the point; F Cordell Pemsl (6-8, 235, Dubuque) averaged a double-double in leading Wahlert to the 3A title game.