Basketball coach Fran McCaffery talks about how difficult it is to pick a starting lineup.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Fran McCaffery has a welcome dilemma on his hands in his seventh season as Iowa men’s basketball coach.
More players. More flexibility. More mystery.
Last year, the five Hawkeye starters gobbled up 75 percent of the minutes in Big Ten Conference games. Only eight players saw action in all 18 league contests.
But four of those starters — Adam Woodbury, Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons — were seniors on a 22-11 team.
This year, it’s Peter Jok and a horde of eager young talent. Who will take the court alongside the senior shooting guard when Iowa opens its regular season Nov. 11 against Kennesaw State?
“It’s almost irrelevant who starts. We can go beyond 10 (players). Whether we will or not remains to be seen,” McCaffery said of establishing a rotation. “Can you actually be fair to everybody and get more than 10 into a game? It’s hard. I do think we have multiple players that can be effective and will be ready to play, not only in terms of understanding the physicality of what this level is but also the complexity from an X-and-O standpoint.”
Getting more than 10 into a game isn’t hard — it’s virtually impossible. The guess is that the Hawkeyes eventually settle into a solid nine-player rotation. How will it play out? Here’s the Register's outlook of how the minutes will be allotted this winter in a typical Big Ten game:
Peter Jok, 6-foot-6, Sr.
Position: Shooting guard (2).
Analysis: McCaffery will ask the most from his best player, a second team all-Big Ten pick a year ago. Jok averaged 16.1 points per game and was on the court an average of 30 minutes in league play. He will be expected to diversify his offensive skill set while also potentially manning the point on key possessions. More interesting may be what is asked of Jok on defense, where opposing teams will undoubtedly go after him in an effort to tire him out or get him into foul trouble. McCaffery will need to find ways to get Jok some rest.
Projected per-game minutes: 34
Christian Williams, 6-5, So.
Position: Point guard (1).
Analysis: Williams earned playing time late in his freshman season, but the Hawkeyes had established point guards in Gesell and Clemmons. He’ll be given the keys this season, and how he responds will go a long way in determining whether Iowa can contend in the Big Ten. His forte is passing and using his long wingspan to play smothering defense. He also is an above-average rebounder for his position. Those are good attributes to have and should ensure plenty of playing time, regardless of how well he scores.
Projected per-game minutes: 25
Dom Uhl, 6-9, Jr.
Position: Either forward spot (3 or 4).
Analysis: Uhl was Iowa’s top reserve a year ago, averaging 6.0 points on 45-percent 3-point shooting while playing 17 minutes per Big Ten game. His productivity decreased as the season progressed, however, and Uhl needs to take a step forward to become one of the Hawkeyes’ consistent anchors. His aggressiveness must match his talent in order for that to happen.
Projected per-game minutes: 22
Ahmad Wagner, 6-7, So.
Position: Center or power forward (5 or 4).
Analysis: Wagner was a valuable role player as a freshman, earning 10 minutes per game of Big Ten playing time because of his skill as a defender and rebounder. This winter provides a chance to show off his offensive ability as well as becoming the inspirational leader of a young group of frontcourt players.
Projected per-game minutes: 20
The Bettendorf native is now a FORMER walk-on.
Nicholas Baer, 6-7, So.
Position: Small forward (3).
Analysis: A feel-good story a year ago when the Bettendorf native went from walk-on to vital reserve, Baer added needed muscle and figures to become, at minimum, the Hawkeyes’ sixth man. He can score and rebound, but how well can he defend? Baer is a player who combines energy and poise and could be the difference between an average team and a good one.
Projected per-game minutes: 19
Dale Jones, 6-7, Jr.
Position: Wing player or possibly power forward in a small lineup (2, 3 or 4).
Analysis: Jones is a natural scorer whose star-crossed career has been marked by two major knee injuries. When he’s healthy — and he enters the season near full-strength — he can stretch the floor and provide a moxie that would invigorate the younger Hawkeyesf. His defense remains a work in progress, but there’s little doubt that when McCaffery feels his team is starving for points, Jones will be a go-to option, second only to Jok in his willingness to shoot.
Projected per-game minutes: 15
Brady Ellingson, 6-4, So.
Position: A 2 who can also be an emergency backup 1.
Analysis: Ellingson’s playing time is predicated almost solely on how well he is shooting. He saw double-digit minutes 13 times last year, but those opportunities dwindled as the season progressed and he hit a shooting funk. Ellingson made only 12-of-44 3-pointers (27 percent) last year. He’s capable of much more, and McCaffery singled him out for praise this week. “He’s been one of our most consistent players. He’s more mature physically, he’s really a smart player, makes shots, makes plays,” McCaffery said of Ellingson. “He’s going to have a prominent role on this team.”
Projected per-game minutes: 7
The Iowa freshman scored 17 points with five assists ... But stole the show with his dunks.
Tyler Cook, 6-9, Fr.
Analysis: The one freshman guaranteed to start, Cook arrives with a fanfare not often seen at Iowa. McCaffery is not shy about proclaiming him potentially the best player he’s ever coached. Cook doesn’t back away from such expectations, either. Cook plays with an ebullience that will quickly make him a fan favorite. If he stays out of foul trouble, he will be a mainstay from the get-go.
Projected per-game minutes: 27
Jordan Bohannon, 6-0, Fr.
Position: A 1 who can really shoot.
Analysis: Bohannon, a Linn-Mar graduate from a family that has been producing Division I talent for more than a decade, has battled Williams throughout the fall to start at point guard. Williams has the height and the defensive skills. Bohannon has long-range scoring ability but is developing a Big Ten body. McCaffery has said he may play them together at times.
Projected per-game minutes: 18
Ryan Kriener, 6-9, Fr.
Position: A stretch 4 or 5.
Analysis: The Spirit Lake native was slowed over the summer by illness, but regained his strength in time to be one of the surprises of fall practice. He has been the team’s best rebounder, McCaffery said, a testament to his willingness to mix it up inside. He also has a fluid outside shot. The Hawkeyes need a freshman other than Cook to help out in the post, and Kriener could fill that bill.
Projected per-game minutes: 5
Cordell Pemsl, 6-8, Fr.
Position: Suited for 4, but may need to play the 5 at times.
Analysis: Pemsl is a bruising post player out of Dubuque Wahlert who has shown no fear in adapting his rugged game to the Division I level. Knee surgery, a poke in the eye, a tonsillectomy — he has had his share of doctor visits in the past year. He could fill the role that Wagner did last year.
Projected per-game minutes: 5 (but note that it’s more likely that Kriener or Pemsl plays 10 minutes per game and the other not at all; hard to project which one will emerge, but both will be given a shot).
Isaiah Moss, 6-5, Fr.
Analysis: Moss redshirted last year after getting to campus late because of academic questions. Now, he may find himself the odd man out in the rotation. He’s a volume shooter on a team that likely can’t provide that many opportunities. His potential playing time would increase dramatically if he proves to be a superior defender.
Projected per-game minutes: 3
Maishe Dailey, 6-6, Fr.
Riley Till, 6-6, Fr.
Charlie Rose, 6-4, Jr.
Analysis: Dailey is the likeliest redshirt candidate among the freshmen, with a chance to put on weight while honing his skills as a point guard or wing player. He’s a savvy player who may just need to wait his turn. Till and Rose are walk-ons who can add energy in practice but probably won’t appear in games unless it’s late in a blowout.