Iowa forward Tyler Cook discusses his offseason plan after his sophomore year ended at the Big Ten Tournament.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect players who have departed from the Hawkeye basketball program
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa men’s basketball team enters the offseason with one big unknown surrounding its leading scorer and rebounder and an even bigger question concerning its ability to play defense.
Power forward Tyler Cook, who led the Hawkeyes with 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds in a strong sophomore season, announced Friday he will test the NBA Draft process and was earlier noncommittal when asked about his intentions to return to Iowa City for his junior season. That’s a big worry for coach Fran McCaffery and his staff. There is no one on the roster who can provide the low-post explosiveness that Cook gave this team.
Regardless, though, this spring and summer must be devoted to defensive improvement for a squad that ranked 249th in the nation in adjusted defense in the KenPom rankings. That was one spot behind Maine, which finished 6-26 and fired its coach Monday. That total is abysmal and, as much as anything, explains the Hawkeyes’ 14-19 record this winter.
Soon, McCaffery will be meeting with each of his players to establish goals for their offseason workouts and what he perceives as their role on the 2018-19 team.
“It also relates to strength and conditioning,” McCaffery said of those goals. “Do we need to get stronger? Do we need to lose weight? Do we need to do plyometrics? Do we need to do more speed and agility work?”
The answers to the strength, speed and agility questions are: Yes, yes and yes.
The Hawkeyes need a boost in all three to have a chance at being a better defensive outfit. So, assuming improvements in those areas are a given for every Hawkeye, here’s an offseason outlook for each potential returning player and expected newcomers:
Power forward, junior in 2018-19
Offseason plans: Unknown at this point. Cook has until June 11 to pull his name out of draft consideration, after which he could return to Iowa. Cook is McCaffery’s highest-rated recruit (until next year) and has long made it clear that his plans include the NBA someday. That day is likely not yet upon him. Still, he might think he has a better chance of developing NBA-caliber skills by moving to the professional ranks (in the NBA G-League or overseas), where he would more likely be able to play his natural position, which is center. If Cook does return to Iowa, he needs to cut down on his turnovers (his 82 also led the team). But more importantly, he must become a leader in the locker room. He elevated his play this season; the next step is bringing his teammates along — not letting them get away with subpar efforts in the weight room, on the practice court and certainly not in games themselves.
Expected role in 2018-19: If Cook is back, he would be a starting frontcourt player once again. Cook has good size at 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds, and he certainly put up good numbers. The prolific dunker could help himself and his team by developing a more consistent jump shot. Cook’s pairing with emerging star Luka Garza at center would pose a lot of problems for opposing defenses.
Point guard, junior in 2018-19
Offseason plans: Bohannon first needs to get fully healthy. He began the season dogged by plantar fasciitis and concluded it with a hip pointer suffered in Iowa’s 77-71 overtime loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament. In between, he managed to average 13.5 points and 5.4 assists per game while making 96 3-pointers. Bohannon ranked 91st in the nation in KenPom’s assist rate statistic at 29.2. Offense is not his problem. But he could take another step there by becoming a better driver, forcing defenses to commit more fouls. Bohannon made 90.4 percent of his free throws.
BOHANNON BROTHERS:Zach was along for the ride this season, too
Expected role in 2018-19: Bohannon will be the starting point guard for a third year and the undisputed leader of the team if Cook departs. If Iowa can find a viable backup at the point, Bohannon could also see some time at shooting guard. That position was something the Hawkeyes wanted Bohannon to play more of last season, but Christian Williams’ transfer and Connor McCaffery’s illnesses made it impractical. Bohannon led the team by playing 31.8 minutes per game, and almost all of them were at the point.
Center, sophomore in 2018-19
Offseason plans: Garza was Iowa’s third-leading scorer at 12.1 points per game as a skilled and aggressive freshman. At 6-11, he was more than a low-post option, stepping out to hit 16 3-pointers and showing great shooting form on his mid-range jumper. He is a tenacious rebounder, a tireless competitor and figures to only get better with time. His footwork on defense needs work, as does his conditioning. But he doesn’t have far to go to be one of the league’s best big men.
Expected role in 2018-19: Starting center. Team leader. Top offensive rebounder. And that’s if Cook stays. If Cook is gone, Garza must become a 28-minute-a-game guy (he was at 21.7 last year) and the team’s most reliable inside option. Garza is someone you can run an offense through and be very effective. His time may be now.
Shooting guard, redshirt junior in 2018-19
Offseason plans: Can a player find confidence in one offseason? Because that’s what Moss needs the most. At his best, he is unstoppable (just ask Minnesota). But the games in which he disappears continue to mystify. Moss started all 33 games this season and averaged 11.1 points. He was an 88 percent free-throw shooter. Everything tells you he should be a big-time scorer night in and night out for Iowa. Now, he just needs to convince himself.
Expected role in 2018-19: Starting shooting guard. Iowa’s second-best 3-point shooter (he was 49-of-127 this winter, a rate of 38.6 percent, but can be better). The Hawkeyes’ best one-on-one offensive option. A demon in transition. Moss is capable of being all of those.
Power forward, junior in 2018-19
Offseason plans: Avoiding surgery would be a good start for the oft-injured Pemsl. He had a hernia operation last summer, trimmed down 20 pounds and was able to play in 32 of 33 games as a sophomore. But his production suffered a little. Pemsl needs to add some muscle while maintaining his weight (235 pounds on a 6-8 frame). At his best, he is a strong defensive rebounder and nifty finisher around the basket. He could use some range on his shot (say, 10 feet). He must become a better free-throw shooter (67.1 percent this year). He could be a starter if his good friend Cook is gone. Does he have the stamina to do so? That’s what the summer is for.
Expected role in 2018-19: A top-three option in the frontcourt, with or without Cook. Pemsl isn’t afraid to throw his body around. The next step is to do so with more purpose. He could be a double-digit scorer on this team.
Iowa sophomore Cordell Pemsl felt the team should have won against Michigan on Thursday.
Forward, sophomore in 2018-19
Offseason plans: Iowa coaches could help Nunge here by letting him know specifically how they plan to use him. As a freshman, he was asked to contribute at the 2, 3 and 4, and it appeared he was thinking too often instead of letting his natural athletic gifts flow. Nunge could be a “stretch 4” in a reserve role, as his 19 3-pointers showed. He may be more at home on the wing, however, where the rangy 6-11 player could take advantage of mismatches in either size or quickness. Nunge certainly could use some weight (he’s at 225 pounds). But mostly, he could use some clarity.
Expected role in 2018-19: That’s the first question (see above). Nunge started 14 games as a freshman, but felt forced into that role. He might be most effective coming off the bench for about 18 minutes a game at whatever forward spot is most urgently needed.
Forward, redshirt senior in 2018-19
Offseason plans: Rediscover his shooting touch. Baer never really got going as a junior, a broken finger costing him the first six games. He ended up shooting just 40.2 percent from the field, 30.7 from 3, and it even seemed to affect his free-throw shooting (59.1). Baer can bring value beyond scoring, of course, but no team can afford to give extended minutes to a player that other teams don’t feel the need to guard.
Expected role in 2018-19: Baer is too smart, too conscientious and too well-respected among younger players to not be in Iowa’s rotation. He is best when coming off the bench. Look for him to be a backup wing player again. But Iowa would also benefit if he can be a de facto coach, as well.
Guard, junior in 2018-19
Offseason plans: Put on weight (he’s a slim 195 pounds at 6-7). Put on some game tape of former Iowa guard Peter Jok. Put on a snarl. Dailey is the most intriguing athlete on Iowa’s roster, one who routinely draws raves for what he can do in practices. It did show up at times in games. Dailey averaged 4.9 points in 16.5 minutes. But he must learn to hunt for his own offense more and stop being overly deferential. And, as one of Iowa’s best options at defending the 3-point arc, he must get a little nastier at times on that end of the court. Fight through screens. Don’t be afraid to foul if necessary (he was 54th in the country in KenPom’s fouls committed per 40 minutes at 1.69).
Expected role in 2018-19: By the end of this season, Iowa coaches were trying to groom Dailey as a backup point guard. But he’s a natural wing, and his wingspan is one reason why. He should be Moss’s primary backup, concentrating on stretching the floor on offense and locking down the perimeter on defense.
Iowa wing Maishe Dailey (2-for-2 Saturday) understands he needs to be more aggressive.
Forward/center, junior in 2018-19
Offseason plans: Keep working on those turnaround jump shots. Kriener battled through two concussions this season and really only got to show what he can do in short stretches. At the end of the year, though, he was emerging as an important frontcourt backup. He scored 15 points in the final road game at Minnesota and a team-high 14 in the season-ender vs. Michigan. Kriener was working on a 3-point shot last offseason and should continue that effort. He or Nunge are the best bets to become “stretch 4s.”
Expected role in 2018-19: A valuable reserve who can spell Garza and/or Cook while providing active defense and, on occasion, game-changing offense.
Point guard, redshirt freshman in 2018-19
Offseason plans: Yes, Fran McCaffery’s eldest son did play in four games last season, so the medical redshirt must be approved. Either way, he must spend the offseason committed primarily to basketball, and getting his strength back. Connor McCaffery is also a skilled baseball player and plans to pursue both sports. But, barring a transfer who can come in and provide immediate help at the point guard, McCaffery is now too valuable to the basketball team to not make that his priority. He is a smart player who moves the ball well and obviously has great understanding of his father’s offense. He could help matters by developing a better outside shot, too.
Expected role in 2018-19: Bohannon’s primary backup and potentially a player good enough to pair alongside Iowa’s best shooter for extended minutes. At a minimum, McCaffery should be a 10-minute-a-game player to give Bohannon rest. But it’s possible he could double that workload for himself by becoming an above-average defender with enough offense to keep opponents honest.
Connor McCaffery's two-sport plan at Iowa has become a zero-sport reality this school year, as he hasn’t played much basketball or baseball after repeated illnesses. Here, he talks with Chad Leistikow while in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Shooting guard, freshman in 2018-19
Offseason plans: Fredrick could be the one to take Ellingson’s minutes after being named Gatorade Player of the Year in Kentucky this week. He averaged 22.5 points on 48 percent 3-point shooting. At 6-4, 180 pounds, Fredrick should arrive on campus expecting to add some muscle necessary to transition to college. And shooting. Lots of shooting. That’s his path to immediate playing time.
Expected role in 2018-19: Certainly a redshirt contender if Dailey, McCaffery and Ellingson prove capable of supplementing what Bohannon and Moss can do in the back court. If not, look for Fredrick to get a shot at stretching the floor, provided his defense isn’t a liability at this level.
Small forward, freshman in 2018-19
Offseason plans: Clever of us to leave the most buzzed-about Iowa newcomer for last. Wieskamp is an extremely polished freshman who figures to compete for a starting spot as soon as he arrives in Iowa City from Muscatine this summer as McCaffery’s highest-rated recruit to date. Wieskamp scored 2,376 points in his four-year high school career, the most in Iowa Class 4-A history. At 6-6, he has a terrific inside-outside game on the wing, although he could become a better 3-point marksman and work on driving to his left. Naturally, he will need to adapt to the bigger, stronger players he’ll soon be facing, so look for him to test himself immediately against his new teammates and in the Prime Time League.
MORE ON WIESKAMP:Understanding the forward's place in Iowa prep history
Expected role in 2018-19: The starter at small forward, alongside Moss in what must become a productive wing tandem. That’s where Iowa was lacking most this season. Wieskamp could be the perfect antidote.
Iowa Hawkeyes signee Joe Wieskamp talks about the potential to break Jeff Horner’s Class 4A scoring record, plus his place in the state's basketball history.