How does Iowa men's basketball plan to replace last year's firepower?
Last season, Iowa's men's basketball team finished in the Associated Press Top 10 for the first time since the 1986-87 season. This summer, the work is underway for next season's team to continue the success.
But this year's team will look completely different. Iowa lost three All-Big Ten performers from last year: CJ Fredrick (transfer to Kentucky), Luka Garza (graduation) and Joe Wieskamp (likely going pro after junior season). Additionally, key bench contributor Jack Nunge transferred to Xavier.
Offensively, those players are leaving huge voids. Iowa led the Big Ten last year in scoring at about 84 points per game. The four departing players accounted for almost two-thirds (64%) of that production.
How does Iowa men's basketball plan to replace that firepower? The first step is building chemistry among the returning players and the new faces on campus.
"Mostly right now we're getting up to speed with our new four guys," sophomore forward Kris Murray said. "They've transitioned really well. I think this summer's just been developing our guys and making the most of the time that we have. And we're grateful to have the eight weeks (of practice time) we didn't have last year."
The four players Murray is referring to are true freshmen Luc Laketa, a preferred walk-on, and Riley Mulvey and Peyton Sandfort, both three-star recruits. In addition, Iowa added North Dakota transfer Filip Rebraca, who was an All-Summit League selection last season.
Jordan Bohannon, the school's all-time leading three-point shooter, is back for a sixth season and Connor McCaffery joins him as the other returning starter. Despite what was lost, the players believe they'll still resemble the team that was among the fastest (in pace) and highest-scoring in the country.
"We have a lot of athleticism coming back and a lot coming in," said Keegan Murray, Kris' twin brother. "I just think we'll be able to fly around the court, get steals defensively and be able to score points quick."
Murray was an All-Big Ten freshman selection last season as Iowa's top bench performer. The forward will need to take another step forward in the front court with absences left by Garza, Nunge and Wieskamp.
Though they're gone from campus, their influence still looms. Returning players have remembered the lessons that the former Hawkeyes taught them and are implementing them in their own games.
"Us bigs, we work on finishing through contact a lot because Luka was very good at that," forward Josh Ogundele said. "Really just working on finishing through contact, shooting and also on our ball handling because you never know what could happen."
Just as there's opportunity in the frontcourt, there's plenty in the backcourt as well. With Bohannon expected to move to shooting guard, point guards Joe Toussaint, Ahron Ulis and Austin Ash will have a chance to fill the void. Additionally, sophomore Tony Perkins has received acclaim from teammates as someone who has stepped up in the off-season.
But even he acknowledges that things will be different.
"It's going to be weird because people who have started are probably used to (Bohannon) facilitating this way or that way," Perkins said. "But as we started practicing you start to get used to how people play, you play with them for a long time. It starts to get more comfortable as you play with it."
Perkins also stated that he thinks the team could play even faster. That's a shared thought around the team. With players such as Perkins, Toussaint and the Murray twins taking on a larger role, the 2021 group will bring their own spin to Iowa basketball.
"We don't have as many standstill, knockdown shooters," Keegan Murray said. "I'd say we have a lot of guys who can create their own shot on the offensive end.
"... So if a play breaks down or something like that we'll be able to get a quick bucket. Also in transition I think we'll be able to get the ball up and down the court a lot easier."
The short answer for now: it will be production-by-committee for the Hawkeyes. From the outside, the expectations are lower for this year's group. Within the program, optimism is high that the high-scoring offense can be replicated this season.
If the Hawkeyes can do that, they might position themselves for an NCAA Tournament berth.
"I don't know who's going to play over who," Ogundele said. "But I just know that we're a talented team that's very slept on."
Kennington Smith is the new Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org