Fran McCaffery likes his Iowa basketball team this season. Here's five takeaways why
The questions around Iowa basketball this year are plentiful.
How will they replace two-thirds of last year's offense?
What will Jordan Bohannon's role be?
What about Keegan and Kris Murray, Joe Toussaint and Tony Perkins?
What are realistic expectations?
Head coach Fran McCaffery faced those questions and more on Monday. What are his early impressions of his team? For one, he says, it's one of the deepest squads he's fielded at Iowa.
"It may be the most depth we've ever had," McCaffery said. "We still have (Connor McCaffery) and (Jordan Bohannon), two veteran guys who've been through the wars and are versatile but you look at our roster and I can go pretty deep. I feel pretty comfortable."
What else did McCaffery have to say on the new-look Hawkeyes? Here are my five top takeaways from his preseason presser:
After offseason surgeries, Hawkeyes are largely healthy.
Entering the off-season, three key players underwent surgery: Joe Toussaint (ankle), Ahron Ulis (wrist) and Connor McCaffery (hips). On Monday, McCaffery revealed that forwards Kris Murray and Filip Rebraca missed time over the summer with injuries and illnesses (non-COVID related). Additionally, Patrick McCaffery is currently nursing a sprained ankle and is out.
With six players in and out at various times, McCaffery can't recall many times if any that the entire team was together during the preseason. He recalls a time two years ago where injuries hit the team hard but believes this year's team is better equipped to handle it.
"I don't know if we've had our whole team, no," McCaffery said. "This is really one of the deeper teams we've had so at least you feel like you can kind of absorb that. Two years ago, we had a really good team, didn't have a lot of depth and it hurt us."
The good news is every player mentioned but Patrick McCaffery is back now and a full-go.
The player who's had the longest road to recovery: Connor McCaffery still plans to play baseball this year health pending. On the court, he'll also have a different role.
"You'll see Connor's role be a lot different," McCaffery said. "His job description last year was 'I'll screen for guys, I'll feed the post and move it to (Wieskamp) and (Bohannon)' but now he'll have to maybe play a different role and look for his shot more He's shooting the ball well right now."
Expect new roles for many of the veterans
The large question looming over the 2021-22 Hawkeyes is how will they replace the production of Garza and Wieskamp. Right now, it appears that it'll be by committee but McCaffery believes the returners from last year can thrive in new roles.
"You tend to look at Kris Murray," McCaffery said. "He didn't play much last year, he's a guy who I think is really talented and is playing well as is Keegan (Murray) who we saw excel.
"With Patrick, I think he's ready to take that next step and step in for Joe."
Almost every returning player will be in a new role this year: Jordan Bohannon sliding over to shooting guard, Toussaint and Ulis vying for starting point guard minutes to Keegan Murray stepping into a more dominant role on offense to name a few.
McCaffery doesn't have questions about team personnel, the challenge is how to put together old parts in new positions to form a cohesive unit.
"Figuring out a starting lineup, what rotations will look like," McCaffery said. "Are we going to play more guys? I think we're going to up-tempo our defense which is going to require more substitutions.
"I think the other thing is to build confidence as players fall into new roles. Keegan was tremendous last year but now he's got to be different and he knows that. It's a new opportunity for Patrick, Kris Murray and Filip (Rebraca)."
Keegan Murray has the 'green light'. Expect him to use it.
A little more on Keegan Murray — McCaffery gave the rising sophomore the premature "green light" ahead of the start of the season. It's no surprise that more responsibility will fall on Murray this season, throughout the summer his name appeared on several NBA mock drafts in the first round.
Best-case scenario: Murray emerges as one of the premier two-way players in college basketball. Last year, he was a factor on offense mainly through energy and athleticism.
This year, McCaffery expects a big offensive leap.
"I've been really impressed with him," McCaffery said. "He's kind of got the green light to take it coast-to-coast, shoot three's, rip-and-drive so we'll be going to him a lot more and I think he's getting more and more comfortable in that role."
The biggest question mark surrounding Murray's game is perimeter shooting. McCaffery was complimentary of that aspect throughout the preseason and somewhat attributed his low shooting numbers last year (29% from three) as not having many opportunities.
Through Iowa's recent history, the offense has flown through the best player (Peter Jok, Tyler Cook and Garza, for example), by all accounts it appears that Murray is primed for that role this year.
"He just kind of plays the game the right way," McCaffery said. "His role will change so he's got to be more aggressive which he's trying to be. You have to smart with that and I think he's trying to execute that as best he can."
Newcomers will have key roles too
Outside of returning veterans, McCaffery will also rely on the three newcomers: the North Dakota transfer Rebraca and true freshmen Riley Mulvey and Payton Sandfort to contribute.
Rebraca comes to Iowa as a two-time All-Summit League selection and McCaffery confirmed the 6-foot-9 big will be a "key part" of their plans this season.
"He's got a really complete skill set for a big guy," McCaffery said. "He can dribble, pass, shoot and stretch the floor. He's got a real good feel for how to play."
Mulvey and Sandfort have yet to play a collegiate game but both have something Iowa immediately needs: Mulvey has size (6-foot-11, 245 pounds) and Sandfort brings shooting ability. Mulvey, who reclassified and joined Iowa a year early this summer, recently released a photo of himself via his Twitter account where he appears to have gained significant weight.
"Payton has looked really good," McCaffery said. "Riley Mulvey is coming around. He really can run for a guy who's almost seven feet tall. He's put on a little bit of weight, is a little bit more physical and he's adjusting and is trying to figure things out.
"Those guys in particular are guys that we're looking at to help this team in a variety of ways."
Notice a soft opening for season? Yeah, it's there for a reason.
That was intentional.
Iowa has several returning players but a slew of younger players and for the most part, everyone regardless of age is stepping into a new role. Last year's team with established college stars like Garza and Wieskamp could lead Iowa against No. 1 Gonzaga on CBS but this is a new team.
The Hawkeyes will still face a tough test against Virginia in the ACC-Big Ten challenge on Nov. 29 but prior to that, the schedule shapes up favorably to figure out rotations and build confidence.
"You're going to try and play more home games when you have a younger team," McCaffery said. "The thought process this year was to kind of figure our team out and let these young guys an opportunity to develop early, at home and the obviously it gets a lot tougher when you move on."
Other scheduling notes: the first official practice is set for Sept. 29 and team media day on Oct. 11.
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