With more than 60% of last year's scoring gone, opportunity abounds for Iowa men's basketball players

IOWA CITY — Iowa men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery has been at the helm for 11 seasons but, at Monday's media day, told reporters that he doesn't know if he's ever coached a team "where everybody will have a different role than they had last year." 

The reason for that? A drastic roster turnover from the year before. 

Top players Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp moved on to the NBA. Solid contributors CJ Fredrick (Kentucky) and Jack Nunge (Xavier) are at new schools. The four departing players accounted for almost two-thirds (64%) of last season's offensive production. 

Simply put, there's a lot of playing time available on the 2021-22 Hawkeye team. While the loss of production is an area of concern, the Iowa players see it as exciting. Nearly every player on the team, right now, has an opportunity to earn substantially more playing time and responsibility than last year. 

"I would say that everyone's pretty excited," redshirt sophomore forward Patrick McCaffery said. "We have certain roles that are a little set in stone but there's a lot of opportunity. Last year there wasn't as much opportunity because we had a lot of guys from the year before that were proven veterans.

"I would say the sense of excitement is definitely true and something that we've been able to build with and get behind and it's a lot of fun." 

MORE: The mind-boggling statistics of Luka Garza's Iowa Hawkeyes career

Only one player from last year's team, super-senior guard Jordan Bohannon, averaged more than 20 minutes per game. He will have a clear, defined role as a starting guard and leading scoring candidate. Sophomore forward Keegan Murray, a projected first-round NBA Draft pick, also figures to play 30-plus minutes per game.

The rest of the starting lineup right now is "pretty fluid" according to Fran McCaffery. He said that, during practices, lineups change "quite a bit" and in every segment one team wins and the other loses. 

The increased opportunity has led to an increased level of competition.

"Everybody is fighting every day," sophomore guard Tony Perkins said. "There's a bunch of physicality and going at each other. Usual things to get the position and the minutes that we each want." 

Players like Perkins, Patrick McCaffery, junior point guard Joe Toussaint and other returners understood the opportunity for larger minutes ahead this year and prepared for such in the offseason by improving their stamina.

MORE: Keegan Murray, Patrick McCaffery will play vital roles for the 2021 Hawkeyes

With different players taking on new, larger roles, there's room to change the play style. A few weeks ago, coach McCaffery spoke to the depth and the versatility of this team compared to others. That versatility will likely translate into a varying degree of lineup rotations throughout the season. Defensively, expect more up-tempo and press looks. 

"We can go with a bigger lineup, a smaller lineup," Fran McCaffery said. "We can go without a five-man, traditional five-man, and (go with) three guards and two 6-9 (players). There's a lot of ways we can go."

What also sets this team apart is its youth. Freshmen and sophomores make up two-thirds of the 15-man roster. In other years, where younger players may have to sit behind established players, a true freshman like center Riley Mulvey is legitimately vying for minutes down low.

"I think that (re-classifying from the 2022 class to the 2021 class) was a great idea," Mulvey said. "Practices have been really intense. Everyone is giving their best effort every single day." 

On the other side of excitement for Iowa's team is the growing pains of bringing along players who aren't as familiar with the system as veterans. Fran McCaffery pointed to his players not being as connected defensively in terms of where to be in certain situations as a main area of improvement right now. 

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One area that's not a concern right now is team leadership. Bohannon and fellow senior Connor McCaffery have "been through the wars" in the words of their coach and have taken on the responsibility of mentoring younger players who will be playing significant minutes for the first time.

"All of the experiences that we've been through and sharing it with younger guys," Bohannon said, "I think that goes a long way because, one, it increases chemistry and two, it helps when the season ends." 

Bohannon, the program's all-time leader in games played, knows better than anyone how hard it is to earn minutes on the court. He said competition to earn minutes isn't a new trend for the team as every season there are 11-12 guys who can play minutes. 

"Obviously we're not going to play 11-12 guys," Bohannon said. "We're going to get down to the eight, nine that (McCaffery) usually plays and it makes it even better for us once the season hits that we've been very competitive in practice."

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 ksmith@gannett.com