Iowa guard Ahron Ulis to play in opener vs. Bethune-Cookman, plus other Hawkeye takeaways

Kennington Lloyd Smith III
Des Moines Register

Iowa men's basketball will have its full complement of scholarship players for Monday night's season opener against Bethune-Cookman (6 pm on ESPNU). Coach Fran McCaffery confirmed that junior guard Ahron Ulis will be available after serving a suspension during last week's exhibition win over Truman State.

Ulis is one of the candidates for the starting point guard position this season. Fellow junior Tony Perkins started at point guard against Truman State and true freshman Dasonte Bowen is also in the mix for playing time. McCaffery didn't specify what Ulis' role will be on Monday but is expecting him to play well in his season debut.

"He's been playing really well," McCaffery said. "I expect him to play like a veteran. He's really good at both ends of the floor. Obviously very good within our system with his speed and athleticism. So I'm excited for him."

There's always intrigue in season openers, but McCaffery noted that it's amplified in the transfer portal era where teams can add several new players each season. That's the case with Bethune-Cookman, under second-year coach and former NBA All-Star Reggie Theus, who has eight new players this season via transfer.

More:Iowa basketball exhibition takeaways: Hawkeyes roll past Truman State in first contest

"They're unique in that they have a lot of guys back but they also signed a good number of guys," McCaffery said."(Theus)'s added some pieces to what was going to be a veteran team. So I think it's a team that's going to be really good and I think they're going to challenge us."

Iowa's season opener is a part of a home double-header, with the women's basketball team hosting Southern at 8:30 p.m. and streaming on Big Ten Network+.

Here are a few more takeaways from McCaffery's Thursday press conference:

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery wants to see defensive improvement on Monday night

The seven-day gap between last Monday's exhibition and Monday's opener allows for Iowa to dissect the exhibition film and clean up errors before the start of the regular season. According to McCaffery, it starts on defense.

"There was some defensive breakdowns (against Truman State)," McCaffery said. "There were times we were really good defensively but I don't think we were as consistent as we could have been. (They) run really good stuff and that's why that was a really good game for us. Sometimes we really did a good job and there's times when we didn't so that's why you play that game. And the competition gets harder and harder as you move forward and it starts with Bethune-Cookman."

The Hawkeyes ran away with the exhibition by a 46-point margin, but Truman State sustained offensive success in the first half. The Bulldogs shot 48% from the field and 55% from the three-point line in the first half, those numbers decreased to 35% and 21% in the second half. The Hawkeyes did a good job of forcing turnovers in each half (10 in the first half, nine in the second) but will need to be sharper on rotations and close-outs (on shot attempts) as they enter the regular season.

"I think it's just the communication aspect," forward Kris Murray said after the game. "They try to get you confused and have defensive breakdowns and we had a few of those and I think we just needed to bring our intensity because this is a game where we're trying to build into the season. Credit to them, they brought it and we got to take that punch. But we have to throw the first punch ultimately."

There's a possible redshirt candidate on the Iowa basketball roster

Iowa's Amarion Nimmers was a highly sought after walk-on in the 2022 recruiting cycle.

Iowa's carrying a full 15-man roster this season. McCaffery said on Thursday that there's a potential redshirt, true freshman walk-on Amarion Nimmers. The Rock Island, Illinois native turned down lower-level Division I scholarship offers to walk on at Iowa and has impressed over the summer. However, a recent wrist injury has set him back, it's not set in stone yet what will happen but it is a possibility right now.

More:Iowa basketball added a pair of walk-ons. What can they add to the Hawkeyes?

"We're going to talk to him about that, that's a possibility," McCaffery said. "He has a problem with his wrist right now. Nothing overly serious but he's been out for a couple of days."

Hawkeyes 2023 recruiting class might not be done yet

The start of the early signing period for the 2023 recruiting class (November 9) sits in between Iowa's first two games, Monday against Bethune-Cookman and Friday against North Carolina A&T. The Hawkeyes have three commits currently: guard Brock Harding and forwards Owen Freeman and Pryce Sandfort. But McCaffery didn't rule out another addition before the period ends on November 16.

Iowa's class is ranked 40th nationally by 247sports.

"We're looking to add some guys, or in particular, probably not more than one," McCaffery said. "We got three (commits) but probably at least one more. And then we'll see where we are in the spring."