Natives of Iowa City have always mixed their love for Halloween with their love of the Hawkeyes (Iowalum)
It’s now October 31st, meaning Halloween is upon us and college basketball is right around the corner. Exhibitions are being played across the nation, used to size up the talent of all 347 Division I college basketball teams in the country before the regular season is in full effect.
In the middle of it all, Iowa City is now teeming with excitement around this year’s Hawkeyes: a team that bolsters youth and emerging talent with the recent graduation of star guard Peter Jok. However, Jok’s absence is not bringing groans of rebuilding, but instead eagerness for what the rest of the team has to offer.
Guard Play Will Come with a Learning Curve
Jordan Bohannon is undoubtedly the starting point guard for the Hawks this year. The sophomore scored a team-high 19 points while assisting four baskets in the exhibition win over William Jewell College. He is by no means a ‘true’ point guard, but his three-point prowess (4-7 in the exhibition) makes him a must-start.
The backup point guard looked to be the inconsistent Christian Williams, but his sudden exit via transfer puts pressure onto head coach Fran McCaffery to fill the void. With the news breaking so close to the season, many believed either Isaiah Moss or Maishe Dailey would be tasked with the backup role. Enter: Connor McCaffery.
The coach’s son is a freshman guard out of Iowa City West High School who was tabbed by many to receive little playing time and potentially redshirt. However, he was a surprise constant in the exhibition, tallying the fourth-most minutes (18) and the second-most assists (3).
A large chunk of his playing time may be attributed to Moss’s ankle tweak which sidelined him for much of the second half, but with McCaffery’s increased role up top, we may see Moss more as a true shooting guard in his attempt to fill Peter Jok’s shoes.
There’s no question that Fran McCaffery will reward Bohannon’s stellar freshman season with a starting role, but the backup slot is still up for grabs. With one home exhibition left (Thurs. Nov. 2 vs Belmont Abbey College), Connor McCaffery, Moss and Dailey will likely see increased minutes to sort out the pecking order for the season.
Freshmen Will Be A Focal Point Once More
Last season, 44.7 percent of Iowa’s offense came from four freshmen: Tyler Cook (12.3), Jordan Bohannon (10.9), Cordell Pemsl (8.9) and Isaiah Moss (6.5). This season, four freshmen enter the fold: forwards Luka Garza and Jack Nunge and guards Connor McCaffery and Austin Ash. Garza (26) and Nunge (17) each received extensive minutes in the exhibition and it certainly paid off with 17 and 16 points, respectively.
Both forwards will certainly see the floor more often than the guards, but Connor McCaffery is looking toward more minutes with Christian Williams gone. Ash, a walk-on from Cedar Rapids, was the only Hawkeye to not see the floor versus William Jewell College.
Garza, a true freshman from Washington D.C., is a bruising forward that managed nine rebounds in the contest. He’ll open up space to push Nicholas Baer to his rightful small forward spot. Garnering the most attention of the four recruits, he seems to have cracked the starting lineup already.
Nunge, a true freshman from Newburgh, Indiana, is a versatile swingman that can play all across the floor. He was perfect (3-3) from beyond the arc and notched nine boards in the exhibition. He’ll certainly add a third level of scoring past the traditional forwards and guards on the team.
Why The Hawks Can Compete
Last season, Tyler Cook proved to be the man down low that the Hawks have been seeking since Melsahn Basabe. He’ll help Iowa compete in not only the Big Ten, but in the tournament. Fran McCaffery has one B1G tournament win since taking over in 2010 and losing early in the conference tourney has often kept the team out of March Madness.
This year, though, Iowa has the talent down low to win games consistently in the conference. Wisconsin and Ohio State have traditionally given the team trouble and the tandem of Cook and Garza will look to change that.
Another variable that has held the Hawks back in March is poor point guard play, but Jordan Bohannon was recently named to the 20-player Bob Cousy Point Guard Watchlist, hopefully meaning that the string of poor point play is over. The sophomore will have an increased role as far as scoring goes, but he’ll need to facilitate better than guards in the past in order for the Hawks to advance in March.
The real reason the Hawks can thrive this year is the graduation of Peter Jok. He clearly scored points galore and boosted the team for many different reasons, but teams expected points to pour from Jok all year. Opening opportunities for many other skilled players, especially the newcomers, makes this squad exceptionally scary for Big Ten defenses.
Garza and Nunge add the final layer that the Hawks have been lacking for years and while it’s only Halloween, this team should be plenty spooky by the time March rolls around.