After a prolonged absence, I am back to provide my final thoughts on the Hawkeye men’s basketball season, and provide a glimpse into my expectations for next season.
I am going to be blunt, I think this season was an overwhelming success. I realize that the Hawks got bounced (again) in round one of the B1G tournament. I also understand that they failed to make the NCAA tournament, and only made it to round two of the NIT. Those are valid arguments if you want to say this wasn’t a successful season. I tend to look at the season as a whole, look at the talent and experience we returned to start the year, and gauge success levels based upon improvement, or lack thereof. In this area, it is hard to argue that the season wasn’t a success on many fronts.
Coming in to the season, Peter Jok was really the only known commodity for the Hawks, and he turned into an absolute star. His defense still left a bit to be desired, and at times he had a propensity to turn it over, but overall, I’d say 20 points per game and First Team All-Big Ten warrants a huge thank you from the Hawkeye faithful.
Dom Uhl, Brady Ellingson, Ahmad Wagner, Christian Williams, and Nicholas Baer all returned from last season with a decent amount of playing time, but there was still a lot of question marks surrounding parts of their game. Here are my thoughts on each this season:
- Uhl – His season, at least offensively, was a bit of a disappointment. After a torrid start from deep last season, he slowed down in the second half, and subsequently struggled to regain his form this entire season. Dom seemed to see his minutes decrease as the season wore on. I was impressed many times with his defense, but until he can find either his outside shot, or can finish at the rim, Dom’s game appears to have topped out.
- Ellingson – Brady showed some flashes during Jok’s absence with his back injury, which I am hoping is a sign of things to come for the sharpshooting guard. The last few weeks seemed to be more of a struggle in the scoring department. I do think that he looked more comfortable on the floor this year compared to last, and entering his junior year, I hope Brady can maintain the form he flashed around the midway point of the year.
- Wagner – Back in the preseason, it was heard from the Hawkeye players that Wagner has the quickest first step on the team. There were times when this was highlighted, as Ahmad made several attempts to get to the rim. A lack of a consistent shot, and a slightly undersized frame for his position did hold him back a bit this year. I feel like Wagner brings a nice burst of energy to the team, and wonder what his game would look like if he could develop a 15-17 foot jumper.
- Williams – I am still not sold on Williams as a point guard, and I hope that with Connor McCaffery joining the fold next year, perhaps Williams can move to the guard position. I love his length on defense, and there were several games where Christian caused havoc at the point of Fran’s 1-2-2 press. His ball handling just doesn’t seem to be consistent enough to run the point, and the lack of an outside shot hurts the spacing with our offense. I love his ability to get to the rim, and if he can finish more often than not, I still think he can be a factor for this team.
- Baer – The B1G’s Sixth Man of the Year Award recipient had another all-around performance for Iowa this year. I love Baer coming off the bench, and have always felt that with Coach McCaffery, who finishes the game is a better indication of status than who starts the game, and without fail, in crunch time, Baer was on the floor. His intensity and motor bring a special bolt of energy to this team, and I love to he always seems to be at the right place at the right time. Towards the end of the season, the outside shot really started falling, and if that continues into next year, it will be hard to argue that he isn’t one of the top three scoring threats on the team.
Everyone knew from the time that last season ended that this year would be a pretty green team for the Hawks. Jordan Bohannon, Tyler Cook, Cordell Pemsl, Isiah Moss, and Ryan Kriener all saw a lot of minutes as freshmen this year, and they have this Hawkeye fan excited about the future. Each player struggled at different times throughout the season, but overall, each man showed exactly why Fran wanted them the come to Iowa.
Bohannon has shown to be more than capable of running the point for this team. Despite many fans crying out for a point guard who can get to the rim and create his own shot, I believe Jordan is exactly what this offense needs. Fran’s offense relies on crisp, on-time passes, good outside shooting, and heady decision making. Jordan brings all of those things to the table. In the last three games of this season, Jordan posted a double-double in each, scoring over 60 points, and dishing out over 30 assists in that span. I expect him to work diligently on his defense during the offseason to solidify that part of his game. I fully expect Bohannon to go down as one of the best point guards in program history by the team he hangs up the high tops.
Tyler Cook came in with the highest expectations of any Iowa recruit in quite some time, and he didn’t disappoint. Hampered early on with a hand injury, it took Cook a little time in conference play to find his game, but when he did, he become tough to handle inside for other teams. His quickness up to the hoop, coupled with his ability to control tip-ins resulted in multiple double-digit scoring performances from Tyler. As the season wore on, his rebounding numbers improved as well. This, I believe, was simply a matter of understanding defense and positioning a little better. Much like Wagner, I believe the key to Cook’s growth offensively will be to settle down just a touch, and develop more of a mid-range threat. If he can do that, we are in for some exciting times ahead.
Cordell Pemsl gives the Hawks another high energy, crafty player in the paint. His bulky frame reminds me of the typical player you see at Michigan State. The further away Pemsl gets from his previous leg injuries, the more impressive I believe he will become. I don’t expect Cordell to ever be a “star” in the conventional sense, but I do think he will be the type of player that other teams can’t wait to see graduate in a few years.
Ryan Kriener worked to crack the lineup several weeks into the season, and when he did, he showed a nice versatility to his game. What our other bigs lack in outside shooting, Ryan has in spades. The front court will be quite crowded in Iowa City for a few years, so to continue to see his minutes increase, Ryan will need to steady up his defense and limit his fouls.
Isiah Moss might have the most raw potential on this team, and he showed it multiple times throughout the year. My hope for Moss is that some of the Baer Motor wears off on him, and he can bring solid energy to every game. This season, there were games were Moss looked like the best player on the court, and there were many other times where he looked a bit lost out there. If he can bring his A game every night, expect big things from Mr. Moss.
At the end of the season, 19-15 was a success for this team. The task now is to make sure that the foundation that was built this year is solidified in the offseason. Many fans are excited about the incoming recruiting class, which boasts PG Connor McCaffery, fresh off his state championship at Iowa City West, Luka Garza, the 6’10” Player of the Year in the D.C. area, and Jack Nunge, the 6’11” Indiana prospect that is already drawing comparisons to Jarrod Uthoff. There is a lot there to be excited about, but I caution fans to realize that often times freshmen players, no matter how talented, experience growing pains in their maiden season.
When predicting future success, I typically stick to evaluating potential based upon the current roster. If everyone improves in their areas of weakness, and Fran can find the right mix of lineups, I see this team being a top-tier team in what looks to be a tough B1G in 2017-2018. The league touts many young teams that bring back a lot of talent, so Iowa is not alone in that regard. I do think that Iowa only losing one player (albeit Peter Jok) will pay huge dividends for the team and their chemistry together.
So in closing for this season, my way-way-way-way to early prediction for next year: 21 regular season wins, and a 7 seed in the NCAA tournament.