In hindsight, it was probably too good to be true. A hoopyball offseason without even a minor flare up of TRANSFERMANIA? Perish the thought. There hasn't been official confirmation from the horse's mouth yet, but it sounds like a done deal: Cully Payne is leaving the Iowa basketball program.
(EDIT: And here's the official word.)
Payne averaged 8.7 points, 3.8 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 0.5 steals per game two years ago and earned all-freshman team honors from Sporting News after being thrust into a starting role by the transfer of incumbent starting point guard Jeff Peterson. Like many freshman starters, Payne had a rocky first season, although he did log double figures in five of six Big Ten games late in the season. He also erupted for 25 points in Iowa's season-ending loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament, when he was virtually the only player who seemed to want the season to continue.
Payne sat out almost all of last season while recovering from sports hernia surgery. In his absence, JUCO transfer Bryce Cartwright took over the point guard spot and flourished, leading the Big Ten in assists and establishing himself as a team leader. It was unclear what role Payne would have had with next year's team; Cartwright seemed pretty firmly entrenched as the starting point guard and while McCaffery expressed some interest in playing them both at the same time, Payne was far from a lights-out shooter (37% FG, 32% 3FG as a freshman; 29% FG, 21% 3FG as a sophomore*, albeit in limited action) and Cartwright appears to be a better playmaker and distributor of the ball.
That said, Payne's departure certainly hurts. He showed enough flashes of potential as a freshman that it would have been nice to see how he could have developed under McCaffery. More importantly, he was a capable ballhandler, something in very short supply on this Iowa team; in his absence, Iowa was forced to run Cartwright ragged at the point. Payne would have been very useful as a back-up point guard capable of playing 10-12 minutes, if nothing else.
If there's a silver lining to Payne's departure, it might be the fact that this loss isn't quite as damaging as the other transfers sustained by the Iowa hoops program in recent years. It's a blow to Iowa's depth -- especially at a position of need -- but he wasn't one of Iowa's leading scorers or rebounders (see: Tony Freeman, Jake Kelly, Aaron Fuller). Iowa still returns arguably their three best players from last year's squad -- Cartwright, Matt Gatens, and Melsahn Basabe. Payne's departure also gives McCaffery another scholarship to work with and, based on the early returns, McCaffery knows what he's doing on the recruiting trail. The previous plan was to land a guard and a big with Iowa's two remaining scholarships for next year; they'll probably look to add another guard now and it's become imperative that they land more ballhandlers -- we really don't want to see Devyn Marble or Gatens as emergency point guards anymore. But farewell, Cully -- hopefully you find the good fit you're seeking elsewhere.