With the Hawkeyes set to take on Regis University (there’s a joke in there somewhere, I know it) Friday in the first exhibition game of 2016, it’s officially safe to say that basketball season has arrived. Entering his sixth year as head coach, Fran McCaffery returns only one starter from last year’s Round of 32 team, but still has enough talent on his roster to have Iowa fans optimistic about another bid to the NCAA Tournament. We here at The Pants continue our preview of the season today, with a look the Hawkeyes’ options in the backcourt.
IN MEMORIAM: Those We’ve Lost
I have a feeling that before too long we will all be lamenting the loss of Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons and the relative stability Iowa enjoyed at the point guard position over the past four years. It’s easy to harp on their flaws and shortcomings, until you’re tasked with replacing them with a handful of unproven underclassmen.
At the end of the day, Gesell and Clemmons were a massive aspect of the resurgence and rebuilding of this program, and I think a lot of Hawkeye fans will appreciate that fact even more now that they are gone. So, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the storylines surrounding the Iowa backcourt heading into the 2016-17 season.
Clearly any discussion about this year’s rendition of the Iowa backcourt must begin with the role of Peter Jok. The 6-6 senior toyed with the NBA Draft this offseason following a breakout year that saw him named second team All-Big Ten, and boy are we thrilled he’s back. Jok thrived in 2015-16 as the secondary scoring option to Jarrod Uthoff, but will need to adapt to a bigger role and more defensive attention. That especially holds true given the relative youth and inexperience of the rest of this backcourt.
There’s no doubt that Iowa will in many ways go as Peter Jok goes this season. Sure, the goal is to develop more scoring options around him (and the Hawkeyes will need to do just that in order to be competitive in the B1G), but ultimately Jok’s production will prove to be a major bellwether for Iowa’s success. It will be interesting to see how McCaffery and his staff scheme around Jok’s strengths on the offensive end. It seems as though the Hawks have the depth and versatility to institute a more aggressive tempo, which may yield more offensive opportunities for Jok and the Hawkeyes as a whole.
Point Guard Battle
The biggest question mark by far in Iowa’s backcourt remains the point guard position. By all accounts sophomore Christian Williams and freshman Jordan Bohannon are still neck-and-neck in a battle for the starting spot, with the two basically alternating with the first team depending on the day. While that all seems vague, at the very least we can assume that regardless of who ends up starting between Williams and Bohannon, the “loser” of that battle will still have a substantial role in the rotation and that Fran will probably be inclined to lean on the hot hand during pivotal moments.
Williams and Bohannon also offer up very different styles to the position: Williams being the rangy, defensive-minded distributor with experience after accumulating some not-so-insignificant minutes last year while Bohannon is the smaller scorer with a propensity for shooting the ball. With so many uncertainties at point guard at this juncture now, it’s unlikely that this will be a static position throughout the season.
It seems like there’s already a bit of folklore surrounding the name Isaiah Moss. The 6-5 native of Chicago redshirted last season and should have a very real opportunity to crack the rotation this year. Moss already has a bona fide reputation as a pure scorer, a role that certainly seems to be up for grabs in 2016. Now, clearly the preceding three sentences warrant a disclaimer: the narrative surrounding incoming players is often hyperbolic (a lot of people said similarly glowing things about Brandon Hutton and Andrew Fleming, too) and best taken with a fair amount of skepticism. Okay, with that out of the way we can go back to dreaming about Moss being an offensive spark off the bench. Onwards and upwards!
Meanwhile, Brady Ellingson remains something of an enigma for Iowa fans. The redshirt sophomore has a reputation as a shooter, but has played sparingly thus far in his Hawkeye career. I personally am a bit skeptical of Ellingson eventually turning into a big contributor, but this season seems to present the best opportunity for him to break through and carve out a role.
The final newcomer, Maishe Dailey has managed to largely fly under the radar following his late commitment in May. Dailey did, however, manage to turn heads in the Prime Time League (something something grain of salt) with his frame and ability—and willingness (not something to be take for granted in PTL)—to pass the ball. With that said, I think Dailey is a decent candidate to redshirt or, at most, see time similar to Christian Williams last year.
At the end of the day, I see Williams getting the nod as the starting point guard due to his slight edge in experience. I don’t think his and Bohannon’s minutes will be all that far off from each other, though, and expect we’ll see more of a “by-committee” approach at lead guard. Obviously Peter Jok will see the bulk of the minutes off the ball, but I think Isaiah Moss will find a consistent role providing a scoring threat off the bench. The level of uncertainty in the supporting cast around Jok has me somewhat apprehensive, but ultimately I’m excited to learn more about the options Fran McCaffery has at his disposal.