In March of 2015, an unheralded prospect out of Illinois committed to Iowa. Christian Williams officially signed with the Iowa Hawkeyes a month later, eschewing the early playing time offered by a half dozen of mid-major offers. Though he played PG in high school for the Class 2A runner up, he was projected with positional flexibility. Coming in with Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons ahead of him, he’d rarely have to be Iowa’s primary ballhandler his freshman year.
Though he played sparingly his freshman year - he averaged only 5 minutes in 20 games - he showed flashes. People remember his NCAA Tournament fondly, but he played a grand total of 12 minutes there. He scored 5 points, notched a couple blocks against eventual champion Villanova, and made his second three of the season.
KenPom ($) viewed him as a wing down the stretch of but with only Jordan Bohannon as the other viable option at point, he was the de facto starter coming out of 2016.
I had unnecessarily high expectations for him. His length was tantalizing and his defensive skills were apparent in the 101 minutes he played during his first season. Yet, think about that again: he played a grand total of 2.5 games - largely as a wing - and many heaped the expectations of backfilling two senior point guards onto him.
His sophomore season started well enough. In the first 4 games, he averaged 19.5 minutes, 4.8 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.5 steals. The points lagged, but he was doing the “little things.” After a rough tandem of games in Florida, Fran McCaffery made wholesale changes for a youth movement at Notre Dame. Jordan Bohannon started in Williams place and led the team in scoring. That was that for the Christian Williams starting PG experience.
Throughout last year he struggled with back injuries and never found a rhythm. After a solid outing during Bohannon’s worst game (at Michigan State), Williams followed it up with a 10-point outing against Indiana. Though it seemed like he turned a corner, he didn’t as he scored only one basket in the final 6 games. Additionally, reader Jeedel pointed out his injury bug continued as he sat out 4-5 weeks this summer, further hampering his development.
So, what does Iowa lose? They lose an intriguing prospect with clear skills which filled a void (perimeter defense) but also clear deficiencies who could play across multiple positions, including point guard.
Yet, what does Iowa need from a backup point guard? They were well-positioned with two B1G-caliber point guards in 2014-15 and 2015-16. But looking back to 2013-14, when Iowa had their most recent hegemonic point guard in Devyn Marble here’s what I found:
- Marble averaged 30.8 minutes per game overall
- In the Big Ten and tournament season, Marble played over 35 minutes in 10 games
- His minutes average was 32.9 during this timeframe
So, in terms of actually backing up Bohannon, I think Iowa is going to be OK. The minutes they need to fill will likely be 8-10 minutes and often times less if it is a tight game. The concern is, of course, if JoBo goes down with an injury. /knock on wood
How about perimeter defender? What we know is Iowa has bodies to throw there. Isaiah Moss and Maishe Dailey are the most obvious candidates. Knowing what I know about Ahmad Wagner and Nicholas Baer, they would be unafraid to step into that role. Though Fran was surprised, Christian Williams likely looked at the landscape, saw others were progressing faster than him in practice and got out of dodge to figure out a transfer opportunity for next year’s second semester. If he went anywhere equivalent to Iowa, I would be surprised.
To put it bluntly, it is separating the wheat from the chaff.
On Friday, we learned how Iowa might back up Bohannon. Connor McCaffery got extended minutes as the second team point guard, perhaps hinting at what is to come this year. Not only was he the first off the bench, but Fran featured the two alongside each other for over five minutes in the second half. In this look, Bohannon slid over to shooting guard as Isaiah Moss was out in the second half nursing a tweaked ankle.
The Moss injury was the wrench thrown into this situation which likely forced Connor into more action than expected. Yet it was interesting to see Dailey get limited minutes and neither Ellingson or Dailey to get any run manning the point. It’s clear Connor, despite his defensive deficiencies, is the best option as the backup point guard.
However, according to Mark Emmert, he’s missed multiple weeks this fall practicing with the baseball team. If there is a player prepared to catch up on missed time, it’s Connor, as he’s been at Fran’s practices for “13-14 years.” A switch to baseball might also cause some consternation on the baseball team, as Rick Heller had been planning on a committed Connor for the 2018 season.
Also worth mentioning is something I heard on the Hawkeye radio broadcast: Jordan Bohannon worked through some plantar fasciitis this summer. It’s a foot injury known specifically for lingering, especially for basketball players. Gary Dolphin made it sound like it is behind him, and Bohannon’s game is not one where he’s running all over the court, but it caught my ear while driving last night.
All in all, Christian Williams’ decision to depart left Iowa in an interesting predicament, especially if there’s an injury in the backcourt which forces players to miss game time. From what we know after an exhibition, Connor is the best option as the backup. The ramifications are also not confined to the basketball team, as whatever Connor decides to do will impact baseball as well. The McCafferys are nothing, if not moral, so I expect it to weigh heavily on them as a flip in priorities would mean going back on the plan decided upon earlier this year.