With the Purdue Boilermakers (18-2, 7-0) coming into Iowa City, IA to face the moribund Iowa Hawkeyes (10-10, 1-6), it’s almost useless to write a pregame summary/prediction of sorts.
Purdue = great
Iowa = bad
Weird things happen in college sports. Especially on the road. Especially on the road at 11:00 AM local time. I won’t give the Hawkeyes zero chance of winning this game but the cards are stacked against them. The keys have been pretty much the same the last couple of weeks: rebound, defend with some effort, give a crap. They’d be the same for tomorrow’s game, too.
So I wanted to take a look at the past, present, and future to see what Fran McCaffery needs to sort out if he wants any sort of success next year or beyond at Iowa. It’s a piece I did not expect to write coming into this season. I was super high on this bunch and expected at least a top-half finish in conference with a potential push into the top four. They’re nowhere near that right now and will need to do a lot of work to get into the top half next year.
Perhaps the greatest misdirection of Fran’s tenure is “depth.” Iowa does not need it to be good. Really, no college team does. If you’re championship-caliber, you’ll play 40ish 40-minute games (1600 total minutes) over 5 months and do not need depth on a game-to-game basis. Certain matchups and game situations will dictate the use of it, of course, but it is not a year-on-year requirement for greatness.
After last season, I went through Fran’s tenure on KenPom to compile his “rotations.” The crux: if you received more than 15% of available minutes, you’re a part of the rotation.
I’ve since added his rotations from his previous jobs:
2004: 10-player rotation, 3 over 60% of available minutes
2005: 9-player rotation, 5 over 60%
2006: 8-player rotation, 5 over 60%
2007: 8-player rotation, 5 over 60%
2008: 10-player rotation, 4 over 60%
2009: 9-player rotation, 5 over 60%
2010: 8-player rotation, 5 over 60%
2011: 9-player rotation, 4 over 60%
2012: 9-player rotation, 2 over 60%
2013: 10-player rotation, 2 over 60%
2014: 11-player rotation, 2 over 60%
2015: 9-player rotation, 3 over 60%
2016: 9-player rotation, 5 over 60%
2017: 11-player rotation, 2 over 60%
2018: 11-player rotation, 2 over 60%
Does Iowa need 11 Big Ten-caliber players to run McCaffery’s desired style at a high level? Almost certainly not. In Iowa’s 3-year NCAA Tournament stretch, he only used it once, before Devyn Marble, Zach McCabe, and Melsahn Basabe graduated. Jarrod Uthoff, Peter Jok, and Anthony Clemmons saw their roles increase substantially while Dom Uhl played about 25% of available minutes his freshman year.
Frankly, the fewer players you have in your rotation, the clearer the responsibilities are and the easier it is for kids to learn their responsibilities. Basketball isn’t rocket science so there’s no sense over-complicating it to the point that it feels like rocket science.
It was also beneficial in 2014, 2015, and 2016 to have much more veteran squads. The 2014 team had 1.89 weighted years experience (127th in the country) according to KenPom while 2015 and 2016 were at 2.11 (45th) and 2.13 (55th). This number, barring something seriously unforeseen, will go up next year.
Being that Iowa is currently at an 11-player rotation and has two kids coming in (three if you consider Connor McCaffery) and only Dom Uhl (not even a part of those 11) slated to leave, something is going to give.
Fran should waste no time in building next year’s rotation. Those are the breaks of the game. It sucks but this season is lost. It’d be best to limit the damage to only through March.
Iowa has been at their best when they can go both big and small. Right now, Iowa is hampered by the depth of the frontline to go small ever. But that should not stop McCaffery from experimenting. Play Nicholas Baer more at the 4 with Jordan Bohannon and two other guards of your choice. What is the worst that can happen? Certainly nothing worse than what’s already transpiring!
And if you’re gonna go big, why not commit to it and have Tyler Cook at the 3? Find someone who is going to be the Aaron White (garbage man) to Tyler Cook’s Jarrod Uthoff (highly-skilled offensive player) or vice versa (with Luka Garza as the hyper-efficient Adam Woodbury, of course).
Overall, Iowa needs to come out of this season with 6-8 building blocks for next year. Focus on developing their roles this year to help Fran understand what each guy can do, and what they need to work on in the offseason, to set 2018-19 up for success.
Next year, it’s safe to say both Joe Wieskamp and Connor McCaffery will join the “building blocks” decided upon this year. With attrition likely, Fran needs to turn to the grad transfer market for help. There were plenty of guards - both star players from low- to mid-majors and role players from major schools - available last year. Iowa doesn’t need to find more than a secondary ballhandler who can hit threes. Those are available.
Beyond that, Iowa needs to go all in on a point guard for the 2019 class. DJ Carton is going to be a tough get but there is another guard emerging from the Des Moines area Iowa is targeting. Though “attitude issues” have dogged Tyreke Locure’s profile, his speed and tenacity are elements this Iowa team sorely needs. Ideally, they get both Iowa PGs since it seems all other guard offers are unlikely.
The linked offer list highlights the difference between Fran’s recruiting style and others’: it is super heavy on forwards, including Pat McCaffery. It is a guard’s game and we are learning that more than ever this season.
Outside of roster composition, I hope Fran does some introspection about his defensive philosophies and teachings. Some guys are playing out of position and an overworked Jordan Bohannon isn’t able to give requisite defensive effort at times but too often this team looks completely lost and lazy. Culturally, Iowa needs to commit to that side of the floor.
Overall, I like Fran McCaffery and still think he is the man for the job. This season’s disappointment, however, can lead to one of two things: entrenchment in current ways or deep introspection about how to improve. By committing to a shorter rotation, providing clearer roles for players to build from, transitioning to a more guard-oriented roster, and improving defensively Iowa can become a more sustainable basketball program.