It’s been just over one month since Iowa’s basketball season came to an end. It was a thoroughly disappointing year. There were leads lost, comebacks fallen short and a number of complete blowouts. But the season ended with a Big Ten Tournament win and an overtime squeaker against Michigan.
Since that 6-point win over the Hawkeyes, the Wolverines have rattled off 8 straight wins. That’s part of a 14-game streak for Michigan. And tonight they’ll take on Villanova in the national championship game.
As I look at the matchup, I’m struck by a similarity I see in the two rosters. While not necessarily the same in their style of play or roster composition, both Michigan and Villanova look totally different than this year’s version of the Iowa Hawkeyes.
I’m not just talking about the win-loss record, though that’s obviously quite different as well. I’m talking about the ball-handlers. Both teams playing in the championship game have rosters loaded with guys who can handle the ball. Perhaps even more importantly, they have guys who can stop ball-handlers.
Iowa decidedly does not. Sure there are a few who can handle the ball, but defenders who can stop penetration are lacking. Guys who can penetrate and get their own shot are almost non-existent. It was a major problem this season.
While Iowa could score in bunches when guys like Jordan Bohannon had it going from deep or they made a concerted effort to get solid looks for Luka Garza or Tyler Cook in the post, there were also long stretches with little or no scoring. Those often came as opponents overplayed Bohannon, who couldn’t get by his man due to some combination or his natural strengths and weaknesses and lingering plantar fasciitis.
Michigan and Villanova, on the other hand, typically play rotations that include 3 and sometimes 4 guys on the floor at a time who can get their own shot if needed. For Nova, Jalen Brunson can get his at any moment. For Michigan, it’s Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. Each have multiple other guys who can, to a lesser extent, get a good look if the shot clock is winding down.
As I look at Iowa’s roster, Bohannon is the only one I see with the ball in his hand in crunch time. And as already mentioned, he likely needs a screen or two to get a clean look inside 35 feet. Isaiah Moss and Maishe Dailey have both shown glimpses they could have that skill, but neither have had the confidence or assertiveness to do it on a regular basis. That needs to change for Iowa to improve on a 14-19 season.
There will be some help coming with the addition of both Joe Wieskamp and CJ Fredrick. While neither of them are going to be the breakdown ball-handlers or a guy like Brunson, they are both capable with the ball in their hand and both can knock it down from deep. Both are also in that 6’4”-6’6” range, which seems to be the sweet spot for teams like Michigan and Villanova.
We’ve long talked about Fran’s goal of getting a team full of interchangeable parts. He’s been working toward that seemingly since day one. And it’s one of the reasons I still have hope that he’s the man to take this team to the promised land.
Because that’s essentially what these two programs have; it’s what I see as the model for potential success in the future at Iowa. A roster full of guys in that 6’4”-6’8” range who can all handle the ball, shoot, and play defense. It allows a switching man-to-man defense, lots of pressure and most importantly it doesn’t allow opponents to beat you by taking away one player.
I sincerely think that’s where Fran is trying to go. It’s where Nova has been and it’s pretty close to what Beilein has built at Michigan. I think Nova is more the model than the Wolverines, thought I have my doubts we can get to that level of talent any time soon.
The major flaw I see today with what Fran has built and what these other two programs have been able to do is not the number of stars the guys on the roster they have, but the composition itself. Fran has long valued length and shooting ability. If you look at his recruiting over the years he’s been willing to take chances or reach for guys who are long for their position and guys who can shoot.
I don’t think that, in and of itself, is a problem. It could work very well when paired with a number of great ball-handlers. But that last piece has been missing. It’s what sets Iowa apart from programs like Villanova and Michigan.
While Iowa has essentially 6 interchangeable parts in the post (I get it, they each have their own unique skills, but outside of Pemsl they all can play inside and have the ability to step outside and hit a shot), the guard play is not in the same situation. Bohannon is fantastic and he will go down as an all-timer at Iowa. Moss and Dailey have similar skills and could prove very good. But there simply aren’t enough quality guards to have 3 interchangeable parts in the backcourt at all times to go with the bigs Fran has assembled.
Michigan and Nova, on the other hand, have a plethora of guys who can handle the ball with a select few frontcourt guys to play in the post. Villanova, for example, doesn’t have anyone on the roster over 6’9”. Michigan has a trio of guys over that threshold, but on Jon Treske is a true back-to-the-basket type (and that might be a stretch). He averages 3 and 3 on only 12.5 minutes a game.
Both schools seem to favor bigs in the Fran mold, with Nova seeming to sprinkle in a few guys like Tyler Cook. But they each have a rosters with a seemingly inverse composition to that of Iowa’s in terms of guards and posts.
I believe this is less by design and more by the nature of the guys Fran has been able to identify and convince to come to Iowa City. He’s been very successful in finding exactly what he wants both in his bigs and his guards, but those guards he’s found early have tended to land big time offers and end up elsewhere.
There’s a chance that could change over the next few recruiting cycles. Wieskamp and Fredrick are good starts. The possibility of adding another transfer guard would also help. In 2019, adding a ball-handler like DJ Carton would do wonders.
If Fran can do those things, I have incredibly high hopes for the Hawkeyes. I know I’m setting myself up for disappointment, but I continue to believe there’s a chance this team can make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament in 2019 or 2020. Big ifs, big expectations.
This is the Big Ten after all. It’s a big life, big stage, Big Ten.
Here’s hoping Fran can get things going big time.
Happy Monday. Enjoy the national championship. Go Hawks.