While it may seem like Iowa’s football season just started a few weeks ago, we’re somehow less than a month away from the opening tip of Iowa’s 2019-20 men’s basketball campaign. While high-profile transfers, a Cy-Hawk College Gameday, and marching band drama may have monopolized your attention over the past few months, it’s worth revisiting the 2018-19 season as we start to look ahead at what’s in store for Year Ten(?!) of the Fran McCaffery era.
After a bitterly disappointing 2017-18 season in which the Hawkeyes managed to win only fourteen games, expectations for Iowa were fairly modest coming into last year. Only two members of the BHGP staff predicted Iowa to make the NCAA tournament last season, and it probably tells you something if a group of hardcore fans can’t find it in themselves to get overly excited about at their team’s chances of success. As atrocious as Iowa looked over the duration of the prior season, most fans seemed capable of hoping for little more than a return to respectability.
The Hawkeyes dispensed with those low expectations after their dominant performance at the 2K Classic. Buoyed by sophomore Luka Garza’s MVP performance, the Hawkeyes dispatched #13 Oregon and their star NBA prospect Bol Bol before routing Connecticut, a team with two national championships in the past decade, to leave Madison Square Garden as tournament champions. By the time Iowa had improved to 6-0 after a home win over a scrappy Pittsburgh squad, the Hawkeyes were ranked 14th in the country and had completely changed the national narrative surrounding their program.
Three consecutive losses to open conference play brought national pundits’ expectations back down to earth, but the Hawkeyes did manage to win five games in a row in the month of December, including back-to-back wins over in-state rivals driven by strong performances by Tyler Cook. The Hawkeyes’ 14-point victory over the Iowa State Cyclones was particularly noteworthy for how aggressive the Hawkeyes looked in a matchup in which they have been criticized for playing uninspired basketball in recent years. Nothing epitomized this energy more than the scuffle between Cordell Pemsl, Connor McCaffery, and Iowa State’s Michael Jacobson.
Five consecutive Big Ten victories (including over two ranked teams) got the #19 Hawkeyes back on track heading into what should have been a prime upset opportunity in a home game against #6 Michigan State. While the Hawkeyes suffered their second decisive loss of the season to the Final Four-bound Spartans, their big home upset was still to come against an even higher ranked team from the Great Lakes State.
The Hawkeyes put together their most complete game of the season, dominating the 5th ranked Michigan Wolverines on both ends of the floor in a 74-59 victory. This victory would have been the most memorable moment of the season for most teams. But Iowa’s win over Michigan came on the first day of February, a month which would compensate for its shortness by being possibly the craziest, most eventful single month that Iowa basketball has experienced in 25 years. First, Jordan Bohannon had a sensational performance against Indiana...
Which he decided to follow up by doing this against Northwestern.
Being the great teammate that he is, Bohannon then decided to let freshman Joe Wieskamp play the hero in the following game, as the Hawkeyes hit a second consecutive buzzer-beater.
Iowa then saw it’s play-by-play radio announcer get suspended for the second time that season following insensitive remarks after a heartbreaking loss to Maryland, more Bohannon heroics in an overtime home win against Indiana, and an embarrassing showing against Ohio State which saw Fran McCaffery earn a suspension for his OWN post-game tirade directed towards the officials.
Iowa, understandably exhausted having survived the most tumultuous February in the history of the sport, proceeded to lose four of its next five games, including a beatdown in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament by a vengeful Michigan team. Iowa managed to back their way into the NCAA Tournament as a #10 seed, but few expected the sputtering Hawkeyes to put up much of a fight against a physical, defensive-minded Cincinnati Bearcats team.
Once again, the Hawkeyes proved their doubters wrong. Iowa’s offense regained its footing behind strong performances from Garza and Wieskamp, and the Hawks managed to advance after a hard-fought 79-72 victory.
Iowa’s loss to Tennessee in the Round of 32 was the perfect microcosm of their 2018-19 season: part good, part ugly, but exciting to the very end. The Hawkeyes looked utterly inept to start the game and quickly dug themselves into a massive hole, trailing 49-28 at halftime. Then, slowly but surely, the Hawkeye offense came alive behind hot shooting from Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss, while the much-maligned Iowa defense was invigorated by spirited performances from Tyler Cook and Nicholas Baer. While Tennessee managed to scrape out an 83-77 victory, Iowa’s historic comeback forced the game into overtime and showed yet another glimpse of how good this team could be when playing up to its potential on both ends of the court.
What can we take away from the 2018-19 season as we look forward to Iowa basketball’s upcoming campaign? Well, once again the offense carried this team for most of the season, and the Hawkeyes often found it difficult to win games with their defense when the shots stopped falling. Iowa built much of its offense around Tyler Cook’s ability to destroy people on the low block, and once he hit his slump in late February-March, the team struggled to adapt to his lack of production and find alternative sources of scoring. Joe Wieskamp and Luka Garza both have star potential but will need to improve their game on the defensive end to maximize their talent. Jordan Bohannon showed why he’s the most dangerous sharpshooter in the Big Ten but was far too passive for much of the first half of the year. And, as usual, Fran McCaffery is always one fantastic out-of-bounds play or ill-timed technical foul away from changing any close game that Iowa is in.
With so many questions heading into this season (including the health of Jordan Bohannon), it’s anyone’s guess whether Iowa’s 2019-20 team will leave fans with more exhilarating highs or debilitating lows. One thing is certain, though—if last year is any indication, this season will be nothing if not exciting.