We’re less than a week away from the return of Iowa basketball as the Hawkeyes kick off the season in earnest against SIU-Edwardsville next Friday. Ahead of that, head coach Fran McCaffery had his first weekly media availability yesterday.
Typically, Fran would address the media via a full press conference. However, he was limited this week to a teleconference due to the wrestling team’s full media day at Kroul Farms with a backdrop of snow.... in October. Because why not?
Despite being limited to the phone, there were plenty of interesting nuggets from Fran as usual.
The biggest headline of the day, which we reported in the Hello Jerry mailbag as breaking news yesterday, was that senior PG Jordan Bohannon appears to be giving it a go this season. The speculation all offseason has been that Bohannon would be held out until he is 100% and may just take a redshirt to get a full season as a healthy player for his senior year.
McCaffery seemed to blow that out of the water yesterday, indicating JoBo will be suiting up and going in Monday’s exhibition game (which wouldn’t necessarily impact his ability to redshirt).
FM: I think Jordan Bohannon will play on Monday. He had a good practice, is getting back into it. #Hawkeyes— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) October 30, 2019
Adding Bohannon to this team would be a major, major development. He adds an element to this team that will be impossible to replace. Beyond his incredible shooting ability, he has moxie and a will to win that the team feeds from.
Another player with some of that moxie, though not the same ability to score the ball is Cordell Pemsl. Pemsl, you’ll recall, was arrested for OWI back in September. He’s been suspended from team activities for a while, but is now back working out.
However, we learned yesterday that his suspension will carry over to game action as he’ll miss both the exhibition Monday and the season opener on Friday.
FM: Cordell Pemsl will not play in the next two games -- exhibition or regular season opener. #Hawkeyes— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) October 30, 2019
That seems about right and shouldn’t have any impact on the team’s record this season. Don’t drink and drive, folks.
So with Pemsl out and Bohannon in, who should Iowa fans expect to be in the starting lineup for Monday’s exhibition? That’s a good question and apparently, Fran is still working on an answer.
“A lot of people try to look at who’s in the first five,” said McCaffery. “We have a lot of good players, good shooters, post guys who can score, wings who can score, and guards who can score. The most important thing is how we share and move the ball. ”You can have a lot of good players, but if there is any level of selfishness, you’re not going to be any good. This team is a very unselfish group.”
Unselfishness is great to have in a team, but if we’re being honest, most of us don’t have concerns about this team’s ability to score the ball. Where we have worries is stopping other teams from scoring the ball.
Per HawkeyeSports, Fran addressed that a bit as well:
“Our transition defense is better, zone has been good, press has been solid and has gotten better over the last week, week and a half,” said McCaffery. “We have a number of players we can play, so we can keep fresh players on the floor, which raises the intensity level on a consistent basis. Our size also makes us be able to rebound the ball to limit second-chance opportunities.”
So the defense is better in transition. Check. The zone is good. Check. Press is solid and getting better. Check. Lots of players, high intensity and length. Check, check, check.
Sounds like Phil Parker has this thing figured out and we have nothing to worry about.
We’ve seen this movie before. Fran is much more open and candid with the media than the football staff and really most staffs around the country. But he’s also been known to fall in love with his guys a bit and overstate progress.
Consider this fan more than a little skeptical until we see results on the floor.
Speaking of hyping up players based on practice performance!
FM: Fredrick has been team's best perimeter defender. He has a great work ethic and intensity level... anticipates well, fights through screens. #Hawkeyes— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) October 30, 2019
Every report I’ve read has indicated C.J. Fredrick is quicker, a better defender and better off the dribble than Josh Oglesby or Brady Ellingson were. But boy is it hard to forget all the glowing practice reports on those guys.
Perhaps more telling is the fact Fran wouldn’t call out Fredrick as a starter for Monday when asked to pin down just the PG and SG spots, according to HawkeyReport.
Q: Do you have any more clarity on who you might play at the one and two and who you might start on Monday?
McCAFFERY: All those guys are going to play. I am getting closer to figuring out who the starters will be. All four of those other guys are really playing well. They all played well on Sunday and they all bring different things to the table and I am excited about this group. We have depth back there and versatility back there and I think that’s critical.
Agree on the depth, but I’m candidly a bit worries Fran hasn’t figured out who to start. I’m not in practice every day, but everything I’ve seen and heard seems to indicate freshman Joe Toussaint is everything this Iowa team has been missing from a guard since Fran arrived.
It seems like our best lineup would involve JT at the PG with Bohannon, if healthy, at the SG spot. If not, grad transfer Bakari Evelyn seems like the easy answer at the 2. UNLESS he’s genuinely considering Fredrick as a starter, which would seem like a really positive development.
Speaking of Toussaint, though, Fran was asked about his progression as a new member of the team (again via HawkeyeReport).
Q: How have Joe Toussaint and Patrick McCaffery done so far?
McCAFFERY: I think the thing that benefited them was being here in the summer time. It was a little different for Patrick because he’s here, but he was never really on a college campus in this way. He had to figure out time management and we are up early in the summer doing our lifts and working in practice settings. You are also developing a bond and those guys are roommates.
Then we get to the fall and it’s a little bit different. Both practice and the academic schedules are more intense. You are kind of building up to that. Both are playing really well and bring to the table things that we need. Joe is really quick and he finds people and moves the ball and defends. Patrick is a wing scorer who can give you some versatility. He can play inside if he needs to and he’s been making three’s. They play really well together and I expect big things from both of them.
Emphasis added here for why Toussaint seems like exactly what this team needs. This is perfectly in line with every highlight video, practice report and third hand tidbit that’s come out. Inject it into my veins.
What about the other new additions this year?
Q: Fredrick and Nunge are coming off redshirt seasons. Is there some rust to shake off in the exhibition game and have you been surprised by them?
McCAFFERY: Those two guys have really played well. Jack is a little different because he played a year and then redshirted versus C.J., who redshirted and hasn’t played in a game until this past Sunday in our scrimmage.
Jack has gotten a lot stronger and he’s playing with a tremendous amount of confidence. He has really been impressive to me, particularly from a consistency standpoint. A lot of guys play well some days, he has been that way every day, consistently as a scorer and a rebounder.
For C.J. I would say that same. He knows what we are doing. He makes plays off the dribble, hits shots, and probably been our best defensive player on the perimeter so far.
Jack Nunge really seems like a breakout candidate. We knew he was a decent shooter as a stretch 4, but he sounds like he’s come along quite a bit as a post player. He’s bulked up by all accounts and now Iowa has two guys bordering on 7’ tall who can go inside and hang or step outside and hit the three. That’s a great development.
And about that grad transfer?
Q: What has Bakari Evelyn brought to the table so far? Has he given you that veteran leadership that I think you were looking for from him?
McCAFFERY: Absolutely. I think that is the best way to describe him. He plays the game with a level of confidence that is really important. He understands where to be defensively. He knows how to play more than one position. He can guard a guy bigger or smaller than him. He shoots it well. He’s not a mistake guy who will turn the ball over. He’s a really good passer and post feeder. I have been really pleased with him.
That sounds an awful lot like a solid contributor at the 2 position. He isn’t going to win any games for the Hawkeyes with an offensive explosion the way Isaiah Moss could have, but he isn’t going to cost them any games with mistakes and he’s going bring up the level of defense this team plays. Yes, please.
And finally, the Hawkeyes held a “secret” scrimmage over the weekend. Did we learn anything?
Q: We hear about the secret scrimmages. Can you talk about the format and what you get out of them?
McCAFFERY: That’s a good question because people ask me about it all the time. It depends on what your approach is and what you want to get out of it. Some people just want to play a game and I don’t like to do it that way. Our format was five possession for them and then five possessions for us and we did different lineups. Then we did a 20 minute scrimmage and then zero the score. Then we did a ten and ten minute scrimmage for the starters and then younger guys.
What we are going to do is work on different things in those scrimmage portions. For example, in a game we go zone and they hit two or three three’s in a row, you are getting out of zone and going to man to man. If we are working on our zone, we might stay in it and try to figure it out. We might call a time out and then try and fix it. You are concerned about the score, but not concerned about the score. You are concerned about getting guys playing time and making sure they know what is expected of them. You come into it with the idea that we haven’t seen another team in a very long time. I was really impressed with Illinois State. They play hard and they are physical and they run good stuff. They have tremendous coaches and we have done this before with them because we both kind of want the same thing out of this. We are trying to get better. They are trying to get better. Yeah, there is a competitive aspect to it, but it’s more important that we spend time with different lineups and trying players at different positions. We want to see how these two or three guys play together and what if we went big or small. That is why I think these scrimmages are beneficial and why it was a good day for us.
That sounds as much like coach speak as I’ve heard from Fran. Other reports floating around the interwebz have Iowa “winning” the scoring portion of this scrimmage by 15-20 points, which seems about right against a team that would be one of the worst on Iowa’s schedule this year according to KenPom.
We’ll learn a little bit more as Iowa has an open exhibition on Monday night at 7pm CT against Lindsey Wilson College, but the real answers won’t be had until things get going in earnest next Friday night against SIU Edwardsville.