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To Win in March, Iowa Needs Jordan Bohannon to be Great

Bohannon’s offense has regressed this season, but recent performances remind Hawkeye fans just what he is capable of.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa basketball is riding high after thrilling wins against the Indiana Hoosiers and Northwestern Wildcats and, barring a monumental collapse in the last month of the season, the Hawkeyes have likely sealed their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2016. While Iowa’s dynamic frontcourt duo of Tyler Cook and Luka Garza have dominated press clippings amid the Hawkeye resurgence, Iowa’s success can truly be attributed to a team effort. The Hawkeyes have a lineup of five starters who have shown themselves capable of taking over a game at various points this season, veteran bench players in Nicholas Baer, Ryan Kriener, and Maishe Dailey, and two freshmen in Joe Wieskamp and Connor McCaffery who have shown an ability to play well above their years. The Hawkeyes will need all of these players to play a contributing role if they intend to achieve any meaningful level of post-season success this March.

However, there is no single player on the Hawkeye roster more essential to Iowa’s post-season ambitions than Jordan Bohannon. Iowa’s junior floor general played one of his best games as a Hawkeye against Indiana and showed just how large an impact he is capable of making when playing to his full potential. Bohannon scored 25 points (much of which came from his 5-8 shooting performance from beyond the arc), tallied six assists with zero turnovers, and made (almost) all his free throws to help seal the Hawkeye victory in the final seconds. Bohannon also played tenacious defense at the top of the zone for much of the game despite his physical limitations as a defender, put on an absolute clinic as a ball-handler weaving in and out of Hoosier traps and double-teams, and buried a dagger into the heart of Hoosier fans with a clutch three-pointer from well beyond the top of the key with only 45 seconds to go. Bohannon, seemingly challenged by the notion that this shot was impossible to top, proceeded to do this against Northwestern:

Bohannon’s unique offensive skillset provides the Hawkeyes with a combination of ball-handling, decision-making, and three-point shooting that helps unlock the potential of the rest of the Hawkeye offense. Bohannon’s incredibly deep three-point range forces opponents to guard him well before he reaches the top of the key, and his quick release and proven ability to score with a defender in his face has prompted many teams to run two defenders at him on the perimeter when he is hot. This tendency to double-team Bohannon frees up another Iowa player who can cut to the ball or find open space without being shadowed by a committed defender, while his range puts tremendous stress on defenses by stretching them and forcing them to cover a far larger area of the court than they can usually manage.

Bohannon’s offensive prowess is hardly a secret among even casual fans of the Big Ten. Hawkeye fans fondly remember Bohannon’s game winning shot against Wisconsin in 2016, his 8-10 three-point shooting performance in College Park, his 13 assists in the NIT against TCU, and his 29 points last year in a road win against Illinois, complete with a 10-10 showing from the line. His 34 consecutive free throws and, more importantly, his deliberate miss on the 35th attempt, will forever be a part of Hawkeye lore. Even as Iowa under-performed over the previous two seasons, Bohannon’s incendiary offensive output remained a constant bright spot.

However, Bohannon’s offensive production has significantly dropped off this season. He has posted career lows for three-point and field goal attempts per game this season, and his scoring has fallen from 13.5 ppg to 11.1. Of Bohannon’s twenty highest-scoring games as a Hawkeye, only four have come this season, all of which, coincidentally, were wins (Savannah State, Nebraska, Penn State, and Indiana). While Bohannon’s decline in field goal attempts can partly be attributed to the arrival of Joe Wieskamp and Garza’s ascension eliminating the need for Bohannon to shoot as frequently this season, the table below reveals that this narrative does not tell the whole story:

Shooting Slump?

Year FGA FG% 2P% 3P% PTS
Year FGA FG% 2P% 3P% PTS
2016-17 8.9 0.388 0.322 0.416 10.9
2017-18 9.8 0.423 0.406 0.43 13.5
2018-19 7.9 0.386 0.339 0.406 11.1

Bohannon’s shooting percentages have dropped across the board, reaching career lows in field goal and three-point percentage. The problem isn’t just that Bohannon has been less willing to shoot this season, but that he has been less effective at it when he does. Additionally, if Bohannon really is being more selective with his shots this season and avoiding bad looks, his shooting percentages should have improved, not declined.

One could also argue that Bohannon’s shooting has fallen off due to him assuming a greater role as a facilitator this season, but the numbers also cut against this narrative. Bohannon’s assist numbers have also reached a career low, falling from 5.4 to 3.4 per game. Bohannon is certainly a gifted passer, but his shooting helps create opportunities for him to thrive as a facilitator, and his passive play at times this season has prevented him from becoming a focus of opposing defenses and opening up additional passing opportunities.

Ironically, this season should provide MORE opportunities for efficient scoring from Bohannon than his previous two. The growing dominance of Iowa’s front court has resulted in a marked rise in double teams this season; while once it was only Cook becoming the focus of an occasional double, both he and Garza have increasingly seen defenses swarm to them when they receive the ball on the block. Wieskamp and Isaiah Moss have taken ample advantage of these opportunities while each shooting a blistering 45% from three on the season, while Bohannon has oddly become more passive in his shooting tendencies beyond the arc. Additionally, with Fran McCaffery occasionally playing his son at the point guard and shifting Bohannon off the ball, Jordan should theoretically see an increased number of catch-and-shoot opportunities as the focus of the defense shifts further away from him and centers more on the primary ball-handler. However, neither of these trends have come to fruition this season.

The Northwestern game is a perfect encapsulation of the two types of offensive performances Jordan Bohannon has produced this season. Bohannon was a non-factor for nearly the entire game, most noticeably missing what should have been an easy layup while Iowa was attempting to cut into the Northwestern lead. But with the game on the line, almost as if having flipped a switch, he became an unstoppable scoring machine who was willing and able to hit three contested three-pointers in as many minutes. This Bohannon, the same player Hawkeye fans saw against Indiana last Thursday, still exists, even if Iowa fans haven’t seen as much of him this season.

Make no mistake, Jordan Bohannon is still having an excellent season, and his veteran leadership and poise in late-game situations have played large roles in Iowa’s sustained success this year. Still, the Indiana and Northwestern games reminds Iowa fans of exactly what Jordan Bohannon is capable of offensively when fully engaged. In two games in which Luka Garza provided next to nothing offensively, it was Bohannon who put on vintage performances and showed that he still has the ability to take over a game. A Hawkeye offense propelled by efficient play from Bohannon, Cook, and Garza with that allows Wieskamp and Moss to assume more complimentary scoring roles in the offense is a truly terrifying prospect for the rest of the Big Ten. Given the importance of point guard play in propelling teams to NCAA tournament success, Iowa needs to hope that Bohannon can continue these aggressive, hot-shooting ways as Iowa gears up for a post-season run.