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Overreaction Monday: Iowa Basketball Steals the Spotlight

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Spring is a time when the headlines short be few and far between. Instead, there’s been a flurry of news out of the Hawkeye hoops program.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round- Iowa Hawkeyes vs Cincinnati Bearcats
Fran McCaffery has a lot to deal with this offseason. Can he build a winner in 2019-2020?
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

This is the time of year when things typically slow down in the college sports world. Traditionally, this is the time of year when we start spending more time outside than in front of our computer screens or phones, not just because it’s finally decent outside on a consistent basis, but because there isn’t much worth reading online. Football season is long gone, but we’re now beyond spring practice as well as the NFL Draft. We’re in a dead period for the next few months. Basketball season is also over and while the NBA Draft is still to come, it doesn’t bring quite the same attention as the NFL Draft. All we typically have at this point is baseball.

And while Iowa baseball is on something of a tear, winning 6 consecutive series including a big time win of UC-Irvine this weekend to put themselves likely on the right side of the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, Iowa fans by and large are not terribly focused on Rick Heller’s club. Instead, Hawkeye fans are focused back on Fran McCaffery and the Iowa basketball program.

There’s been a flurry of activity within the hoops program over the last several weeks - not all of it good. First we had senior-to-be Tyler Cook announce his intention to declare for the NBA Draft and hire an agent. That much was expected, even if the certainty of it caught a few of us off guard.

The fact Cook was set to be accompanied by soon-to-be sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp was perhaps a bit more surprising to some, but should not have been. Fran McCaffery has long held the opinion all players should take advantage of the system which allows players to enter the draft process and receive feedback if they have any interest in going pro (hint: they all do). And Joe is going to be very good over the remainder of his time in Iowa City, however long (or short) that might be.

“Just Joe” is likely to be back for this season, though he did have a workout with Oklahoma City this weekend. But he’s also likely to be in the NBA before all is said and done. For Hawkeye fans, the thought of losing him early may be a bit of a letdown given most expected to enjoy his talents for 3 or even 4 seasons at Iowa. But the fact he has some legitimate interest from the NBA after only his freshman season should be a welcome surprise for the fanbase.

That’s not just because watching former Hawks succeed should be something we all hope for, but because there’s about to be a hole in Iowa’s scoring threat come next season with the announcement this week that redshirt junior guard Isaiah Moss intends to transfer from the program.

Moss has had an up and down career as a Hawkeye that can best be exemplified with his performance against Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament. In that 83-77 OT loss, Moss dropped 16 for the Hawks. He was instrumental in the comeback just to get to overtime, knocking down a pair of jumpers, as well as a three, and picking up a pair of steals down the stretch.

Yet, when it came to overtime, he went scoreless. Worse, he had a turnover and forced a three and missed. At a time when Iowa had found success in the post, Moss tried to take things over on the wing and failed.

That inconsistency is what makes the departure of Moss something this team can overcome. They will miss his ability to take his man off the dribble to be sure. That’s a talent very few other Hawkeyes possess. It was what made Moss to effective when he chose to assert himself. But he often went into his shell and chose not to utilize those talents.

Assuming Wieskamp does return for Iowa, Hawkeye fans should look for him to fill some of the void left by Moss in that department - let’s hope he comes back with even more confidence and consistency. Playing the small forward spot rather than shooting guard, Joe should get better matchups to utilize those 1-on-1 skills.

Wieskamp isn’t the only one with those skills. The Hawkeyes are also bringing in a pair of new recruits in this year’s class. While Pat McCaffery is the one most Iowa fans have focused on, New York point guard Joe Toussaint is the one who could replace some of what the Hawkeyes lose with Moss in the way of breaking down defenders. He’s a cat-quick guard who excels at doing just that.

Beyond the breakdown abilities, Moss was a very good shooter, knocking down 42% from beyond the arc last year. That too will be missed, but it’s not something the Hawkeyes can overcome. With Jordan Bohannon returning and the addition of C.J. Fredrick at shooting guard, Iowa seems to be in decent shape on the shooters front.

In any event, the offense hasn’t been the problem for this team. For nearly as long as Fran McCaffery has been in town, the Hawkeyes have been capable of scoring in bunches. The question has always been whether they could stop anyone else from doing the same. That’s one area where the loss of Moss is not nearly as great.

It’s also an area where there likely isn’t much help on the way. McCaffery the younger isn’t going to be a game-changer on the defensive end. And Toussaint will bring an on-ball defender to the backcourt, which will be a welcome addition, but not nearly enough. The return of Jack Nunge may help some in the post, though he’s not likely to be a rim-protector despite his lenght. And the return of Cordell Pemsl will certainly bring some toughness, but not enough quickness to help with rotations.

Whether this team can come together to focus on the defensive end in earnest this offseason will determine how hard they’re hit by the changes we’ve already seen. Coming together around anything seems like it may be a bit of a struggle with turnover. Beyond the departures of Cook and Moss, the Hawkeyes also lost Maishe Dailey to transfer.

The volume of transfers isn’t concerning, it’s actually below average for college basketball at large. But the timing is puzzling. It comes not long after we learned that assistant Andrew Francis was headed to Cal. Francis was one of Fran’s leaders on the recruiting trail and built deeper bonds with many of the players than any of the other coaches.

Now, the staff is out trying to build for the future without a replacement for Francis. Meanwhile, Cal has taken the relationships he built and begun offering a number of Iowa’s top recruits. Regardless of the direction Fran decides to go with the new assistant coach, it would benefit the program to make a hire quickly. The Hawkeyes need to rebuild the chemistry in the locker room and work to build for the future.

Part of that, now that there are three open scholarships, is likely going to include transfers. That’s not something Fran has had much success with in the past outside of Jarrod Uthoff coming home from Wisconsin, but it is something the program has done quite well with over the years (oh, hi there Adam Haluska,

Now McCaffery looks be heading in that direction. Notre Dame transfer and former top-50 recruit D.J. Harvey was in town this weekend. He’s a talented scorer who put up 11 and 4 as a sophomore for Notre Dame. That’s a year after undergoing microfracture surgery on his knee. As of yet, he doesn’t have quite the same explosion that earned him that 4-star rating, but a redshirt year could do him well and 11 points a night in the ACC should translate just fine.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Miami-Florida
Notre Dame transfer DJ Harvey isn’t a great outside shooter, but he can be a formidable scorer when healthy.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Hawkeyes will have to beat out Vanderbilt, where Harvey visited after Iowa City. That seems like a walk in the park compared to the competition they face for the two other transfers they’re slated to get visits from. Sam and Joey Hauser were big time contributors at Marquette a season ago. Now they’re on the move. They’ve visited Wisconsin, they’re home state school, already. They also intend to visit Michigan State, Virginia and..... Iowa.

It’s a long shot, to say the least, but it’s a shot nonetheless. Joey played AAU ball with Joe Wieskamp for the Iowa Barnstormers and by all accounts the two liked playing together. There are also reports the family was not happy with the Badgers after older brother Sam didn’t earn a Wisconsin offer. So there’s a shot.

Any of the three would be a shot in the arm. Getting all three would turn this team into a Big Ten Title contender. That’s a remarkable statement to contemplate and quite contrary to the doom and gloom many within the fan base foresee with the current situation.

It truly is a fine line between success and failure in college hoops. Hawkeye fans have long endured more failure than success. And yet again, we see a crossroads where our fate as fans can turn on so little as the decisions of teenagers. For all his flaws as a coach, Hawkeye fans should rest assured no one is working harder to turn over every rock and put this program on the right side of the line.

Happy Monday. Enjoy the glorious spring weather and hope for less news this week.

Go Hawks