Over the course of 10 weeks, we’re counting down Fran McCaffery’s squads as head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Below are links to previous iterations in the series:
After another dispiriting season with tremendous highs which ultimately fizzled out as a romp to a #2 seed, Iowa returned just one starter: Peter Jok. Four sophomores returned - Nicholas Baer, Brady Ellingson, Ahmad Wagner, & Christian Williams - as well as juniors Dale Jones and Dom Uhl.
Yet the five (Jones played in just six games before getting injured) played in just 57 minutes a game, totalling 17 points a game. Considering Iowa lost the four starters who were 1, 2, 3, & 5 in minutes and 1, 3, 4, 5 in points, help was going to come from the incoming freshmen.
Peter Jok had a brief dalliance with the NBA draft process but returned. It was clear Iowa’s offense was going to funnel through him. It was really just a question of who would be the supporting cast...would Fran opt for the experience in the players returning or execute a youth movement as a rebuilding year many expected?
Tyler Cook was the diamond of the top 40 recruiting class. It was Iowa’s best since the departed seniors combined for the 31st best in the nation. He was joined by Jordan Bohannon, Cordell Pemsl, and Ryan Kriener from in-state and Maishe Dailey from Ohio.
The Statistical Profile
(all ranks vs. McCaffery teams)
Record: 19-15 (7th), 10-8 (3rd)
Offense: AdjO - 113.0 (7th); 80.5 PPG (2nd)
Defense: AdjD - 102.5 (8th); 78.1 PPG (9th)
There is something truly remarkable about this team. Mainly that they went on an absolute heater to close the season, finish in a tie for 5th place in the Big Ten, and push for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. They really didn’t have the resume for it!
But they were totally enjoyable to watch! They went through some initial growing pains, as Peter Jok did too much and Fran leaned on the more experienced players who couldn’t fit into their roles. After returning from a tepid non-conference tournament where they got put in a chokehold by Virginia and struggled in a shootout against Memphis, McCaffery turned to his freshman.
Bohannon and Pemsl combined for 41 points against Notre Dame in a game Iowa stayed in longer than many expected. The future began then.
(ORtg, % Poss; Points-Rebounds-Assists; FG%/3P%/FT%; MPG)
Peter Jok, sr - 112.1, 0.285; 19.9-5.5-2.6; 0.426/0.38/0.911; 30.7
Tyler Cook, fr - 99.7, 0.249; 12.3-5.3-1; 0.554/0.25/0.598; 24.5
Jordan Bohannon, fr - 111, 0.197; 10.9-2.2-5.1; 0.388/0.416/0.855; 29.6
Isaiah Moss, fr - 95.2, 0.191; 6.5-1.6-0.9; 0.412/0.358/0.742; 17.1
Cordell Pemsl, fr - 108.9, 0.22; 8.9-5-1.1; 0.617/0/0.575; 19.3
Nicholas Baer, rs so - 12.1, 0.151; 7.5-5.8-1.7; 0.448/0.397/0.614; 23.8
Ahmad Wagner, so - 106.1, 0.184; 4.8-3.4-1.4; 0.512/0/0.463; 16
Dom Uhl, jr - 95.2, 0.165; 3.5-3.2-1.2; 0.351/0.238/0.673; 14.6
Christian Williams, so - 83.3, 0.156; 2.4-1.6-1.6; 0.348/0.154/0.519; 12.8
Brady Ellingson, rs so - 125.2, 0.125; 4.4-1.1-1.1; 0.441/0.471/1; 14.2
Ryan Kriener, fr - 100, 0.186; 3.1-2.2-0.4; 0.551/0.2/0.6; 8.4
Maishe Dailey, fr - 100.7, 0.15; 2.3-1.6-0.4; 0.455/0.333/0.5; 7.6
- As mentioned above, the change to the freshmen in the starting lineup spelled the beginning of the nd for Dom Uhl and Christian Williams. The two are reminiscent of an early version of Fran players: length, defensive versatility, unclear capabilities on offense. Sure, both had their moments, but as Iowa trended towards the offensive skill seen in the current iteration of the Hawkeyes, they were rendered obsolete.
- Outside of Peter Jok having a truly stellar senior season, it’s worth mentioning Nicholas Baer was at his absolute best throughout much of this season. He was the perfect stretch 4 for this group: High motor, hit open shots but didn’t command the ball, ease defensive burden on the stars (i.e. Jok). He led the team in rebounding while playing a career high 23.8 minutes a game!
- This season is probably “Peak Fran” in terms of rotation depth. Having 11 players who routinely get minutes is truly bonkers in the college game. Yet the cracks of guard depth show up here. Bohannon averaging almost 30 minutes a game was a very bad sign in retrospect.
- Another bit of retrospective “huh” is Wagner receiving the minutes he did over Kriener. Kriener dealt with injuries for much of his first two seasons, and Wagner was a classic “effort” guy, so it makes sense. It stuck out to me, though!
The Low Point
The early part of this season made it look like a lost cause. The tournament was preceded by an ugly Gavitt Games showing where Iowa lost by 8 to Seton Hall. There was also the classic postseason frustration between a blowout loss to Indiana which probably kept them out of the tournament and the overtime home loss to TCU. They went on to win the whole NIT, which is a bit of knowledge that may serve you well whenever bar trivia becomes a thing again.
But the answer has to be the home loss to Nebraska Omaha. They were rated 168th according to KenPom entering the game and dropped Iowa 16 spots in the rating as a result of the nine-point loss.
Honorable mentions: Games mentioned above; double overtime loss at Nebraska I remember being very angry about in the moment; the deaf ref who didn’t acknowledge Ellingson calling the timeout in Minnesota; losing by 35 points to Northwestern for any reason
The High Point
(The Titanic theme version is apparently a suspended account now)
Honorable mentions: beating ISU like a drum, Purdue win (Jok 8 assists), Indiana home win (Jok feeling it from the free throw line), Maryland ROAD win (Bohannon 8/10 from deep)
The What If
If they don’t lose to Nebraska Omaha (or Nebraska or Indiana by 22), it’s safe to think they’re in the tournament. Could Iowa have made a run from a “Last 4 In” spot?
USC beat SMU after advancing from the First Four but Kansas State got their butts kicked by Cincinnati. Tough to say!
But if they’re in the tournament, does 2017-18 play out any differently? Would Iowa be going on six straight entries into the tournament? Probably not, but mainly because I’ve hat-on-a-hat-ed this what if.
Iowa was clearly better than the three teams previously counted down and well behind the six others (they all rate in the 30s or above according to KenPom).
There’s certainly a case to be made that this team was as enjoyable as any Fran has had. And, in a way, it has set a template for the offensive structure of the current team: a single focal point on offense with varied secondary scorers around him.
Peter Jok continued Iowa’s streak of first team All-Big Ten-ers and their postseason loss is ultimately easy to write off after TCU went on to win it all.