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:
Coming off a Aaron White-fueled ride to the end of the previous season, the Iowa Hawkeyes returned four of their other five primary starters (Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Peter Jok, & Adam Woodbury) plus super-sub Anthony Clemmons. Though they did not come into the season with wild expectations, they were thrust on them after an incredible start to conference play.
Yet there were always red flags: Iowa lacked the spacing we have come to enjoy under recent Fran McCaffery teams; their collapse against Iowa State offered questions of their mettle; plus a lack of depth. Eventually each one came back to bite Iowa as their season spiraled.
The sputtering finish meant another 7/10 matchup with a win meaning a loss to another Final Four team for a second straight year. Iowa basketball had plateaued.
Riding the high of an undefeated Iowa Hawkeye football team, the former proprietors of the site executed a 24-hour post blast breaking down the 2015-16 team dubbed “The Parquet Spread.” They hit on just about every angle - I particularly like Adam Jacobi’s recruiting breakdown where you see baby-faced Tyler Cook, Cordell Pemsl, Connor McCaffery, and even more babyfaced Joe Wieskamp - and he later hits on the prognostications. Many expected where Iowa ended up, if not a little lower.
Patrick Vint closes out the ceremony with this wily bit of prognostication:
“The sign of a mature, successful program is a quiet confidence that an NCAA Tournament berth is, if not guaranteed, at the very least is a step toward a larger goal. Iowa’s not quite there yet, but it might be just one year away from getting to that level. Iowa’s schedule is finally good enough to give the Hawkeyes an opportunity to play off the bubble. But if they can’t — and it’s no failure if they can’t — get ready for another eventful February.”
The Statistical Profile
(all ranks vs. McCaffery teams)
Record: 22-11 (1st), 12-6 (T-1st)
Offense: AdjO - 116.1 (5th); 77.6 PPG (6th)
Defense: AdjD - 94.9 (3rd); 69.3 PPG (4th)
Behold, the one-two punch of Uthoff and Jok. They were the Hawkeyes most varied, and consistent, scorers throughout the season. Slight tangent: Jok’s numbers (16.1 points in 27.7 minutes) should have signaled more clearly is truly impressive 2016-17 campaign.
Anyways, Iowa had stalwart guards in Clemmons and Gessell holding down the point with frosh Christian Williams receiving sparing minutes. Woodbury did the same in the post. Though Woody did see his minutes jump between his junior and senior year, Iowa was rail thin down low when he was off the court as Uthoff slid into the stretch 5 role.
Their offense was highlighted more than any other McCaffery squad by their ability not to turn it over. The 14.8% turnover rate was the best of his tenure and 11th in the country according to KenPom. They truly missed Aaron White’s absence, with a dip in rebounding and offensive free throw rate.
ORtg & % Poss via KenPom ($); rest via sports-ref
|Jarrod Uthoff||rs jr||113.8||0.253||12.4||6.4||1.7||0.43||0.372||0.737||30.3|
- Iowa started two different lineups which feels like a miracle after seeing Fran cycle through so many injuries last year. They played 71.1% of available minutes (75.6% in conference play), which is basically Bill Self-levels of starters’ minutes. (Iowa was also the 4th tallest team in the country)
- Uthoff and Jok scored 45% of Iowa’s points per game, an percentage which became even more stark in conference, where it nudged over 48%. That level of output from the top two scorers is borderline unsustainable unless they possess an unstoppable will.
- Woodbury never became a true offensive post presence but posted his best season in his final year - highest scoring output and eFG% of his career, second in the conference in offensive rebounding percentage. He was an ultimately stabilizing force at Iowa on the court and as a recruiting win.
- Dom Uhl and Nicholas Baer combined to make 53 of 126 threes (42.1%). What a time to be alive as the Hawks third and fifth most prolific shooters from deep. Clemmons shot 31%, making 27.
- My 2015-16 hot take is that this team is much different with a 100% healthy Dale Jones.
The Low Point
Heading into the conference tournament, Iowa had a solid bracket set up for them. Play the winner of Illinois/Minnesota, two teams they beat in the regular season, before a date with a Purdue team Iowa swept. Saturday in Indy, a beautiful sight.
It never happened. Iowa was stagnant out of both halves against an Illini squad who blew out Minnesota the day prior and needed runs from Jok and Uhl (!!!) to close both halves and make the 68-66 loss look even that good.
Jok combined with Uthoff for 50 of Iowa’s 66 points which would be only slightly less depressing if Jok didn’t foul out.
Honorable mentions: defeat from the jaws of victory loss to Iowa State, Under Armour ball storyline at Maryland, road loss at Penn State sealing Iowa’s fate in the conference race, exhibition loss to Augustana
The High Point
When you blow Michigan State on their floor, it’s the high point.
On the back of two double-digit wins against MSU, Iowa went from 17th to 4th in KenPom’s ratings. They were 4-0 in the conference and looked primed for a two-horse race with Indiana. They’d go 7-2 over the next 9 games, spending weeks in Mr. Pomeroy’s and the AP’s top 5.
Honorable mentions: Uthoff’s 30-point half in Ames, 11-2 in conference play, Woodbury’s push-off (if memory serves, Cousin Sal always bets against a buzzer beater happening and lost the bet about as quickly as possible)
The What If
Does Iowa’s moxy change if they escape Ames with a win? Probably not. Plus, it is an ultimately meaningless game in the grand scheme of Iowa’s Big Ten schedule. No sense if they win.
But if Iowa doesn’t lose at Penn State, they maintain contact with Indiana in the Big Ten race and, worst case of all things being equal, finish as the two-seed in the conference tournament after those banked MSU victories. They’d then take the path from two, starting with Ohio State. Maybe Iowa loses but at least they’d have the double bye!
The 2016 season was the ultimate roller coaster season. They leaned on, perhaps, Iowa’s best starting five of Fran’s tenure to exhaustion. Playing at the top pace throughout conference season led to a team with nothing left to give come March. They were unable to change their fortunes as one loss spiraled into another just two years after the same affected the 2014 squad.
Even their NCAA tournament win was against the weakest opponent Iowa’s faced in four trips, as Temple ranked 90th according to KenPom.
Yet they were a very good, very balanced team who racked up truly impressive Ws against the stalwarts of the conference. Perhaps those wins are unfairly forgotten amidst the downturn, but they certainly highlighted the teams ceiling.
They just failed to return to those January heights when it mattered most.