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Why Iowa Needs Connor McCaffery, and Three Other Thoughts on the Current State of Iowa Basketball

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As Iowa gears up for a difficult stretch of games in the coming weeks, here are a few observations which might impact how the team performs going forward.

NCAA Basketball: Northern Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

After losing two of three games in mid-late December, the Hawkeye basketball team seemingly found its winning form again last week, scoring a convincing win over a dangerous Northwestern team and a physical road win against Rutgers. As Iowa gears up for a difficult stretch of games in the coming weeks, here are a few observations which might impact how the team performs going forward.

1. Sometimes you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone. Connor McCaffery’s contributions to the Hawkeyes have often flown under the radar throughout his career, as the junior point forward doesn’t exactly light up the box score with his scoring statistics. But the Hawkeyes struggled mightily with ball control after the coach’s son injured his ankle early in Iowa’s win against Rutgers. The Hawkeyes committed 15 turnovers against the Scarlet Knights, including several failed attempts to throw entry passes to Luka Garza in the post. While the excellent defense of Rutgers center Myles Johnson certainly played a role in some of these turnovers, Iowa’s struggles to feed the post throughout much of this game showed just how much Garza and the Hawkeyes rely on McCaffery’s deft passing touch and exceptional vision for their offense to operate. His 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio leads the team, and his ability to guard multiple positions makes him one of the most versatile tools on the Hawkeye defense. With a tough road trip to Maryland and a home grudge match against Minnesota on the schedule this week, Iowa can ill afford to have McCaffery miss much time. If Connor is forced to sit out a few games, Ahron Ulis could be in line to get more minutes in his place; the freshman is only averaging 3.5 points per game on the season, but contributed four assists against Rutgers, and the offense flowed fairly well during his extended play in the first half.

2. Has Jordan Bohannon regained his shooting form? The senior point guard has been highly inefficient for most of the season with the exception of Iowa’s victory against North Carolina, but he has shot over 60% from beyond the arc during his past two games, in addition to posting two of his three double figure scoring outings. Bohannon is something of an x-factor for Iowa’s offense; his deep three-point range provides vital spacing for Luka Garza to go to work on the block and players like Joe Wieskamp to attack the rim, and his ability to hit from range of the dribble makes him a dangerous weapon in transition. Iowa’s projection as a potential final four team was based on the idea that Bohannon would regain his form as an elite sharpshooter after recovering from hip surgery. While Bohannon’s early season production left plenty of doubt about his chances to become the three point ace of old, his performances against Northwestern and Rutgers gives renewed hope that the fifth-year senior can become the long-range scoring weapon fans remember and Big Ten opponents fear.

3. Keegan Murray may only be a freshman, but he is quickly becoming one of the most important defensive weapons for a Hawkeye team in desperate need of them. Murray currently leads all Iowa rotation players in steals, defensive rating, defensive plus/minus, and defensive win shares, in addition to trailing only Luka Garza in blocks per game, according to Sports Reference. Against Rutgers, Murray recorded three steals and three blocks, disrupted several passes, and proved that he could successfully switch onto smaller, quicker offensive players when called upon to do so. Murray received extended play in the second half against Rutgers, and after sinking two clutch free throws in the closing minutes of Iowa’s win at the RAC, it’s easy to envision the freshman playing an even larger role in the weeks to come.

4. Free throw shooting made all the difference in Iowa’s recent win against Rutgers. While the Hawkeyes managed to connect on 78% of their attempts from the line, Rutgers shot a woeful 4-12 from the charity stripe. Jordan Bohannon even remarked after the game that he intentionally fouled a Scarlet Knight player in the closing minutes of the game due to their inability to connect on their free throws. Yet free throws remain an area of slight concern for the Hawkeyes. Joe Toussaint missed the potential game winning free throws in Iowa’s loss against Minnesota, while Joe Wieskamp’s miss on the back end of a two-shot foul left the door open for Rutgers to win the game in regulation. Iowa’s team free throw shooting is down slightly from last season from 75% to 72%, and aside from Luka Garza and Jack Nunge, every Hawkeye in the rotation is shooting a lower free throw percentage this season than they did in 2019-2020. Iowa is far from reaching the crisis point in this arena, but given the team’s ambitions this year, their ability to hit clutch free throws down the stretch could be something to watch going forward.