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Basketball thoughts with the season less than 2 weeks away

Keegan Murray is the man of the hour for the Iowa Hawkeyes

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

I won’t lie and say “whoa the basketball season came quick!” It’s been not-so-top-of-mind for the better part of a month, now, but with the Hawkeye football team being fun as hell (your mileage may vary) for six weeks and the malaise following the one week they were decidedly not fun, my mind has been elsewhere when it comes to Iowa sports. Plus, with the basketball season ending the way it did, I’ve not been ready to open my heart with a return to the hardwood.

But, I do have some thoughts as we approach the season and will go ahead and structure them along positional lines.

1. Joe Toussaint & Ahron Ulis provide very different skillsets to the same offensive structure

One quote which really stuck out in my mind about Toussaint was from Maryland guard, Anthony Cowan, Jr., after the 2020 season when asked about who was the toughest to guard:

People are going to be like ‘wow’, but I think it was the guard from Iowa, Joe Toussaint,” Cowan told Katz. “He was really good. That was a guard that because of me, Cassius (Winston) and Zavier (Simpson), didn’t get talked about. (Michigan State’s) Rocket Watts as well. Both of are young guards that I feel like are going to take over the Big Ten.

Now, the following season didn’t turn out like many expected for Toussaint as his penchant for turnovers found him on the bench more often than not but the times JT flashed - he flashed. Against Gonzaga, he finished with a season-high 14 points and he dished 6 assists to go along with 10 points at home versus Michigan State.

I suspect a lot of his struggles were because his skillset was at such odds with the style Iowa wanted to play with Luka Garza occupying the middle of the floor. It limited Toussaint’s ability to operate in the high pick and roll and get to the basket. Toussaint was actually the second most efficient shooter as a pick-and-roll ball handler, at 48.6% eFG per Synergy Sports (CJ Fredrick shot 6/12 for 50%).

His issue? Turnovers, where he had a whopping 27.3% TO rate.

If he plays just a beat slower, it shouldn’t limit his abilities so much as the pick-and-roll becomes a more viable offensive weapon for the Hawks as Synergy had it as just 13.5% of Iowa’s possessions (post ups were at 14.5%, for reference).

Ulis, in very limited minutes, would have had Iowa’s second highest assist rate to Toussaint, at 24.5%. He’s a savvy ballhandler who can use his height & length to finish in the lane or find open shooters.

2. The Jordan Bohannon shooting guard experiment is the right move but can’t torpedo the defense

With Bohannon back, he is the elite shooter fans would love as a transfer if he didn’t stick his haircut above the cornfields as much as he does. He’s a career 40% shooter on over 6 3-point attempts a game. He’s hit tons of big shots. You want that guy on your team.

Yet I fear over-indexing on his on-court presence will be a continual weak spot on defense. Alongside Toussaint, that’s a short backcourt, and asking too much for weakside help from Pat McCaffery & Keegan Murray when the frontline falters. I also harken back to the brutal 2017-18 season where defense was ... an afterthought and Iowa found themselves down double digits very early in ballgames.

My hope is for Fran McCaffery to break against his rule to play his starters through the first commercial break unless Jordan Bohannon is absolutely feeling it early. Run a couple plays for him and if he’s got it, roll with him. If not, go to the bench (Tony Perkins) earlier than usual and let the defense carry the offense a bit.

“Hope” is the operative word.

3. McCaffery for McCaffery, thank goodness

The word out of media day was the intention for Connor McCaffery to come off the bench after starting 62 straight games.

There is a time and place for Connor, and as Leistikow tweeted, he’s still gonna be around doing Connor McCaffery things. Just maybe less post-entry passes.

The most obvious guy to put in his place is his brother, Pat, who provides the higher ceiling for the team as a playmaker, defender, and company spokesman.

I will say, this is the spot where I am most curious to see where a secondary shooter shakes out. Do either McCaffery turn into > 35% threats from deep? Does Kris Murray emerge? Payton Sandfort?

3b. Caitlin Clark Mega Deal

It would be a huge gap for me to mention Pat’s viral video without discussing the truly special NIL deal that Clark inked with Hy-Vee. Their press release noted she was the first college athlete to work with Hy-Vee and mentioned her alongside Patrick Mahomes. The deal will include “health and wellness campaigns for the company in addition to promoting some of her favorite go-to items at the grocer on social media.”

4. The Keegan Show

It says a lot that Iowa can be returning a 40% shooter from deep who’s averaged double-digits in all four of his full seasons yet the sixth man off of last year’s team is the one who’s featured on the newly minted preseason all-Big Ten team after averaging 7 points and 5 boards in just 18 minutes/game.

What makes Murray special is his ability to do whatever is needed to help the team win. The points and rebounds are great, and will go up as his time on the court does, but he was also second on the team in blocks (50) and steals (26) despite playing ~60% of the minutes as Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp. After some early offseason buzz, he’s still featured on early draft boards for 2022 due to his combination of length, athleticism, motor, & shot.

The questions are two sides of the same coin for him: will he be asked to do too much and will Iowa be able to put enough around him so he can just be himself? If he can just go out there and be himself - something of a SUPER AARON WHITE - then Iowa could be really good. But if he has to be more Jarrod Uthoff, it might get a little funky.

5. Next man up

Friend of the Pants, Kennington Smith, had a writeup on the positional battle between Josh Ogundele, Filip Rebraca, & Riley Mulvey. With Rebraca as the man with experience, he figures to get the first shot down low but does not have the same beef or length of the other two. Can he battle down low in the Big Ten?

Ogundele played very sparingly last year and showed the conditioning concerns which still exist in some regard. He’s down to a listed 265 but looks much thinner than he did in minutes last year. He stood up Kofi Cockburn in Iowa’s Big Ten tournament matchup against the Illini and had a ferocious dunk against Nebraska. A thin resume, but enticing.

Mulvey is a springy freshman who reclassified from 2022. Fran says his defense is ahead of his offense.

I also wouldn’t put it past Fran to slide Keegan Murray down in a pinch to allow multi-dimensional offensive players with an ability to switch 1-5 on defense.

Basketball is just around the corner and the Hawks are projected to finish in the middle of the pack of the Big Ten. With the right wins and avoiding the wrong losses, that could put them right back into March Madness.