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Iowa Basketball: Hawkeyes Search for Big Men in the Transfer Portal

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The Hawkeyes have a big need for a big man in the portal.

Iowa v Maryland
How does Iowa replace Luka Garza and Jack Nunge?
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Iowa basketball’s season came to a screeching halt in the Round of 32 (again) as the Hawkeyes ran into a buzzsaw against the Oregon Ducks. With it came the ensuing frustration and disappointment for players, coaches and fans alike. But now, as we move past the 2021 NCAA Tournament, focus has shifted from the past toward the future.

For Iowa fans, that shift means a look at who is leaving from one of the best teams Iowa has ever produced, as well as who is currently slated to join the roster and who could supplement things. For now, there are both some certainties and some major quesetions.

We know for certain that all-time great center Luka Garza is headed to the next chapter of his career in the NBA. We know for certain that his primary backup, but also his front court running mate Jack Nunge is headed closer to home after the myriad injuries he’s endured during his time in Iowa City, capped off by a meniscus tear this past season, just after losing his father tragically at the beginning of the year.

We also know that Iowa has currently signed one player in the class of 2021. That’s Ankeny 3-star forward Payton Sandfort. Listed at 6’7” by both Rivals and 247 Sports, Sandfort is a prolific shooter who offers solid but not great athleticism for his size with good handles for a hybrid 3-4. He’s not an overly powerful player and is unlikely to fill the hole left by the departed Garza and Nunge.

And that’s where things start to get fuzzy. With two players exiting and one entering, Iowa is currently sitting on two open scholarships this spring. They carried an open one throughout the year and have only filled the one open spot in this recruiting class. But Iowa could have two more spots open up in the coming weeks. Junior SF Joe Wieskamp is going to again test the NBA waters and if he thinks he has a shot at the draft, he’s likely to stay in. And 5th year senior Jordan Bohannon shocked the world a week ago when he announced he may opt to return for a 6th year thanks to the extra year afforded all players currently on rosters due to COVID-19. If he were to move on as previously expected, that would be yet another open spot for Fran McCaffery and staff to fill this offseason.

Regardless of the ultimate decisions for Wieskamp and Bohannon, Fran McCaffery has scholarships available to him and a major hole to fill in the middle of his team. The Hawkeyes enter the offseason with freshman Josh Ogundele as the lone returning post player. He has notably begun to transform his body into that of a Big Ten big man, but that process is still ongoing and he is still developing. Fellow freshman Keagan Murray was a pleasant surprise this past season and could no doubt provide some spot minutes in the post in a small ball lineup, but Iowa is going to need more to be competitive in 2021-2022.

So, where do they turn? The NCAA transfer portal has completely exploded this offseason with more than 1,200 players already on the move (that’s roughly a quarter of all scholarship players in D1 basketball). Fran McCaffery and his staff will now need to sift through all that noise to find at least one transfer who can come to Iowa City next fall and make an impact.

That work has already started as the staff has been confirmed to be in contact with a handful of players already in the portal while more are jumping into the fold every day. Here’s a complete rundown of post players Iowa could look to in 2021-2022.

Players with Confirmed Iowa Contact

Parker Fox
School: Northern State (D2)
Ht: 6’8”
Wt: 210
Hometown: Mahtomedi, Minnesota

Division two standout Parker Fox was one of the early names connected to the Hawkeyes. Iowa was confirmed to be involved a little over a week ago after rumors had been swirling for days prior.

At first glance, a D2 product doesn’t sound like what Iowa needs. And to be fair, Fox is not your traditional back-to-the-basket big man that the Hawkeyes may truly be looking for underneath, but he is surely a talent worthy of a D1 scholarship. As a junior at Northern State, Fox averaged 22.1 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game for the Wolves. He’s dynamic and if nothing else, a lot of fun to watch.

It’s worth noting that Fox has trimmed his finalist list to 8 schools, which does not include the Hawkeyes. Of course, things are always subject to change and no doubt Iowa’s sales pitch has changed over the last week with the news on Jack Nunge and any impending news on Wieskamp.

Tanner Groves
School: Eastern Washington
Ht: 6’9”
Wt: 235
Hometown: Spokane, Washington

If you watched much of the NCAA Tournament, there’s little doubt you caught a glimpse of Eastern Washington big man Tanner Groves. The big man for the Eagles looked an awful lot like Will Ferrell’s character Jackie Moon in Semi-Pro. But he can also play. He averaged 17.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game at Eastern Washington last year and has your more prototypical back-to-the-basket game. He also shot 35% from beyond the arc this season, his lowest percentage in three seasons with the Eagles.

Put simply, Groves is essentially exactly what Fran McCaffery would like to get to backfill the gaping hole left by Garza and Nunge, albeit a few inches shorter than the two departing Hawkeyes.

Nothing has been verbalized, but Iowa basketball’s recruiting coordinator, Courtney Elddridge, has started following Groves on Twitter.

It’s safe to say that’s not an accident. Groves will have many suitors so this may be a long shot, but it’s certainly a name to keep an eye on given the sheer volume of transfers in the portal and the limited number of names Iowa has shown any interest in to-date.

Brady Manek
School: Oklahoma
Ht: 6’9”
Wt: 231
Hometown: Harrah, Oklahoma

Speaking of guys with great hair that Iowa has shown an interest in, enter Oklahoma big man Brady Manek. The college version Larry Bird look-alike hit the portal not long ago and as with Groves, Iowa recruiting coordinator Courtney Eldridge smashed the follow button.

As a player, Manek is a bit more similar to Nunge than Garza in that he is more of a stretch forward. He has solid size at 6’9”, but his ability to knock it down from deep has to be appealing to Fran given the deficiencies next year’s team looks to have in that department.

In his career, Manek has shot more than 37% from beyond the arc while attempting nearly 160 3-pointers per season in his four years at OU. With Iowa needing bodies, it wouldn’t be crazy to see a player in Manek’s mold alongside a Groves-type player if they could get them.

Marcus Santos-Silva
School: Texas Tech
Ht: 6’7”
Wt: 245
Hometown: Taunton, Massachusetts

Former VCU Ram and now former Texas Tech Red Raider Marcus Santos-Silva is a bit different than just about any other of the post options linked to Iowa. At 6’7”, he’s by far the shortest, but he has a big build at 245 and plays with great athleticism. Santos-Silva can bang inside, and did so against Dayton’s Obi Toppin in his VCU days, but he can also get out into passing lanes, block shots and slash to the rim.

He led TTU in rebounding at 6.4 per game last season and also put up 8.3 points per game. There will be competition for Santos-Silva, but he brings a unique skill set that Iowa could use and would pair nicely with a traditional big man.

Filip Rebraca
School: North Dakota
Ht: 6’9”
Wt: 222
Hometown: Sombor, Serbia

The last of the players with some form of confirmed contact from Iowa is North Dakota star Filip Rebraca. The Serbian native was All-Summit League each of the last two seasons (2nd team in 2021, honorable mention in 2020) and now finds himself looking for a new home. Iowas was one of several schools to make contact.

Rebraca is more of a traditional big man with limited shooting ability, but he led the Fighting Hawks in scoring and rebounding at 16.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He’s got the size at 6’9” and north of 220 to play inside at a Big Ten level. If recent history is any indicator, this is the type of transfer Iowa may have some traction with.

Other Players of Note

Martice Mitchell
School: Minnesota
Ht: 6’10”
Wt: 190
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

This one is perhaps a bit of a reach, but there is an Iowa connection here. The Hawkeyes offered Mitchell, a Chicago native, out of high school. The 4-star prospect opted for Minnesota instead, but he’s now back on the market after the coaching change.

Mitchell averaged just 1.3 points and 0.3 rebounds a game last season for a Gopher squad that struggled down the stretch so he’s likely not a guy that plugs the gaping hole for the Hawkeyes next year. But he is reportedly close with current Hawkeye and fellow Chicagoan Ahron Ulis so perhaps this is one to keep an eye on as that second transfer target of Iowas can land a more game-ready player.

Chol Marial
School: Maryland
Ht: 7’2”
Wt: 230
Hometown: Rumbek, South Sudan

Marial is similar to Mitchell in that there has been no chatter to-date despite an Iowa connection. The former 4-star center had an Iowa offer out of high school and reportedly has a connection to former Hawkeye Peter Jok by way of their shared South Sudanese heritage.

Like Mitchell, Marial has yet to prove a significant contributor at the Big Ten level, averaging just 1.6 points and 1.1 rebounds in 6.2 minutes a game for the Terps last year. However, he clearly has the size to bang down low in the conference and his athleticism made him a hot commodity as a prep prospect.

Beyond those two, there are few players who could ostensibly fill Iowa’s hole in the middle who have a prior connection to the team. That’s not to say there aren’t viable options in the portal; there are. Here’s a look at some of the top ones according to Evan Miya, who’s adjusted offensive and defensive stats we’ve looked at previously.

Obviously, Jack Nunge isn’t an option for Fran and Santos-Silva is a name already mentioned above as someone the staff has contacted. It’s probably safe to assume that Walker Kessler is going to end up at another blue blood, but that leaves a couple of Big Ten guys available that Iowa could look at.

Both Myles Johnson and John Harrar would be an excellent fit for what the Hawkeyes need. Each brings a physicality the team lacks without Garza and Nunge and each can play back-to-the-basket to pair with the rest of Iowa’s roster. The question now is whether either would have an interest in coming to Iowa City for a season or if there are greener pastures elsewhere.