Connor McCaffery has been a lot of things for Iowa’s basketball team over the course of his career: a secondary ballhandler, small ball power forward, skilled post feeder, switchable defender, and coach on the floor. Yet over the last month, the fifth-year senior has assumed a role few fans saw coming: dead-eye shooter.
McCaffery’s dramatic improvement in his three-point shooting might be unprecedented in Hawkeye basketball history. A career 30% shooter from beyond the arc entering the season, McCaffery’s shooting percentage has been padded over the years by the incredible spacing and number of open shots that came his way as a result of playing with a gravitational center in Luka Garza and an array of sharpshooters at every position. Fittingly, Connor’s numbers absolutely cratered at the start of the post-Garza era, which saw him shoot a mere 16% from deep through Iowa’s first nineteen games this season. His struggles were easily attributed to both the absence of Garza and fellow shooters Joe Wieskamp and CJ Fredrick, as well as the many injuries McCaffery had suffered over the course of his career, including his offseason hip surgery. Despite being left open from deep by nearly every defense he faced, McCaffery appeared incapable of making outside shots with any level of consistency.
Everything changed in Iowa’s game against Penn State. With the Hawkeyes shooting poorly from the field and leading scorer Keegan Murray in foul trouble, McCaffery managed to fill the void and provide a spark off the bench, shooting 4-7 from three in only sixteen minutes before exiting with an injury. Yet despite missing the following game against Minnesota and playing only four minutes against Maryland, McCaffery has managed to continue his hot shooting since recovering from his hurt shoulder. Since the start of the Penn State game, McCaffery has made an outstanding 61.5% of his threes, a stunning improvement over his abysmal struggles earlier this year.
What can explain this dramatic turnaround? Connor has attributed his improved proficiency from beyond the arc to a renewed sense of confidence, and as cliched as that might sound, it honestly shows up on tape. McCaffery spent much of the season either passing up open threes or hesitating for so long before shooting that he was regularly out of rhythm by the time the ball left his hand. Yet whatever mental or physical roadblocks contributed to the drop-off in his three-point shooting, Connor has not only overcome them, but is shooting the basketball better than he has at any point in his career.
McCaffery’s hot shooting streak has suddenly made him one of the most dependable three-point weapons on the team. His three-point shooting percentage (39.2%) is higher than all but one of Iowa’s regular contributors, and no rotation player who is averaging 1+ attempt per game can match his impressive success rate against Big Ten opponents (42.9%). Connor will not be mistaken for genuine gunners like Jordan Bohannon and Payton Sandfort who make a living hunting shots from beyond the arc, but he has proven highly proficient at knocking down open threes when given the opportunity, which is all Iowa needs from him as a shooter. Teams which, just one month ago, could construct their defensive game plans around leaving McCaffery open to focus on players like Bohannon and Keegan Murray must now account for Connor’s whereabouts on the perimeter, a factor which is freeing up his teammates to create easier shots.
Finally, McCaffery’s sudden three-point proficiency is helping provide the Hawkeyes with greater lineup clarity. No longer are lineups which include Connor and Joe Toussaint, Tony Perkins, or Ahron Ulis dangerously bereft of outside shooting. Iowa can switch to a more defensive oriented lineup without completely gutting its offensive production, as Iowa’s defense-fist guards can treat Connor as a reliable drive-and-kick partner when he is slotted as either a small or power forward. Connor is a true jack of all trades for the Hawkeyes, able to play four positions and provide the team with exceptional passing and visibly impactful defensive leadership. Thanks to his renewed shot making skills, it is now far easier for Iowa to deploy him readily without worrying about a huge offensive drop off. It is no coincidence that, of Iowa’s last four games, three of them have seen Connor play among the highest minute totals of his season thus far. With the Hawkeyes hoping to make postseason runs in both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, the team will benefit greatly from Connor’s veteran presence on the floor, something his newfound three-point prowess has made exceedingly possible.
Fran McCaffery recently commented that Connor’s three-point hot streak has been a “game-changer” for the team, and he could not be more correct in his assessment. The fifth-year senior’s late-career shooting renaissance has been as surprising has it has been impactful and is helping to reshape his legacy while making the Hawkeyes one of the hottest teams in college basketball. It remains to be seen whether Connor McCaffery can produce a second consecutive month of truly outstanding shooting, but Iowa will undoubtedly be better for it if he does.