Fran McCaffery’s Iowa Hawkeyes had a disappointing end to what was an up and down 2022-2023 season. The Hawkeyes lost three of five games down the stretch before pulling off one of the most memorable comebacks in college basketball history in an OT win against Michigan State in their home finale. They used that momentum to close out the regular season with a road-thumping of #15 Indiana.
Then the rollercoaster went over the edge and Iowa came crashing back down to earth with a first round Big Ten Tournament loss to Nebraska. The Hawkeyes ended their season with a first round exit from the NCAA Tournament as well at the hands of Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers.
Now the Hawkeyes turn the page on 2022-2023 and look ahead to 2023-2024 without some key pieces from a season ago while Iowa once again looked to the transfer portal to help fill some voids. The two most pivotal pieces gone from a season ago are Iowa’s two top scorers from the tournament team.
Kris Murray became the second straight Murray drafted in the 1st round of the NBA Draft a season ago, but his departure leaves the Hawkeyes with a 20.2 ppg hole to fill. Beyond the raw scoring volume, Murray was one of Iowa’s best shooters and his length and versatility are going to be nearly impossible to replace.
Alongside Murray, Iowa loses starting center Filip Rebraca and his 14.1 ppg. They also lose his defensive presence in the post, his grit and when combined with Murray, more than 40% of Iowa’s rebounding production from a season ago.
In an attempt to fill that void, the Hawkeyes added Valpraiso transfer Ben Krikke via the portal this offseason. Krikke comes to Iowa City after averaging more than 19 points and and nearly 6 rebounds per game a season ago and brings with him a build that looks eerily similar to the departed Rebraca.
Alongside Krikke, the Hawkeyes added Iowa City native Even Brauns via the portal. A West High grad, Brauns spent the last three years at Belmont. Like Krikke, he comes home at 6’9” and 245 pounds and averaged 7 points and more than 5 rebounds per game a year ago.
Those portal additions come along with Iowa’s recruiting haul in 2023, which includes a pair of post players in Ladji Dembele, a 6’8” scorer from New Jersey who can shoot from outside and handle the ball more in the mold of Murray (he’s not Murray and those shoes won’t be fully filled, but the skillset aligns more here than elsewhere) than Rebraca, and 6’10” Owen Freeman from Illinois. Like Dembele, Freeman can shoot a bit from outside, but he provides more back-to-the-basket capabilities and based on results from Iowa’s Europe trip, he should be an immediate impact player on the boards.
But at the end of the day, this team is going to look vastly different than a season ago. Iowa returns Payton Sandfort, their best shooter, who will need to step up immensely to help fill the gap. They also bring back Tony Perkins who has shown the ability to take over a game, but will rely on him to be much more consistent than in prior years.
So is this a rebuild? Vegas seems to think so. DraftKings Sportsbook has released their odds to win the Big Ten and your Iowa Hawkeyes have the 11th best odds to win the title at +4000. Not surprisingly, the Purdue Boilermakers top the list at +200, followed closely by Michigan State at +300.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean the Hawkeyes are picked to finish 11th in the league. In fact, in the preseason media poll from the Columbus Dispatch, Iowa was picked to finish two spots higher at 9th overall. In those media predictions, the Hawkeyes are expected to outperform Michigan and Nebraska. The Wolverines have better odds to win the conference per DraftKings while the Cornhuskers have the same odds.
Here’s a look at the overall predictions from the Columbus Dispatch.
1. Purdue, 388 points (24 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State, 368 (4)
3. Maryland, 304
4. Illinois, 301
5. Wisconsin, 276
6. Indiana, 244
7. Ohio State, 228
8. Northwestern, 195
9. Iowa, 164
10. Rutgers, 147
11. Michigan, 131
12. Nebraska, 90
13. Penn State, 71
14. Minnesota, 33
Whether it’s 9th or 11th, the Hawkeyes are not expected to finish in the top half of the Big Ten this season. Iowa had nobody selected to the pre-season All-Big Ten Team according to the media.
And yet, there’s just something about the makeup of this group that makes them exciting. Perhaps it’s simply the fact that Fran McCaffery’s group’s always find a way to score points and after a long, hard season watching football stumble and fumble to get close to scoring there is sure to be hope for a group that seems to do it at will. But there also seems to be some chemistry with the aforementioned Freeman being joined by his high school and AAU teammate Brock Harding while Payton Sandfort is joined by his younger brother Pryce.
This group will surely struggle at times, but they have weapons, they have upside and they have more than a couple guys who seem to have grit.
Iowa kicks off their regular season on November 7th at 7pm with a home matchup against North Dakota. That game will be available to stream on Big Ten Network +.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.