Iowa Basketball: The Look Ahead

Looking ahead to next season for Iowa basketball.

Iowa basketball had a memorable season where they were ranked as high as third nationally. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, it went downhill from there. They limped into the postseason but were still able to walk away with an NCAA Tournament win over Temple in Brooklyn. They had little time to celebrate that victory as two days later they were thumped badly by Villanova.

It was a season with plenty of highs and plenty of lows. But in the end, it was the third NCAA Tournament appearance in a row, a far cry from where the program was previous to those experiences. 

Now, we look ahead to what is to come and if a fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in a row is in the cards.

WILL JOK STAY OR GO?

Peter Jok has submitted the paperwork and declared for the NBA Draft. It makes sense with what the landscape is now. Prospects can declare and gain the experience of the process while still leaving the door cracked open for a possible return to school. It seems that is what the plan is with Jok, to get a taste of what it is like and return to Iowa. At this point, he's not considered to be in a comfortable spot in the NBA Draft.

However, if he gets invited to the combine and impresses enough to receive a boost in his stock to where he definitely gets drafted, he'll have a decision to make. Decisions like this aren't about if you're ready or not. They're a business decision on the best possible time to leave is which will be when the NBA Draft stock is highest. There's a possibility next year that he could get exposed with more tape on him. He'll be a marked man and receive all the attention from opposing defenses. He's the only proven, elite scorer that returns for the Hawkeyes. That's a stiff challenge. So will his stock be better after a season of that or now when he's showcased his natural scoring ability and efficient three-point shooting. If he gets optimistic feedback, it may be the time to test the waters for real. If not, he should stay. I think you'll see Jok wearing the black and gold for his senior season.

WHAT WENT RIGHT? WHAT WENT WRONG?

Everything that went right was the first 75 percent of the season. The offense was humming and virtually unstoppable. Everybody was getting open and knocking down shots. The turnovers were down. The field goal percentages were high. The bench was producing at a high level. The ball movement was superb. The defense was full of high energy and creating havoc and producing quick and easy baskets.

Then it stopped. Defenses responded by crowding the shooters and the percentages for Uthoff, Uhl, Clemmons, Gesell, and Baer plummeted. The only one that remained at a high clip was Jok and that wasn't nearly enough. They weren't as efficient when they had to put the ball on the deck. There was a lot of dribbling and little ball movement. They became stagnant offensively. The outside shot was taken away and Adam Woodbury wasn't an offensive minded player inside to take the pressure off of that. The defensive energy wasn't as effective. 

WILL THERE BE A FIFTH ADDITION?

It became news the past few days that UNLV de-commit Christian Vital, a three-star guard from Connecticut, had placed Iowa in his final five along with Marquette, Louisville, UConn, and Alabama. Before I jump into this too much, the Hawkeyes need a visit. It does make sense to add more depth in the backcourt. Jok may return. Brady Ellingson returns but was not effective in limited action. Isaiah Moss hasn't played. Andrew Fleming has played very little. Christian Williams got a little time and had some ups and downs. They could use another body to try to shoulder the load. However, he isn't a point guard. He's a 2 or 3 at the next level so he doesn't solve that issue.

Should Iowa be in a spot to add him, they would have to clear some space on the roster. They're at the limit right now and one would think Nicholas Baer gets the first available scholarship. So would Iowa need two new openings to add Vital? One would think. 

WHO STARTS?

This is all a preliminary guess as we are still a year away and there's a lot of questions. I think the certainties would be Ahmad Wagner, Dom Uhl, and Peter Jok. The other likelihood is Christian Williams as the point guard as he showed some promise down the stretch and head coach Fran McCaffery seems very high on his potential. The last spot will need to go to someone with size. Tyler Cook is a coveted prospect that joins the program soon and he may get the first shot. 

Bench spots would then be up for grabs and I imagine Brady Ellingson, Isaiah Moss, Nicholas Baer, and Jordan Bohannon will be in a spot to claim them. That leaves little size coming off the bench so Dom Uhl will have to play closer to the basket at some points in all likelihood.

WHAT ARE THEY MISSING? WHAT ARE THE BRIGHT SPOTS?

Iowa will be missing a true, proven point guard. But maybe Christian Williams becomes that at some point? Could Jordan Bohannon surprise? 

The Hawkeyes will be missing a true center but teams have won with a collaboration of guys. Look at Notre Dame. They played Zach Auguste and Bonzi Colson there and they're both under 6-10. Iowa will have to mirror that style by throwing out guys like Tyler Cook, Ahmad Wagner, and Dom Uhl. It's possible Cordell Pemsl or Ryan Kreiner could receive a little action for some depth in the frontcourt.

They won't have any proven scorers returning outside of Jok. Nobody that will play jumps out as a high-volume scorer. They'll have to get their production by committee and from a variety of guys next year, especially when Jok receives double-teams.

Bright spots? They'll definitely be more athletic. Gesell and Clemmons were pretty athletic but Moss and Williams have that too and more length. Uthoff and Woodbury were very good players and efficient but do not have the athleticism or quickness expected from Wagner and Cook. 

More bright spots? Versatility. They'll have a ton of guys that can play a variety of spots. They could give opponents problems with a bunch of different lineups because they'll be very athletic and be suited to play small quite a bit. That's a disadvantage in some cases but a plus at times, too.

Also, not many teams will be returning a scorer like Peter Jok. That's always going to be a plus. Instant scoring is hard to come by in college and Iowa will have a vessel to draw from for that.

WHAT IS THE CEILING? WHAT IS THE FLOOR?

I think the ceiling is a bubble team that could inch their way into the tournament but that's probably being as optimistic as you can be. There's a lot of athleticism and a lot of upside on next year's club but very little experience. They have a lot to learn. However, if it can come together quicker than expected, maybe they squeak in?

The floor? Probably scrapping the bottom barrel to make the NIT. I don't think it gets this bad but it's very possible if Jok gets taken away in most games (and teams will try to do that). If nobody else answers as a strong alternative scoring threat, there will be mass problems. Again, I don't think it will be nearly this grim and we're probably going to see something in the middle of these two possibilities.

FOURTH CONSECUTIVE NCAA TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE?

No. There's too much of a learning curve to be had. There's too many guys learning to play the brand of basketball Fran McCaffery wants. There's too many guys learning how to defend at this level. There's too many guys that will still be learning to play with one another. They have little size and they need more time to mold themselves into a unit that can overcome that deficiency. Point guard is important and I think they're a year or a year and a half away from figuring out that spot and it's tough to win games in college when you're not ready at that position. NIT team to me. 


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