It's no secret that the Iowa Hawkeyes lost a bunch of talent after the 2015-16 season. You lose a point guard in Mike Gesell who had been a constant for four straight seasons. You lose another point guard in Anthony Clemmons who turned into one of the best on-ball defenders in the entire Big Ten Conference. You lose a first team All Big Ten selection in Jarrod Uthoff. And you lost the grit and toughness that your 7'1" center, Adam Woodbury brought to that table.
That is a lot to replace.
Iowa does however get their lethal scorer back in Peter Jok. A guy who was highly touted out of West Des Moines Valley before injuring his knee. He was widely considered as one of the best high school players in the nation pre-knee injury and had major schools giving him a look. After his injury, most of the bigger schools kind of fell off the bandwagon, but Fran McCaffery stayed on it and brought Jok to campus. And last season we finally got a look at the kid who was so sought after in high school.
Jok averaged 16 points per game last season right behind Uthoff's 19. He scored more than 20 points in 11 of the 32 games he appeared in and nearly hit thirty on four separate occasions scoring 29 twice, 28, and 27. This year, he becomes the main guy on an inexperienced team.
He's the guy that is going to get game planned for in opposing locker rooms. He looked like he expanded the range a little in the teams exhibition game drilling one from near the tiger hawk. Jok could be relied upon to add a new wrinkle to his game this season as well. He's going to need to get to the basket more often. If he gets to the rim effectively it makes him extremely hard to stop because he then starts to hurt you from the free throw line. He shot 85% there last season.
Jok's supporting cast is going to determine how far this team goes. Junior Dom Uhl is going to be one of those guys. Uhl averaged 6 points a game last season, but faded down the stretch. Nicholas Baer, Christian Williams, Tyler Cook, and Jordan Bohannon are just a few others that Iowa will need to step up and help Jok out scoring the basketball. That didn't look to be an issue, but we'll learn more as the season wears on.
Fran McCaffery and his team are looking to make it four straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
At first glance and based off of preseason predictions, Iowa's schedule doesn't look all that tough. They have a few non-conference games that will be tough to handle, but the conference schedule could be very favorable. They'll play Seton Hall in the third game of the season, which will be a nice test for this Hawkeye bunch. The Pirates are one of the better teams in the Big East despite losing their talented point guard, Isaiah Whitehead.
They get Virginia down in Destin, FL in what would be the third round of the Emerald Coast Classic. The Cavaliers project to finish in the top half of the Atlantic Coast Conference and are being led by the experienced Tony Bennett and one of the better point guards in the nation, London Perrantes. They do have to replace last years ACC Player of the Year in Malcolm Brogdon, but Bennett hasn't had a problem replacing talented guys in the past. This will be a tough one for Iowa.
They get the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but they'll have to travel to South Bend to play this one. The Hawkeyes defeated the Irish back in the 2013-14 season by a score of 98-93 in what was a thrilling game to watch. Peter Jok is the only active Hawkeye to play in that game, he scored 3 points in the victory. This is going to be an entirely different squad that Mike Brey has, but his teams usually bring it. V.J. Beachem will be the key guy for the Irish this season coming off averaging 12 points per game a season ago.
Iowa State is the next tough contest on Iowa's schedule. This game shifts back to Iowa City after the Hawkeyes blew a gigantic lead in Ames last season. The Cyclones are projected in the top half of the Big 12 now that they've got their star point guard, Monte Morris back. They also bring back key pieces like Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas, and Deonte Burton. This game, as it usually is, should be a dogfight until the end.
Everyone thought that UNI would have a heck of a time replacing Seth Tuttle a few seasons ago. Well, Wes Washpun stepped up and led the Panthers back to the NCAA Tournament with some help from his friends. This year it's going to be Jeremy Morgan that Ben Jacobsen turns to. Morgan, the Iowa City West product, will be the teams leading scorer from a season ago at 11 points per game. He'll look to Klint Carlson, Bennett Koch, and Wyatt Lohaus (another Iowa City product) to help him out and get this team back to the NCAA Tournament. You can bet the Panthers will give the Hawkeyes all they can handle in Des Moines.
Looking at Iowa's conference schedule, things appear as if they could be a lot more difficult. They'll have a big test right off the bat when they visit Purdue for the first conference game of the season. They'll play the Boilers two times within the first five games of conference play. They'll have to deal with Isaac Hass, the 7'2" big man the Boilers have, along with Caleb Swanigan and Vicent Edwards. The Boilers are one team that will give Iowa problems with their height and length. If they can steal one of these games from the Boilers, it will go a long way in terms of confidence and in the conference standings.
The Hawkeyes will visit East Lansing on February 11th in what could be their toughest game of the year depending on how Michigan State's young talent performs. The Spartans brought in a host of talented players to replace the likes of Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes. If Tom Izzo doesn't have Ben Carter, the UNLV transfer, or Gavin Schilling back in that time, they'll be playing rather small. However, their talent could outweigh the fact that they aren't very big. Miles Bridges is one of the better freshman in the country this season, so he'll be the guy to look for.
They'll play at Wisconsin in the second to last game of the year in what is their only contest with the talented Badgers. This game couldn't come at a more perfect time for the Hawkeyes. Their young talent will have had enough time to get acclimated to the Big Ten grind and could make the Badgers sweat a bit at the Kohl Center. I still believe the Badgers will come out victorious, but the fact that the Hawkeyes only have to play the Badgers once plays into their favor.
They also get Indiana just once and it's at home in the middle of February. The Hoosiers are another top team that will be led by big man Thomas Bryant and talented forward OG Anunoby. The Hoosiers beat the Hawkeyes last year inside Carver Hawkeye Arena so Iowa will without a doubt be out for revenge on Tom Crean's team. Yet another Big Ten power that the Hawkeyes only have to play once.
Finally, they'll play Michigan just once and it's at home as well. The Wolverines lack a true big man, but will be driven by talented guards and forwards. Derrick Walton Jr. will have the keys to the car for John Beilein, but will have guys like Zac Irvin, Duncan Robinson, and Muhammed Ali Abdur-Rahkman helping him out. If Michigan can get consistent play from their big guys, they could have a significant impact on this conference race. Their guards will show up, but will their big men?
Overall, I'd say Iowa got away pretty easy in terms of Big Ten scheduling. They get Nebraska, Minnesota, and Rutgers all twice and, in my opinion, those are teams bottom feeding going into the season. If the Hawkeyes can defeat one of these upper-tier teams and take care of business against teams less talented than them, they could do very well for themselves inside the conference.
This Iowa team is going to be a mystery throughout the first couple of weeks. Right now, if I had to venture a guess, I'd say they waver right in between 18-20 wins in the regular season. There were a few games that I felt could go either way, but that's where I see them finishing. This leaves them sitting on the outside looking in in terms of the NCAA Tournament, unless they go on a tear in the Big Ten tournament, but we all know how those usually go recently.
I see Iowa playing in the NIT at the end of this year and definitely making some noise. I wouldn't be shocked to see a return to Madison Square Garden to play in the semifinals and possibly the finals.null