• Travis Thornburgh

Early Season Success & Life Without Jordan Bohannon

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Eleven games into the season, the Iowa Hawkeyes sit with a record of 8-3 and have split 2 Big Ten games. In a season where many advised fans to temper expectations, how should Iowa fans feel about this early season record?

What I Expected

Through 11 games this season, I expected Iowa to be at 6-5 with a few shining moments and just as many "teaching moments" for an inexperienced team. This season was always going to be about how Iowa replaced nearly 41% of scoring from a year ago with the departures of Tyler Cook, Isaiah Moss, Nicholas Baer, and Maishe Dailey. There were going to be growing pains, but I expected them to start getting their feet under them by this point in the season. Below is what I expected out of Iowa's first 11:

11/8 - SIU-Edwardsville (Win)

11/11 - DePaul (Win)

11/15 - Oral Roberts (Win)

11/21 - North Florida (Win)

11/24 - Cal Poly (Win)

11/28 - Texas Tech, Las Vegas Invitational (Loss)

11/29 - San Diego State/Creighton, Las Vegas Invitational (Loss)

12/3 - Syracuse (Loss)

12/6 - @ Michigan (Loss)

12/9 - Minnesota (Win)

12/12 - @ Iowa State (Loss)

What We've Seen

11/8 - SIU-Edwardsville (Win)

11/11 - DePaul (Loss)

11/15 - Oral Roberts (Win)

11/21 - North Florida (Win)

11/24 - Cal Poly (Win)

11/28 - Texas Tech, Las Vegas Invitational (Win)

11/29 - San Diego State, Las Vegas Invitational (Loss)

12/3 - Syracuse (Win)

12/6 - @ Michigan (Loss)

12/9 - Minnesota (Win)

12/12 - @ Iowa State (Win)

This Iowa basketball team has out performed every expectation that I had for them, with the exception of the DePaul blowout. The newcomers for Iowa, namely Joe Toussaint and C.J. Fredrick, have been impressive, and well ahead of what Iowa fans expected. Luka Garza has taken his game to a new level this year, and is playing like an All-American. Even with the recent announcement of Jordan' Bohannon's season ending, Iowa fans should feel really good about this team.

The 2019 Hawkeyes have looked better on defense, with the bench of Toussaint, Bakari Evelyn, Cordell Pemsl, and Ryan Kriener, providing a variety of options on the defensive end. The stats don't show it yet, but this team certainly feels like one of the better defensive squads of the last 5 years. Iowa has played a much higher percentage of man-to-man defense this year, and have the personnel to do so effectively. With the bulk of the Big Ten schedule looming, Iowa's ability to play man against above average shooting teams could play a huge role in how this season ends up.

As always, Fran McCaffery has this team playing exceptional offensive baseketball. Ken Pomeroy (KenPom) has Iowa as the second most efficient offense in America, fueled by growth from a number of players. Connor McCaffery has become a much better shooter, both in confidence and execution, and has showcased a fadeaway jump shot that is basically unblockable. Luka Garza has been outstanding, forcing defenses to focus on him first, then find ways of stopping Iowa shooters. Joe Wieskamp, although inconsistently, has shown flashes of being able to score off the bounce and has continued his efficient shooting from a year ago.

If Iowa continues to grow and ultimately turns out to be an NCAA Tournament team, the DePaul game is likely to be the point in the season you can look back and circle as a turning point for this team. In a lot of ways, it was a good thing that the Blue Demons blitzed Iowa that night in November. It was an eye opening experience for the young guys, and was a gut-check type moment for a team that was looking to find its identity. It would have been really easy for Iowa to let that game be a season defining moment and let one bad night turn into 4 or 5, but they didn’t. This team has shown a ton of intestinal fortitude early in the season, and hasn’t flinched in the face of one of the toughest non-conference schedules of the McCaffery Era, including weathering multiple second half runs by Iowa State to exit Hilton with their first win in Ames since 2003. Heart and mental toughness could carry them a long way this year.

Looking Ahead

With the announcement of another hip surgery for Jordan Bohannon this week, the outlook for this season takes a hit, but is certainly not hopeless. Fran McCaffery will have to get more out of his bench than he probably anticipated needing this year, but he has enough talent on that bench to continue to compete night in, night out in a loaded Big Ten.

Despite Bohannon being a huge part of what Iowa has done over the last 3+ years, I am more comfortable right now with Bohannon taking that redshirt and the team not missing a beat than I was entering the season.

Connor McCaffery has grown from year 1 to year 2 and has proven to be a solid collegiate point guard. He will be tested, as with the insertion of Joe Toussaint into the starting lineup, he will be asked to be the second big man when Iowa goes smaller. Connor's presence in the middle could be a huge value, especially against zone defenses, as a great passer in the high post can torment even the best zone defenses.

Luka Garza has made huge strides both offensively and defensively this year. He has been a leader on the court, and has been one of the main cogs in driving the toughness and grit of this team. Garza's willingness to layout for 50/50 plays and willingness to put his body, in particular his face, on the line has been inspiring to watch. This vast improvement both mentally and physically has helped keep attention off Joe Wieskamp.

Wieskamp is more than capable of shouldering a portion of the shooting load vacated by Bohannon's absence. Joe has improved in his ability to create offense off the bounce and unlike most premier shooters in college basketball, is solid on the defensive end of the floor. Wieskamp will need to take that next step as a play-maker for Iowa to continue a successful early season.

Both C.J. Fredrick and Joe Toussaint offer skills that could help to replace a portion of the scoring that Bohannon leaves behind. Fredrick has proved to be a solid and consistent shooter, while Toussaint has shown an explosiveness driving to the hoop that Iowa has often lacked under McCaffery.

Ryan Kriener and Cordell Pemsl will need to continue to supply relief minutes and energy down low when Luka Garza needs a break, and Bakari Evelyn will be asked to contribute more on the offensive end than he has during the early going. Each player will need to fill their role, and a once deep team will be dependent on each of its players in a much thinner rotation.

A Bohannon-less Iowa team would need to create their own shot a little bit more, as they won’t have Jordan on the wing to influence the defense. Iowa will be much less veteran than Fran McCaffery would like, but the talent is there to find success even without their senior leader. Iowa has proven they can be a tournament team, but the margin of error for this team is now much tighter without their elite senior shooter. I see Iowa at 19-20 wins without Bohannon, which with the strength of the Big Ten this year, should be enough to get them into the tournament as a double-digit seed. I saw Iowa as a 23-21 win team with Bohannon and in the 7-9 seed range.

Whether they make the NCAA tournament or not, this team will be incredibly fun to watch. There has been a different energy level to this season and they have shown a stronger commitment to the defensive end of the floor, coming up with more than their fair share of the 50/50 plays. This team is talented enough that they could jump up and beat one of the top dogs in the Big Ten, but they are also inexperienced enough that they could get beat by any team on their remaining schedule. Ultimately, there is more hope for this season than many Iowa fans anticipated heading into the season, and that will make this winter much more enjoyable.

Iowa will travel to Chicago this Saturday (12/21) for a rematch of last year's first round NCAA Tournament against the Cincinnati Bearcats. The Bearcats currently sit at 7-4 on the season after a victory over No. 21 Tennessee in their last game. The game will tip at 8:00 P.M. Central Time and be broadcast on BTN.

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As always, On Iowa! and Go Hawks!


About Travis

A lifelong Hawkeye fan and a 2017 graduate of the University of Iowa in Civil Engineering, Travis now calls Des Moines, Iowa home and continues to passionately follow University of Iowa athletics

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