Iowa Basketball: 2019 Season In Review and A Look Ahead
It's been a while, and for that I apologize. I wanted to take some time to digest how the season ended for the Iowa Basketball teams, both men's and women's, and get a good feel for how the teams will look moving forward. With everything that has happened, it will be a fun offseason to speculate and look forward to next November.
A Year for the Record Book
I wanted to begin this post with one of the great stories in college athletics this year: Megan Gustafson and the 2018-19 Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball team.
Gustafson's story has been well chronicled. A young women from Port Wing, Wisconsin, a town of 164 people according to the 2010 census, who went on to become one of the most prolific scorers in Big Ten history and the all-time leading scorer in Iowa basetball history, both men's and women's. A young women who set social media on fire with videos of young kids doing the Mikan drill in their driveways because the wanted "to be like Megan." A young women who tied the NCAA record for double-doubles in a season, all while being the focus of every team's gameplan and drawing double and triple teams all year. Most importantly, Megan Gustafson is a young women who made Iowa fans proud, in the way she worked towards victory and in the way she handled her final collegiate defeat.
Behind the leadership of the Naismith Player of the Year (Megan Gustafson) and the Naismith Coach of the Year (Lisa Bluder), the Iowa women's basketball team put together one of the most successful seasons in program history, compiling a 24-6 regular season record, capturing the Big Ten tournament championship and advancing to the program's 4th ever Elite Eight, where they fell to eventual national champions Baylor by a score 85-53.
More impressive to me than the outstanding record, all the incredible statistics, and the immense success that this team enjoyed, was how they did it. I have been an avid sports fan for as long as I can remember, and I never seen a team this successful have so much fun. Each night, you could tell this team wanted to win, but they wanted to have fun while they were doing it and win for each other. I will remember this season for all the success, but I will also remember it for the joy that watching this group of athletes brought not only Iowa fans, but basketball fans across the country. Congratulations to Bluder's Bunch, and thank you for being so darn fun to watch!
A Step in the Right Direction
This portion of this post is the one that has had me stumped since it happened. What do I make of the 2018-19 men's basketball season? There were the highest of highs, thoroughly dominating a really good Michigan team at home and winning the Empire 2K Classic, and the lowest of lows, looking completely hapless against Ohio State and Wisconsin late in the year, but how should I feel as an Iowa fan after this roller coaster of a season? I have settled on pretty optimistic and satisfied with the result.
Although this team stumbled late to a fairly disappointing 21-10 regular season, there was marked improvement from a team that only won 14 games the previous year and they have a ton of talented players that need to develop consistency. I think if I were to describe this season in one game, I would point to the final game of the season, a loss in overtime to the Tennessee Volunteers in the Round of 32. The first half was bad, with Iowa trailing by as many as 25 and heading into the locker room down 21. Iowa looked like they were going to be beat by 60 and it was frankly one of the worst halves of basketball that I can remember an Iowa team ever playing. The second half was a masterpiece. Although it wasn't perfect, the Hawks looked in sync. They were playing intelligent team basketball. They were finding the open man, hitting shots, and working their butts off to clean up the glass on misses. In stark contrast to the first half, it was one of the single greatest halves I have ever seen an Iowa team play. Had Iowa made one more free throw down the stretch, or trailed by only 19 instead of 21 at halftime, they likely would have beaten a very good Tennessee team.
And when you boil it all down, that game is what this season was. A wildly talented team, that consistently played pretty well, but could go into some really bad funks. I think I am optimistic for the simple fact that this team is one year older, and I think that could be huge from a consistency perspective. Luka Garza will get another summer to get stronger. Joe Wieskamp, if he returns (which I expect him to), will have another summer to develop into a potentially elite scorer in the Big Ten. Isaiah Moss gets another opportunity to develop even more consistency as a scorer and a contributor on both ends of the floor. And I think a huge key in the next year, Connor McCaffery gets a chance to develop more confidence as a shooter and become a consistent scoring threat, that could put this team on another level. Combine that with the additions of Patrick McCaffery and Joe Toussaint, who I have heard could be a dynamic point guard in the Big Ten, and I think the outlook for next year is very good. I think the ceiling for this team will become clearer when the NBA Draft process is over, so I will hold off on bold predictions for now, but the future looks bright!
Another thing that delayed me writing this post, was that I felt there were going to be a number of departures from the men's team that shaped how I felt moving forward and my hunch was correct.
On March 28, it was announced that Maishe Dailey would transfer from the Iowa program. Unfortunately, I had a feeling that this was coming throughout the season. With Fran McCaffery's offensive minded philosophy and a number of highly rated guard recruits joining the fray, Maishe seemed to be the odd man out. Dailey's departure is unfortunate because he was an above average defender who really helped to steady Iowa's defense this year on a number of occasions. He just wasn't getting enough playing time to develop as a consistent scoring threat. Dailey has announced that he is transferring closer to home to play for the Akron Zips and I truly believe he will find success in consistent playing time. In watching him at Iowa, I think he is a rhythm shooter and as this past season wore on, he seemed to be gaining a little bit more confidence in his shot. I hope he does well and I foresee him finding success at Akron.
On April 12, The University of Iowa announced that Tyler Cook would enter the NBA Draft and at this point it seems like he has every intention of completing the process and staying in the draft. I have never been of the mindset that this Iowa team would have been better without Tyler Cook and I do subscribe to the idea that there will be an adjustment period following his departure. Cook was an out of this world athlete and had the ability to take over a game for 4-5 minute stretches. I think Iowa's comeback against Tennessee was due in large part to Tyler Cook's leadership and his desire to keep playing, which can be difficult to replace. Without Cook, Iowa needs Luka Garza to take the next step and become that calming and dominating presence inside that Cook and Nicholas Baer have been over the past three seasons.
I think both of the departures above solve a problem that would have come to realization if the only person lost off this team was Nicholas Baer. As I mentioned before, Iowa is adding a forward in Patrick McCaffery and a point guard in Joe Toussaint, but they will also return forwards Jack Nunge and hopefully Cordell Pemsl from redshirt this year. WIth the departures of Cook and Dailey, Fran McCaffery now only has to figure out how to find playing time for one additional player in the rotation instead of 2 or 3. All of this is assuming that Joe Wieskamp returns for his sophomore season, which I believe he will.
A departure that I didn't see coming was the announcement that assistant coach Andrew Francis will be leaving the program. This will be the first coaching change that has occurred since Fran McCaffery took over the program nine seasons ago, and could present a blessing in disguise for the team. Sometimes the injection of new perspective can take a pretty good team to that next level of being a great team. In Francis' replacement, I think should be looking for one of two things (or a combination of the two). The first thing would be a defensively minded coach. It has been well documented the struggles Iowa has had on the defensive end in recent years. Hiring a coach who specializes in defense could help an Iowa team with a ton of potential maximize their ceiling in the years to come. I think the other area of concern that could be addressed with this hire is guard play. At times this year, Iowa's inability to create offense using the dribble drive really held them back and made passing into the post and to shooters difficult. I think those are the two areas that I would like to see the new assistant coach address.
Moving Forward: Offseason
Throughout the summer, I plan to continue posting about various news items that occur around the University of Iowa athletics department, and I may do some highlight pieces on baseball, softball or other teams that are performing particularly well during the months between now and football season. I also plan to begin a new series on this site called "Historic Hawkeyes" and that series will start with an unexpected Hawkeye, so stay tuned for that.
As always, I appreciate your readership and I look forward to experiencing football through a new lens this year. If you liked what you read, please like and share it with your friends. I would really appreciate that. If you haven't already, follow From the Corner of Kinnick on social media below and subscribe to our mailing list so you don't miss a post!
Thank you again for letting me learn along the way during the basketball season and I look forward to football. On Iowa! and Go Hawks!
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