Experienced Hawkeyes know D will lead the way in ’18-19
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa will be one of the most experienced teams in America this winter as it brings back its top nine scorers from a year ago.
That won’t matter much if the Hawkeyes play defense as poorly as they did a year ago.
Iowa (14-19 in 2017-18) couldn’t stop anybody last season, and that led to by far the most disappointing finish under coach Fran McCaffery. The Hawkeyes went just 4-14 in the Big Ten after allowing a staggering 78.7 points per game. Iowa was picked 10th in the preseason media poll, a sign that the outside world is taking a wait and see approach to the Hawkeyes.
“I hope it was very humbling. That’s the plan. I mean, couldn’t be satisfied with it, anybody,” McCaffery said about last season. “The critical thing is to take ownership of it and recognize that change has to be made to a man.”
The Hawkeyes will add a couple of key pieces in four-star freshman wing Joe Wieskamp and point guard Connor McCaffery, who battled a myriad of maladies a year ago. Junior Tyler Cook is also back to lead a deep and talented frontcourt, though ascending sophomore center Luka Garza’s status is uncertain after offseason surgery to remove a cyst attached to his spleen.
Iowa opens the season Nov. 8 against UMKC.
The 6-foot-9 Cook, Iowa’s best player, flirted with going pro after leading the Hawkeyes in scoring (15.3), rebounding (6.8) and field goal percentage (.566) in 2017-18. Cook could end his Iowa career in the top 10 in all of those categories, but his legacy will be defined by whether or not he can lead the Hawkeyes back to the NCAA Tournament.
“We just need Tyler Cook to do what he’s always done, but maybe be a little bit better,” Fran McCaffery said.
WHAT ABOUT WIESKAMP?
Wieskamp (pronounced WEEZ-kamp) was the most highly-touted Iowa prospect to end up with the Hawkeyes in at least a decade. Wieskamp scored 2,376 points for Muscatine High, just south of Iowa City, and was a two-time state player of the year. He will likely start at small forward from day one and give the Hawkeyes an outside shooter who can also attack the rim. Fran McCaffery also mentioned Wieskamp when asked about his top defenders, which is either encouraging or terrifying for the Hawkeyes considering how things went on that side of the ball a year ago.
GETTING BACK GARZA
The 6-foot-11 Garza said on media day that his goal was to be ready for the opener. But whenever he returns, Garza will be one of the more intriguing young big men in America. Garza scored 12.1 points with 6.4 rebounds a game while adding 32 blocks and 16 3s a year ago. Garza shot 34.8 percent beyond the arc a year ago, and while that’s not a great number its high enough that opponents have to respect Garza on the perimeter, freeing up space for his teammates.
Iowa might have been the rare program that could have actually benefited from losing more players in the offseason. The arrival of Wieskamp might mean less playing time for junior wings Isaiah Moss and Maishe Dailey, and the emergence of Garza and fellow sophomore Jack Nunge has pushed junior forwards Cordell Pemsl and Ryan Kriener to the background. Fran McCaffery will be charged with keeping a roster packed with upperclassmen that might not play a whole lot happy.
Iowa has enough talent to compete for an upper-division finish in the Big Ten and an NCAA Tournament berth, and scoring won’t be an issue. The Hawkeyes’ season will almost certainly come down to whether they can defend night in and night out.