Transition is often a dirty word in college basketball. No team ever wants to think it’s going into a transitional season with no real hope of success. Even if coaches, fans and players know that transitional years are a reality, it’s something nobody likes to experience.
Unfortunately for Iowa, the team appears headed for one of those dreaded transitional years. With such a massive exodus of talent, it’s hard to be too optimistic for this season. Not only are the Hawkeyes losing four starters, but that group also includes Jarrod Uthoff, who was one of the best players in the country last season.
One area of Iowa’s roster that’s expected to be hit particularly hard by offseason attrition is the backcourt. With Anthony Clemmons and Mike Gesell both gone, Iowa will have to find new starters this fall. It will be a massive challenge; here’s a look at how things could shake out.
As mentioned, with Clemmons and Gesell both departing, there are two open positions in the backcourt for Iowa to replace. That’s challenging in itself, but Iowa also doesn’t have any players that clearly project into the starting lineup. This is a group with a lot of options, but few known commodities.
Despite these questions, the two players that likely will take the starting roles are Christian Williams and Peter Jok. While Jok is certainly a known (and excellent) player, he will likely be moved to the backcourt more out of necessity than fit. Even though he probably is more of a natural three in Iowa’s offense, he will probably have to play in the backcourt due to the lack of experience elsewhere on the roster.
Williams played only 7.7 percent of the team’s minutes last year and (unsurprisingly) posted very limited stats as a result. His season highs (in a single game) were 14 minutes, five points, and three rebounds. As a recruit, he was unranked by 247Sports and his offer sheet was largely from MAC schools. Fran McCaffery hopes that Williams will defy those ratings and stats this season.
Alongside Williams is Jok, who should become Iowa’s best player this season. He was an absolute machine last season for the Hawkeyes, averaging an impressive 16.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game. He also had a 113.9 offensive rating and shot 40.2 percent from three-point range. This probably isn’t his best positional fit, but with the lack of quality options behind Jok at shooting guard, this is the best spot in the lineup for him.
Iowa does have some intriguing options behind Williams and Jok. It’s a young group, but among Jordan Bohannon, Maishe Dailey, Brady Ellingson, and Isaiah Moss, it’s hard to imagine the Hawkeyes won’t fit at least one or two decent bench options into their rotation.
At point guard, Bohannon figures to be the primary backup option. He’s an in-state player who was rated a three-star prospect out of high school. Maishe Dailey is also diverse enough in his range of skills that he could get some minutes. Expect McCaffery to go with the hot hand between these two on a nightly basis.
Behind Jok figures to be a combination of Dailey, Ellingson and Moss. Both Ellingson and Moss have some experience with the team, but neither has done much. Dailey comes in as an underwhelming three-star recruit, but could be a factor if Ellingson and Moss can’t improve significantly.
Depending how prepared the freshmen are to make an impact this fall, Iowa’s backcourt bench could be pretty volatile this season. There are enough bodies to think that at least one or two could emerge, but considering there aren’t any established options, there’s no telling what this group could offer.
It’s never easy for a team to overcome the loss of two starters in one positional group. Even if fans weren’t blown away by Clemmons and Gesell, both contributed extensively during their Iowa careers and won’t be easy to replace. This is especially true given the team’s inexperience returning in the backcourt.
Jok will simplify the offense with his diverse skill set and offensive firepower, but Iowa’s backcourt will ultimately be shaped by the growth of Williams and Ellingson. If those two (and others) can transition from shaky underclassmen into respectable starters and backups, the Hawkeyes should improve.
The good news is that with Jok and a large number of players alongside him, this should be at least a decent group. Quantity can offset questions about quality to some degree. Given McCaffery’s coaching victories over the last few years, it’s probably a bad idea to underestimate what the Hawkeyes can accomplish this season… even if they face an enormous amount of questions.