IOWA CITY – At long last, autumn weather has come over eastern Iowa, and it brings along a new season of Hawkeye hoops.
Iowa Men’s Basketball kicks off its preseason, if you will, on Friday with an exhibition matchup against William Jewell College inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Heightened expectations accompany the Hawkeyes this season. Most “experts” outside Iowa City project the team to be middle of the pack in the Big Ten. Those closer to the players would not be surprised to see Iowa contend for the regular season title.
If the Hawkeyes want to contend, they’ll have to do it as a team. Selfless play and depth will lead the Hawkeyes to their ultimate destination, and it all starts with the ball handlers and the facilitators. If they go, the team will follow.
Here’s a quick glace at the Hawkeye guards and what to expect of them all season long, including Friday at 7:00pm.
The youngest of four brothers with Division I basketball experience, and the first to don the black and gold, Jordan Bohannon has a chance to become a nationally recognized star in 2017-2018.
Last season as a freshman, Bohannon started the final 28 games of the season at point guard, and he left his mark all over the record books. Bohannon set the program’s freshman single-season records for three-pointers (89) assists (175), and most three pointers in a game (8, at Maryland). He is one of just two freshmen nationally in the past 25 years to register 175+ assists and 85+ three-pointers in a season.
An All-Big Ten Freshman Team honoree from last season, Bohannon was named to the Bob Cousy Award watch list prior to the season. The award is given annually to the best point guard in college basketball. For a true sophomore at the helm of an NIT team a season ago, that’s a prestigious recognition.
What to expect from Bohannon in 2017-18? Nothing short of excellence. With a year under his belt, Bohannon is only going to be better with his decision-making and game managing. As long as JBo is on his game, the Hawkeyes will be just fine.
At the end of 2015-16, Williams had worked his way into a 10th-man role, subbing in for the likes of Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons. The future point guard, it appeared, was taking form.
Six starts were all he got in 2016-17 before Bohannon, the talented freshman, took over and never looked back. While he was disappointed, Williams took to his role as a backup and found news ways to help the Hawkeye program.
Despite reduced minutes, Williams came on strong in the latter half of last season. His offense never quite got going, but he impacted the game in other ways. He dished out 53 assists off the bench, the fourth most on the team, and brought down 53 rebounds.
His biggest impact was on the defensive side. While he notched 26 steals off the bench, his effect on the games spanned far beyond steals. Shutting down another team’s point guard became Williams’ way of helping Iowa hold onto leads, and his long 6’5 wingspan caused them fits.
As the season went along, his decision-making as a point guard improved. In his best two performances of the season, home games against Indiana and Penn State, he had zero turnovers in extended minutes on the floor.
As a backup point guard, Williams is certainly not the offensive threat that Bohannon is, but if he stays within himself and does the dirty work, C-Dub will be a valuable piece to the Hawkeyes’ success.
How do the Hawkeyes replace Peter Jok? Quite simply, they probably can’t. Jok was one of the best shooters and scorers in Iowa history, and you cannot expect to have a “new Pete” just waiting in the locker room.
The closest thing the Hawkeye have is likely redshirt sophomore Isaiah Moss. A regular starter in 2017-18, Moss showed glimpses of being a dynamic playmaker that the team could turn to.
Moss scored a career-high 21 points versus Stetson early last season. He also netted 16 against North Dakota in the NIT, and had 17 and 19 in road Big Ten games at Nebraska and Minnesota.
As much as he showed up, Moss also went missing his fair share in 2016-17.
After becoming a starter against Notre Dame, Moss scored two or fewer points 11 times during the season. On occasion, Moss would start a game and play fewer than 10 minutes as he gave way to others such as Nicholas Baer or Brady Ellingson.
While remaining consistently inconsistent, Moss has shown flashes of excellence. He does not lack quickness, as he has the ability to create his own shot. He can shoot from deep or drive the ball into the paint. The only thing holding him back seems to be confidence.
If Moss misses his first few shots, that’s usually when we see Fran McCaffery search for other options. If Moss is making his shots, he’ll continue chucking. So long as confidence is up with Moss, he should find rhythms and put the team on his back, much like how Jok did last season.
Lack of confidence affects more than just Moss.
Perhaps the guy with the best looking shot on the team is Brady Ellingson, but he too gets timid with the trigger. Last season, Ellingson was 47.1% from three-point range. The problem? He attempted just 68 long balls.
It’s no secret the Ellingson’s primary role on the floor to launch. He’s a shooting guard, and a great one at that. His proudest moment of last season was at home against Ohio State when the Hawkeyes were without Peter Jok.
Ellingson stepped up and went 5-of-7 from behind the arc on his way to a game-high 17-point performance. He also pulled down four rebounds and dished out three assists.
The redshirt junior does more than shoot. When foul trouble is an issue, he can move over and play point guard for short spurts. He is a great example of staying within oneself and not doing too much. In 68 career games played, he has just 26 turnovers.
Ellingson is a great shooter. He just needs confidence and to remember one thing: shooters shoot.
What can be said about Nicholas Baer that hasn’t already been said?
The most likeable Iowa hoops player since Chris Street can absolutely do it all. The former walk-on and reigning Sixth Man of the Year in the Big Ten might just be the best all-around player on the team. It might be a bold statement to make about a guy that comes off the bench, but not so much when you look at the numbers.
Last year, Baer was the only player in Division I and the only Big Ten player in the last 25 seasons to record 250+ points, 45+ steals, 45+ three-pointers, and 40+ blocked shots in a season. Baer posted three double-doubles, including one in the NIT matchup with TCU (15 points, 10 rebounds).
Baer is a special player whose hustle is unrivaled. Looking for a chance to play Division I, Baer came to Iowa as walk-on and more than earned a scholarship. Now, entering his third season, the high school center is officially listed as a forward, but can also be thought of as a shooting guard.
“Multi-tool player” doesn’t quite do Baer justice.
Baer likely won’t lead the Hawkeyes in many statistical categories. He’s not just a three-point shooter. He’s not just a rebounder. He’s not just a shot blocker. He’s all of these things, and he does everything on the court exceptionally well.
McCaffery has said time and time again that Baer deserves to be a starter, but nobody brings energy off the bench like Baer. That’s probably where he’ll stay, and no one is going to complain about that.
If anyone had legitimate reason to consider transferring last season, it was Maishe Dailey.
Stuck on the depth chart behind other young talent like Bohannon, Dailey only found his way into 12 games in 2016-17. With excellent recruiting classes coming in, many players in his shoes may have gone looking for playing time elsewhere.
Instead, Dailey is returning to Iowa for his sophomore season and taking the challenge head on. The lengthy, left-handed guard showed flashes of athleticism in his brief time on the floor, but also showed he was not quite ready for Big Ten competition.
Dailey had career-highs with eight points and seven rebounds against Delaware State last season. He playing in just five Big Ten games, totaling just six points and two assists.
Without Jok, Dailey now has one fewer guard in front of him on the depth chart he has to battle with for playing time. Whether or not he finds a way to the floor is yet to be determined, but applaud the young man for taking a shot at it. He has potential, but will he get a chance to showcase it?
Stay tuned for our post player preview coming in the next day or two!