It is no secret that this past season for Iowa basketball was a huge disappointment. A season that began with NCAA Tournament aspirations ended on March 1 with a 14-19 record and a 4-14 Big Ten record, which tied the worst mark in school history.
After the season, Tyler Cook declared for the NBA draft (but did not hire an agent). Brady Ellingson and Ahmad Wagner both left the program with one year of eligibility remaining.
Ellingson and Wagner were both rotational players that were being buried on the depth chart, so both of those departures made sense. However, Cook declaring for the draft was perhaps a bit surprising. On paper, it also looks like a severe blow to Iowa.
However, losing a key player is not always as bad as it seems. Assuming Cook remains in the draft, it is still reasonable to think that Iowa will have a much improved season in 2018-19.
More positional balance
Last season Iowa struggled with a lack of versatility on its depth chart. There was a logjam in the frontcourt. Luka Garza, Tyler Cook, Ahmad Wagner, Cordell Pemsl, Ryan Kriener and Jack Nunge all were part of the rotation last year. All of those players are best at the power forward or center position. It led to some odd lineups that saw Ahmad Wagner and Jack Nunge play a lot at the small forward position. Meanwhile other players like Ahmad Wagner and Cordell Pemsl saw their minutes decrease as Fran McCaffery tried to fit everybody into the rotation.
Should Cook remain in the NBA draft, it will mean that there should be a better rotation in the frontcourt. Cordell Pemsl showed in his freshman season that he can be a productive player with consistent minutes. It seemed as though Ryan Kriener made a positive impact every time he was in the game last season.
With Cook and Wagner gone, it means more minutes for players like Kriener, Pemsl and Nunge. Together, they should be able to make up for the 15 points and 7 rebounds lost with Cook leaving.
Additionally, Iowa will have two guards coming in next season (three if you include Connor McCaffery, who was limited to just three games this past season). Joe Wieskamp set all kinds of records at Muscatine high school and C.J. Fredrick led his school to a state championship in Kentucky.
If those three can come in and make an impact, Iowa will have depth, but unlike last year, it will have depth at all positions, not just with the big men.
One constant throughout the tenure of Fran McCaffery is that typically one player from each recruiting class takes a massive and unexpected performance leap. Two prime examples are Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok. After struggling in his first season at Iowa, Jarrod Uthoff went from a bench player that averaged 7.5 points per game into a first-team All-Big Ten performer as a senior. Uthoff averaged 18.9 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, and 2.6 blocks per game in 2015-16.
Peter Jok struggled his first two seasons in Iowa City, averaging 4.4 ppg and 7 ppg, respectively, in his firs first two seasons while shooting under 36% from the field in his sophomore season. Suddenly, in his junior year Jok was a different player. In his final two seasons, he averaged 16.1 and 19.9 points per game, respectively in his last two seasons, while also shooting a much higher percentage.
There are two players currently on the Iowa roster that fans should expect to make that leap next year. Jack Nunge and Isaiah Moss are primed for breakout seasons.
Nunge struggled in his freshman season, he did not get consistent minutes and was not terribly effective when he did get into the game. He reminded me of Uthoff in his sophomore season. It was clear that Nunge has the potential to be a good player, but he wasn’t quite strong enough to play in the Big Ten.
Moss is very similar to Peter Jok. Both are about the same size (Jok 6’6″ 200, Moss 6’5″ 205), and have similar games. Jok was a better shooter than Moss, but Moss is a better ball handler. Moss has shown signs in his first two seasons that he can be a really good player, but it is all about becoming more consistent. Jok took his big leap between his sophomore and junior season and I believe Isaiah Moss will do the same.
Even players like Luka Garza and Jordan Bohannon, who had productive years in 2017-18 should come back even better next year.
Despite the loss of its best all-around player and the departure of two more bench players, there is still room for optimism with regards to the 2018-19 Iowa basketball team. Iowa still returns a majority of its roster, a roster that was one of the youngest in all of college basketball last season. That, combined with the addition of two players that should be key contributors and Iowa has the potential for an improved 2018-19 season.