2022-23 ITH Season Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes
With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll look at the conference at large and Indiana’s roster over the next month.
Today, our team previews continue with Iowa.
Iowa was expected to take a significant step back last season following the departures of Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp.
That didn’t happen, though, as Keegan Murray delivered an All-American season and the Hawkeyes won the Big Ten tournament.
Fran McCaffery will again be challenged to replace a Big Ten player of the year candidate. Murray was a lottery pick in June’s NBA draft. And the Hawkeyes will also have to come up with a solution at point guard as Joe Touissant transferred to West Virginia and Jordan Bohannon graduated. Touissant was a rugged guard with experience while Bohannon was a threat from anywhere on the perimeter.
Despite those questions, Iowa has the pieces for yet another NCAA tournament appearance in McCaffery’s 13th season in Iowa City.
Kris Murray is a clear breakout candidate as a junior. The 6-foot-8 wing may have been drafted last June, but instead opted to return for a third season. The lefty averaged 9.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and shot close to 48 percent last season in 17.9 minutes per game. Murray’s role will grow substantially this winter and will be Iowa’s go-to option offensively.
Joining Murray in the Iowa frontcourt are returnees in Patrick McCaffery and Filip Rebraca. The 6-foot-9 McCaffery is a versatile four-man who averaged 10.5 points and 3.6 rebounds in 24.2 minutes per game last season. Rebraca will suit up for his second and final season as a Hawkeye as the starting five. The Serbian transferred to Iowa from North Dakota before last season and gives McCaffery a reliable post option. The 6-foot-9 center averaged 5.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in his first Big Ten season.
Backing up Rebraca will be Josh Ogundele and Riley Mulvey, two bigs with little experience. Both players are 6-foot-11, which will come in handy against Trayce Jackson-Davis, Cliff Omoruyi, Hunter Dickinson and Zach Edey.
The starting Iowa backcourt is expected to be juniors Ahron Ulis and Tony Perkins. The Hawkeyes were 12-3 last season after inserting Perkins in the starting lineup. He averaged 8.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and only one turnover in just 20.8 minutes per game as a starter.
The 6-foot-3 Ulis figures to get the first shot at the starting point guard position but could be pushed by freshman Dasonte Bowen. Ulis averaged just over two assists per game in 13.9 minutes per game last season, but was slowed down by a wrist injury. Bowen is a top 150 recruit who should be able to compete with Ulis for the starter’s role. The uncertainty at the point guard is a concern for Iowa, which has typically had solid play at the position under McCaffery.
Look for Connor McCaffery and Payton Sandfort to fill roles as backups on the wing. The 24-year old McCaffery has never been a scorer, but does a little bit of everything on both ends. He averaged 2.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 17 minutes per game last season. The 6-foot-7 Sandfort shot nearly 37 percent on 3s last season and should provide a scoring punch on the wing. He averaged five points in only 10.5 minutes per game last season. Another freshman, 6-foot-5 Josh Dix, could be another 3-point shooting option off the bench.
As usual, Iowa could have a deep rotation that thrives offensively. Defensively, however, the Hawkeyes always have question marks. Last season, Iowa ranked just 80th nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. Over 12 seasons, McCaffery’s teams have only ranked three times better than 75th in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Bottom line: Iowa has the talent to return to the NCAA tournament again and should be a potent offensive team. The questions at point guard are legitimate, but Murray, McCaffery and Rebraca is a nice trio in the frontcourt. Perkins thrived after being inserted into the starting lineup last season and should be one of the team’s leading scorers in his third season. If Ulis and Bowen can produce adequately at point guard, Iowa could again be in the thick of things in what appears to be a wide-open Big Ten race.
Quotable: “Everyone in our program is very excited to have Kris back. We are happy that Kris had a positive experience going through the NBA process. He gained valuable feedback through workouts and conversations with NBA personnel. Kris will be awesome next year.” – McCaffery in early June on the return of Kris Murray.
(Photo credit: Iowa Athletics)