IOWA CITY, Iowa — No college basketball team bounced from decent to great to decent quite like last year’s Iowa Hawkeyes.
Iowa (22-11 overall, 12-6 Big Ten) entered the season unranked, then climbed to No. 3 in the national polls after slamming Michigan State twice by a combined 30 points. A 10-1 Big Ten start had the Hawkeyes dreaming of their first regular-season league title since 1979 but a 2-5 league finish pushed Iowa into a third-place tie.
The Hawkeyes qualified for their third straight NCAA Tournament and won an overtime game at the buzzer before eventual champion Villanova ended their season. Now Iowa and seventh-year coach Fran McCaffery must replace four key starters entering the 2016-17 season in a quest for a fifth straight 20-win campaign.
“This is a team that I’m very excited about,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “Obviously we have a lot of new faces, but we I think have tremendous leadership, starting with (seniors) Peter Jok and Dale Jones. We’re excited to get started.”
Iowa loses four players with a combined 392 starts, beginning with consensus third-team All-America forward Jarrod Uthoff. Now a member of the Toronto Raptors, Uthoff averaged 18.9 points and was the only player in a Power 5 conference to finish last season with at least 600 points, 200 rebounds and 85 blocks. Center Adam Woodbury tied for the Big Ten rebounding title (8.3) and set a school record with 137 starts. Point guard Mike Gesell set a school mark with 205 assists and was one of only three Iowa players to finish their career with more than 1,000 points, 550 assists and 150 steals. Guard Anthony Clemmons was Iowa’s third-leading scorer (8.9) and best perimeter defender.
Key returning players
Iowa brings back just one starter from last year’s squad, 6-foot-6 senior shooting guard Peter Jok. As one of the league’s best pure shooters, Jok averaged 16.1 points per game and 17.3 in league-only games. In Big Ten action, Jok was third in steals, fourth in free-throw percentage (85.1), fourth in 3-pointers (2.6 a game) and ninth in 3-point percentage (42.1). Outside of Jok, the Hawkeyes bring back several role players like 6-9 forward Dominique Uhl (6.0 points, 4..5 rebounds), 6-7 forward Nicholas Baer (4.8 points, 2.6 rebounds) and 6-7 forward Ahmad Wagner (2.6 points, 2.6 points). Forward Dale Jones, who stands 6-7, returns after tearing his ACL last winter. Athletic 6-5 guard Christian Williams (3.2 points) will compete for the team’s vacant point guard role.
The jewel of Iowa’s recruiting class is 6-9 forward Tyler Cook, a 4-star Rivals product from St. Louis powerhouse Chaminade. Cook averaged 12.2 points and 6.4 rebounds alongside top national recruit Jayson Tatum, a Duke recruit. Iowa picked up three in-state recruits including Mr. Basketball Jordan Bohannon, a 6-foot point guard. Also joining the Hawkeyes are 6-8 power forward Cordell Pemsl and 6-9 stretch forward Ryan Kriener. Cleveland-area guard Maishe Dailey is a 6-6 combo threat.
With 57 percent of its scoring and 59 percent of its minutes playing professional basketball, this is a transition season for Iowa. Teams can’t replace that many quality starters and maintain a consistent level of play through an 18-game Big Ten season. But this team has an influx of young, energetic talent to complement Jok. It means they will be exciting and fun and aggravating and probably an NIT-caliber team. But if Cook plays at a high level and another scorer emerges alongside Jok, Iowa could contend for a fourth straight NCAA Tournament berth.