Hawkeyes are at a crossroads
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
After each of coach Fran McCaffery’s first seven seasons at Iowa, it felt as though the program was in position for better things in the future.
This year was an unexpected disaster, and no one seems to know where the Hawkeyes are headed this offseason.
Iowa’s miserable 2017-18 campaign concluded with a 77-71 overtime loss to Michigan on Thursday, one day after a Big Ten tournament win over Illinois that, sadly, felt like a signature victory even though the Hawkeyes were the 12th seed in the 14-team league.
Iowa finished 14-19 and 5-15 in conference games. Worse yet, sophomore star Tyler Cook was noncommittal when asked if he’d be back with the Hawkeyes.
“I’ll just sit back, allow myself some time to heal, and then I’ll make my decision,” Cook said.
Cook was Iowa’s top scorer in 2017-18, averaging 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game with seven double-doubles. Cook formed a potent inside-out duo with fellow sophomore Jordan Bohannon, who averaged 13.5 points while shooting 43 percent on 3-pointers.
But even if Cook returns to Iowa City, the Hawkeyes won’t improve until they play better defense.
McCaffery tried it all this winter, from man-to-man to zone and even the press at times, and none of it worked. Iowa finished last in the Big Ten in scoring defense and 12th in scoring margin at just plus-0.8. Opponents also shot 46.2 percent from the field, the second-highest in the league behind Illinois.
McCaffery predictably defended his team and his program after the loss to the Wolverines.
“I’m really optimistic moving forward with the character in that locker room,” McCaffery said.
The most positive thing Iowa has going for it is that four-star recruit Joe Wieskamp will finally make his way to campus next fall. The 6-foot-6 Muscatine, Iowa, native broke the state scoring record in Iowa’s highest classification this season. Wieskamp is expected to start immediately at shooting guard and give the Hawkeyes a much-needed presence on the perimeter.
Iowa will also get back McCaffery’s son, Connor, a traditional point guard who was expected to play a major role this season before a series of maladies forced him to redshirt.
Freshman forward/center Luka Garza is one of the Big Ten’s most promising young big men after averaging 12.1 points and 6.4 rebounds a game. Fellow freshman Jack Nunge should see his role expand and forward Ryan Kriener played well in the Big Ten tournament. There should also be room on the roster for a guard who can break down opposing defenses, maybe via junior college or the graduate transfer market.
This was by far the most disappointing season Iowa has had under McCaffery, whose contract extension signed in November includes an enormous buyout.
If the Hawkeyes can’t convince Cook to come back, next year might be even worse.
“The season did not go as we hoped. No question,” McCaffery said. “But the thing for me that I look at is, ‘Are they grinding every day? Are they connected to one another?’ They care about each other. ‘Are they accepting coaching?’ And I told them after the game, not one time did I ever feel like they weren’t doing that.”