17-18 Season Preview: Iowa

We should be talking about Iowa more.

That's not something you hear often outside of regularly-scheduled 4-year intervals. But when discussing the 2017-18 Big Ten season, it absolutely is the case. That's because Iowa is probably going to be a lot better than you think.

Let's start with what the Hawkeyes were dealing with last season. Iowa was coming of a mildly disappointing 22-win season, which came on the heels of another mildly disappointing 22-win season, which was preceded by another mildly disappointing 20-win season. In each of those years, Iowa featured a core of upperclassmen. In 2016, Iowa started four seniors. In 2015, it was four juniors and a senior. In 2015, it was two seniors and a junior.

Last year it was one senior, three freshmen, and a sophomore. And outside of junior Dom Uhl and senior Peter Jok, everyone in Fran McCaffrey's rotation was a freshman or sophomore. Per Kenpom, the only major conference teams that put less experience on the floor were Washington (who started a freshman who happened to be the first overall pick in the NBA Draft), Oregon State, and Mississippi State. Those three teams went a combined 9-45 in their respective conferences. Iowa, on the other hand, went 10-8.

Is this just McCaffrey's thing? In his first year, McCaffrey went 4-14 in the Big Ten, but that was a team that went through Peak Lickliter Implosion. The team actually improved despite losing key contributors to transfer. He then quickly builds the team back up to respectability, by finding diamonds in the rough like Aaron White, Melsahn Basabe, Roy Devyn Marble, and Peter Jok. Now that Bo Ryan is no longer in the Big Ten, it's probably not controversial to believe that McCaffrey is the resident expert on unearthing high-level contributors from outside the Top-100 lists.

And last year was no different. In Madison, 3-star recruit Cordell Pemsl outplayed his senior counterpart Nigel Hayes. Over his final 3 games of the season, Jordan Bohannon scored 68 points and dished out 34 assists. A few games prior, he dominated his matchup with Melo Trimble in College Park. Tyler Cook was a top-100 recruit, but I'm not sure many expected him to be a high-level Big Ten center upon arrival.

Mind you, Iowa wasn't good last year, but they also weren't bad. They should have been bad. This year, while they lose the talents of Peter Jok, everyone else is back. And seeing as how many of those returning faces will be transitioning from true freshmen to sophomores, it's fair to expect significant improvement. Really, if you just look at the returning minutes, the returning minutes played by last year's freshmen, and how good the teams were in conference play (Iowa's efficiency margin was -1.2 on a 100-possession basis in Big Ten play, MSU's was +2.9), Iowa looks the same as Michigan State:
iowa-msu-comp

That doesn't mean I expect Iowa to be neck-and-neck with the Spartans this year. For one, Izzo welcomes another fine recruiting haul. For another, MSU's rising sophomores are of the 4 and 5-star variety. But it's still nuts that explanation is needed. Iowa should not have been so good last year.

If you had asked me prior to last season about what to expect from McCaffrey at Iowa, I probably would have said we've seen the peak. I wouldn't agree with that now.

We should be talking about Iowa more.