2016-17 Season Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes

Was that good enough? Last year was Fran McCaffrey's 6th in Iowa, after a highly successful five-year stint at Siena. He's now coached the full careers for three classes that he recruited. Over his six years, he's gone to the Dance three times, never making it past the first weekend. If that run is considered the general high point, is that good enough for Iowa fans?

That's the question I keep coming back to with Iowa, because this season is likely to be the first McCaffrey season with significant regression. Last year's team featured four seniors in the starting lineup, so there are a lot of minutes to fill. Moreover, last year's bench minutes were largely invisible on offense. Iowa brings in a typical McCaffrey class, mixing in strong 3-star players with a low 4-star. Given McCaffrey's record, there's probably a pleasant surprise in there somewhere as well.

Even so, the odds that this year's team matches last year's are very low. The offense will flow through Peter Jok—of that we can be certain. And Jok is one of the truly special players in the Big Ten, but he's likely going to be tasked with creating shots for himself and his teammates, potentially being the primary ballhandler (at least late in games), and likely having to guard the other team's best backcourt player. He's good, but he's not D'Angelo Russell.

I also suspect that the youth is going to slow down the Hawkeye attack this season. Upon his arrival, one of the first tasks for McCaffrey was to transform Iowa from a plodding team under Todd Lickliter to a fast (OK, by Big Ten standards) team with very short possessions. Even better, Iowa's managed to do this without sacrificing turnovers in recent seasons.

That's been a big driver for Iowa's offensive success, as only Indiana took a higher percentage of its shots in transition among Big Ten teams (per hoop-math.com). Moreover, the delta between Iowa's effective field goal percentage on transition shots and those taken in the regular flow of the offense (9.5) was the third-largest in the Big Ten.

I suspect we'll see less running from Iowa this season or, at the very least, less effective running. It's likely not a coincidence that Iowa's recent success in it's fast-paced (again, Big Ten standards) attack came with upperclass ballhandlers at the wheel. Jok figures to be the only Hawkeye that fits that bill this season.

Defensively, Iowa is due for even more regression. The high-water mark for McCaffrey's teams has been slightly above average in that department, which is where last season ended up. But, that was with the assistance of one of the best shot-blockers in the Big Ten, as well as on of the conference's best defensive rebounders. Junior Dom Uhl figures to inherit many of those minutes, and he's neither of those things. Sophomores Nicholas Baer and Ahmad Wagner were subpar on the boards last year in limited minutes, and after that, you're looking at freshmen.

Netting it out, I see a team that can realistically hope to be about average on offense, and striving for mediocrity on defense. If that doesn't sound like an NCAA Tournament team, that's because it's not. But this is a young team, the freshmen will turn into sophomores, and McCaffrey will continue to rebuild. Still the inputs are largely the same as they were 4 or 5 years ago, with the returns being three straight, short trips to the NCAA Tournament. So, I keep coming back to that question:

Was that good enough?