I'm not sure I'll ever figure out Iowa. Last year, the Hawkeyes were coming off a 10-8 conference campaign, and while they lost Peter Jok to graduation, they returned the rest of the team. Moreover, much of those returnees were in the form of sophomores. Both us and the media picked them 8th in the Big Ten, and if I'm being honest I felt that was an underrating. So naturally Iowa goes out and lays an egg of the 4-14 variety.
Offensively, the team improved, moving from an 8th-best efficiency mark in the Big Ten to 5th. Tyler Cook had an expected breakout sophomore season, Jordan Bohannon continued to be deadly from distance, and there were pleasant surprises like Isaiah Moss' outside shooting (42 percent from 3 in Big Ten play) and Luka Garza's college-ready game.
But whoa that defense. Only two Big Ten defenses in the Tempo Free Era (since the 2001-02 season) displayed a worse PPP mark than Iowa did last year—Penn State in 2007 (the starting center was a 6-6 freshman) and Rutgers in 2016 (this was the team that got Eddie Jordan fired). Not the kind of company you want to keep.
What exactly was wrong with Iowa's defense? Well, first and foremost, for all of his offensive talents, Bohannon might be the worst defender in the Big Ten.
Per Synergy Sports, Bohannon ranks in the 9th percentile in all of Division I. He doesn't move well laterally, and hiding him in a zone is only mildly effective as I've only seen his hands up when shooting. But it's not just him, either. Outside of Brady Ellingson, I'm not sure there was a plus defender on the roster last year. The Hawkeyes were especially bad in transition.
So, that's what plagued Iowa last year. What does that mean for this season? Frankly, I would not expect a lot of improvement. While Iowa was young last year, the things young players tend to improve on are things like not throwing the ball away, or shooting better. Jordan Bohannon played about 75 percent of Iowa's minutes over each of the past two seasons—what switch flips to make him a better defender now? Given Michigan's improvement on defense, maybe I should be a little more open to the possibility, but there's no Billy Donlon story in Iowa City.
The two most likely routes to a massive improvement on defense is that either incoming guard Jordan Wieskamp pushes Bohannon, or that Garza's shotblocking moves from "occasional" to "formidable." While I'm high on Garza's potential, he's spent much of the offseason tending to health issues. And while Wieskamp is a solid recruit, Bohannon provides so much offense it's a very difficult decision to bench him. The more likely outcome is marginal improvement simply because it probably required at least some bad luck for Iowa to field such an awful defense last year.
McCaffery is now 67-75 (conference play) in his time at Iowa, which of course is an improvement on Todd Lickliter's disastrous three seasons. It's roughly equal to Steve Alford's 61-67 mark. But even so, another season like this one start heating up McCaffery's seat. The good news is that his son, Patrick, is a highly-ranked 6-8 commit that figures to be a package deal with his father. He arrives next season. Also in McCaffrey's favor is a heavy buyout, which entitles him to $9M if he's fired before July 2019. The buyout was created by an amendment signed on November 29, the day after Iowa lost by 24 to Virginia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge to fall to 4-3. The other two losses to that point were to Louisiana Lafayette and South Dakota State. Granted, the Hawkeyes sweated out a win over UAB and throttled the likes of Chicago State and Alabama State, but in my experience, getting your hands on $10M in this world requires more production than that.
If the Hawkeyes merely plod along to another losing season, or even squeak into the NIT, maybe it's time to recalibrate. McCaffery came with a lot of fanfare after his successful stint at Siena, but maybe this is it. Iowa probably is not the easiest place to win, but maybe you don't have to.