Some people feel old when they realize that the baby on the cover of Nevermind is pushing 30, or that the Class of 2023 arrived on campuses this fall, or coming across a classic rock station and hearing Green Day playing—like, stuff from before they sucked.
For me, it's realizing that Fran McCaffery is entering his 10th season as Iowa's coach. It seems like just yesterday we were all staring at the implosion of Iowa's basketball program, unable to turn our collective heads away from the brutal final act of the reign of Todd Lickliter. Against all odds, McCaffery prevented the outright dismantling of the University of Iowa basketball program, and in the process prevented the certain criminalization of all basketball activity within the Hawkeye State.
In some respects, the Iowa job in 2010 was a fantastic one. The roster was in tatters, sure, but expectations were low. Getting to mediocre was the short-term goal, and the long-term goal is apparently modest as well. In his 9 full seasons, McCaffery has four NCAA Tournament trips, maxing out as a 7-seed. Double-digit losses are baked in every year, it's just a question of whether it's a good year (11 or 12) or a bad one (14 or more). Iowa's odd scheduling (a neutral tournament at which they usually perform poorly, a game vs. Iowa State, and the B1G/ACC Challenge, surrounded by low major cupcakes) turns this into a game of Big Ten scheduling roulette. Too easy, and Iowa picks up a lot of wins but not a lot of good ones. Too hard, and it's too many losses. A more clever approach might reap the Hawkeyes an extra Dance invite or two every decade, but there's neither here nor there. Still, McCaffery is slightly worse than a coin flip proposition on reaching the NCAA Tournament. That's not a bad performance goal for a job that pays over $2M a year.
At this point, I think we have to accept that this is Iowa's modus operandi. Football coach Kirk Ferentz was hired in 1999, and his predecessor was there for 20 years as well. The team averages about 7.5 wins a year (and about 5 losses), which isn't so bad. Of course, Iowa never finds itself in the discussion about the College Football Playoff, and I'm confident that it never will short of a massive overhaul of the program. Maybe that's fine—it's a lot easier to find a coach that will screw up perennial 8-win seasons that include a trip to Tampa in the winter than it is to find a coach that improves upon that.
You might be able to say the same about Iowa basketball. Sure, most seasons this team is not in the NCAA Tournament. But it's not weird when the Hawkeyes do go! Dr. Tom Davis took his teams dancing a little more often than Fran does, but Fran's not too far off. And hey, this is the University of Iowa: That's Good Enough!
This year figures to be about the same, even with the losses of Tyler Cook and Isaiah Moss. The pieces you need are all there. For starters, Iowa's offense needs strong post play, because everything runs off of that. The foundation of the offense is for the bigs to get deep position either by running the floor or off of pick and roll action.
Tyler Cook was especially good at running the floor, but the problem often was that he wanted to do a lot of that running with the ball in his hands. Sometimes that worked out, but too often it did not.
Cook's explosiveness will be missed, but I actually think Iowa will be just fine int he frontcourt, between Luka Garza, Jack Nunge, Cordell Pemsl, Pat McCaffery, and Ryan Kriener. Frankly, the frountcourt should be improved. I think Moss' loss figures to be bigger. One of Iowa's best shooters (42% from 3), Moss also had a bit of combo guard to his game, which frankly was and is in short supply in Iowa City.
I get why Moss left—although he was a regular in the rotation, he was still fighting for minutes with the coach's son, Connor who frankly was awful in Big Ten play. So, he left for an opportunity where nepotism was not in play in Lawrence, Kansas. Meanwhile, Iowa's ballhandling situation went from bad to worse when it was announced that Jordan Bohannon underwent surgery on his hip, and now it's unclear if he'll play this season. In addition to being one of Iowa's reliable ballhandlers, Bohannon had a flair for the dramatic.
So, frontcourt fine, and the backcourt is in real jeopardy. But, of course, there's still Joe Wieskamp to talk about. Wieskamp was only a freshman last year, but was one of Iowa's best players. His efficiency certainly is above criticism, given his 51/42/78 slash line. He rarely turns the ball over, and is a capable rebounder. He's also a threat to score from almost anywhere on the floor.
Iowa's offense is a pretty good fit for him as well, given the movement off the ball once the pass goes into the post. The only real problem I have with Wieskamp is his deference. That might be expected of a freshman on a veteran team, but Coach McCaffery should have little patience for that this season. Without Moss and potentially Bohannon, there are precious few Hawkeyes that can create shots for themselves or others. Wieskamp can do the former with ease, and should be hunting those opportunities.
The defense has not been any good since Adam Woodbury was in the paint, and I do not see a lot of reasons for that to change this year. So the fate of his Hawkeye team rests on the offense, and likely on Wieskamp's ability to carry the backcourt production. If he can do that, Iowa will once again find itself in the 7/10 game in March.