Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa men's basketball lost big pieces, but big replacements may be present

Hawkeyes may fill vacuums and voids

Iowa men’s basketball graduate transfer guard Bakari Evelyn during the team’s media day Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa men’s basketball graduate transfer guard Bakari Evelyn during the team’s media day Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — A college basketball media day a month before the season starts doesn’t always lend itself to actual news, and so it was Wednesday at the preseason session for the Iowa men’s team.

Except … Hawkeyes Coach Fran McCaffery basically said he thinks his 10th Iowa team can match the heights of any of his first nine, though it was picked by eighth last week by Big Ten media.

He was asked if he feels he has what he needs to at least be somewhat of a contender in the Big Ten, to earn a good NCAA Tournament seed and to go deep in the conference and NCAA tourneys.

“We had some great teams, some great players, but our league expanded in the time that I’ve been here, and everybody is really good,” McCaffery said. “And so can you stay healthy? Can you win some close games? Can you develop some confidence early?

“But we have the makeup of a team that can contend in this league and contend on a national level.”

Autumn is basketball’s spring. All seems fresh and the possibilities are many. If pieces fit, voids are filled and that good health McCaffery spoke of comes to fruition? Who knows?

What Iowa does know is it has a valuable piece in sophomore wing Joe Wieskamp, who should be the team’s money player this season. It knows it has frontcourt vets in Luka Garza and Ryan Kriener who have inside-outside games. It knows it has other players who could take off in redshirt sophomore forward Jack Nunge and redshirt freshman guard CJ Fredrick.

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What it doesn’t know is how its point guard situation will shake out. That’s kind of a big one.

Will senior Jordan Bohannon, the team’s leading returning scorer and assists guy, play this season? He had surgery in May to shave bone off his right hip and repair a labral tear. He’s been at practice, but he hasn’t practiced.

“I want to help the team as much as possible,” said the player with 1,222 career points, 792 produced by 3-point baskets. “If I’m able to play, I’ll try to play.”

But it’s a dicey deal. You don’t want to come back too soon. You don’t want to play more than 30 percent of the season and then have to shut it down, thus losing a medical redshirt season.

You don’t want to mess with what the team’s doing if other guards have established themselves and have the Hawkeyes going in the right direction.

Those players include sophomore Connor McCaffery, who played in 34 games last season. They include Joe Toussaint of New York City and graduate transfer Bakari Evelyn of Detroit, via Valparaiso University.

“Joe is explosive, lightning fast,” Evelyn said. “He gets to the paint at will, gets by defenders at will.”

He’s also five months out of high school.

Evelyn is a fifth-year senior who will be 23 when this season ends. As a sophomore at Valparaiso of the Missouri Valley Conference, he averaged 12.6 points and 31 minutes.

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He can and has played point guard and off-guard. He cited his experience first when asked what he brings to his new team, then added “Also my decision-making, my poise on the floor, and just the ability to create for others and myself.”

That sounds like plenty.

Basketball teams are fragile ecosystems. Iowa lost three of its top six scorers from last season in forward Tyler Cook, guard Isaiah Moss and sixth-man forward Nicholas Baer. Those are three big pieces, and Bohannon could be a fourth.

But maybe Garza, Kriener and the 6-foot-11 Nunge add up to something more varied and versatile than last year’s front line. Evelyn and Toussaint can’t provide Bohannon’s masterful outside shooting, but perhaps they bring more penetration and quickness to the offense.

Maybe with a lot of pieces — and we just now get around to mentioning freshman forward Patrick McCaffery and soon-to-be-off-suspension junior forward Cordell Pemsl — there’s enough here to wear down foes.

Maybe Bohannon comes back, and better than ever.

Here’s something that isn’t a maybe: It’s October.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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