Howe: Hawkeye Off-Season Stream of Consciousness

May 17, 2018

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Heading into my 22nd season of covering Hawkeye athletics, I know one thing for sure – May is dry.

Spring football is over. The Prime Time League doesn’t tip off until next month. Thankfully, Iowa baseball is relevant again and gives the hungry something on which to chew, but it just doesn’t capture the fans the way the revenue sports do.

We also have recruiting. We always have recruiting. It never sleeps.

A much slower Hawkeye news cycle can be challenging for folks in the reporting business, however. There’s only so many stories one can read about how much Johnny Recruit likes the Iowa coaches and is blessed to have an offer.

In thinking about what to write pertaining to football and men’s basketball while cutting the grass yesterday, several topics popped into my head. It seemed best handling them in a stream of consciousness:

FOOTBALL

-Not a revelation, but I’m concerned about the linebacker position. I like Seth Wallace as a coach. There’s talent there. There’s virtually no experience, however.

Brace for growing pains while they acclimate themselves. Hopefully many of the kinks are worked out by the time Big Ten play rolls around.

For what it’s worth, I do think projected starters Nick Niemann, Amani Jones and Kristian Welch will be good players for this program. They have a combined 38 career tackles, mostly coming on special teams.

-Incoming freshmen will be reporting soon. They’ll be indoctrinated into the program by strength coach Chris Doyle and staff. That’s like your first rollercoaster ride being on the Kingda Ka.

While the rest of the coaches can’t work with the newcomers on the field, the period often gives them an idea who is physically and mentally ready for first-year action.

Three names that might see the field this fall? D.J. Johnson, Dallas Craddieth and Henry Geil. There will be others.

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-Is there a player capable of going from virtual unknown to Josh Jackson status? That’d be tough. The odds of being a unanimous consensus all-American aren’t great.

I think Amani Hooker is a star in the making. T.J. Hockenson shows that he’s closer to being Noah Fant’s equal than most believe. A.J. Epenesa and Tristan Wirfs take big steps forward as naturally gifted players with great work ethics.

-I’d rather the Wisconsin game be played later in the season and not as the first conference contest. The teams will be closer in November than in September. Luckily, it’s at Kinnick Stadium and possibly under the lights.

-Ryan Gersonde will be a capable punter this season.

-Iowa has annually brought three players to the Big Ten media days in Chicago during July. Last year, there was some upset went Akrum Wadley stayed back while Josey Jewell, Sean Welsh and Matt VandeBerg went to the Windy City.

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Who will Kirk Ferentz pick this year? I’ll say Matt Nelson, Parker Hesse and Keegan Render.

BASKETBALL

-It’s really hard getting a handle on this team until we find out Tyler Cook’s future. And we might not find that out until the May 30th deadline for withdrawing from the NBA Draft.

Iowa is a better team with Cook. The addition by subtraction argument doesn’t hold water here because he gets along well with all his teammates and isn’t a shot hunter.

Cook wants to play professional basketball…now. But he’s also a smart kid with a great family support system. If he feels like returning to the Hawkeyes is his best option for next season, I don’t see him being a disruption.

For fun, I’d say it’s 60-40 he’ll be back here. But, ask me next week, or tomorrow for that matter, and I might feel differently.

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-I attended my daughter’s elementary school track meet Tuesday (she reached the 70-meter finals; thanks for asking). A few people wanted to know where I thought Bettendorf point guard D.J. Carton was headed. He recently named a Top 6 of Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana, Xavier and Marquette.

I was surprised that Wisconsin was left out of the mix but not shocked. The Badgers signed a point guard in the ’18 class. However, that didn’t prevent him from including the Hawkeyes, who have a freshman at the position in Connor McCaffery, head coach Fran McCaffery’s son.

I don’t know where Carton is going. Nobody does, including him. That’s why it’s called a recruiting process. Chances are good that he favors some schools more than others in his Top 6, but he’s still deciding.

Fran McCaffery has applied the full-court press in his pursuit of the Eastern Iowa standout, attending almost every AAU game during the April evaluation period. He’d made Carton a high priority. The glass-half-empty crowd has said it’s seen this movie before and it didn’t end well.

We’ll see. Iowa offers attractions. It’s close to home, his grandfather is a program alumnus, and the idea of playing with other top in-state talent, who he likes, and reviving the Hawkeyes is a draw.

-I’m not as down on the outlook for the ’18-19 Hawkeyes as some other folks. Yes, the perimeter defense remains an issue for me. It’s not outlandish thinking it can’t be competent there. Guys don’t get a whole lot quicker but they can become more efficient and learn to play team D.

McCaffery has done well with experienced outfits. He lacked that the last two seasons.

In ’18-19, the Hawkeyes could have upperclassmen in Cook, Nicholas Baer, Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss, Ryan Kriener, Maishe Dailey and Cordell Pemsl. That’s a good thing around here.

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