IOWA CITY, Iowa – Luka Garza announcing his return to Iowa Basketball for the upcoming season sparked national headlines Sunday. Many preseason pollsters put the Hawkeyes in the Top 5 nationally and tagged them as a Big Ten favorite.
Garza, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, considered a professional career before deciding on a senior campaign with exciting possibilities. Iowa last captured a Big Ten regular-season championship in 1979 and reached the Final Four a year later, its last appearance in the national semifinals.
The Hawkeyes could begin the season in the Top 10 of the AP poll for just the seventh time in program history. They likely will come in higher than their best-ever beginning, No. 7 in ’88-89. The last time they started the year ranked in the Top 10 was ’01-02 (No. 9) and ’05-06 (N0. 20) was the last time they were ranked in the Top 25 during the preseason.
Obviously, Garza serves as the lead character in this collection of talent. He’s far from a one-man act. Junior wing Joe Wieskamp is an all-conference performer, redshirt junior Connor McCaffery returns after leading the country in assist-to-turnover ratio, redshirt sophomore C.J. Fredrick shot a blistering 46.1 percent on 3-pointers and redshirt senior Jordan Bohannon is the program’s all-time leader in treys made (284).
Add in redshirt sophomore Jack Nunge, who missed most of last season after tearing his ACL, and sophomore point guard Joe Toussaint to the aforementioned quintet and you have seven guys with starting experience. Top 100 recruit Patrick McCaffery is coming back from a health issue and five talented freshmen join the team.
That leaves head coach Fran McCaffery, father of Connor and Patrick, with some tough decisions to make. Picking a starting five and rotation will be challenging.
Let’s dive into some possibilities:
Starters – Jordan Bohannon, CJ Fredrick, Joe Wieskamp, Connor McCaffery, Luka Garza.
Regular Rotation Pieces – Jack Nunge, Joe Toussaint, Patrick McCaffery, Josh Ogundele, Ahron Ulis.
Thoughts – It would be Iowa’s most experienced lineup in terms of college playing time. Bohannon, Fredrick and Wieskamp spread the floor for Garza with McCaffery distributing. It feels like Ogundele will play because Iowa lacks front-court depth and he’ll gain seasoning for a bigger role in ’21-22 with Garza moving on. I’m going to lock my rotations at 10 players but at least one more freshman could play enough to avoid a redshirt.
Starters – Jordan Bohannon, CJ Fredrick, Joe Wieskamp, Jack Nunge, Luka Garza.
Regular Rotation Pieces – Connor McCaffery, Joe Toussaint, Patrick McCaffery, Josh Ogundele, Tony Perkins.
Thoughts – Not sure it’s wise taking the glue guy in Connor McCaffery off the floor at the start of games, but this represents a more traditional lineup with defined positions. Connor McCaffery gives you a versatile player off the bench who can sub in at multiple positions. With two potential point guards coming off the bench, I moved Perkins ahead of Ulis.
Starters – Joe Toussaint, CJ Fredrick, Joe Wieskamp, Jack Nunge, Luka Garza.
Regular Rotation Pieces – Connor McCaffery, Jordan Bohannon, Patrick McCaffery, Josh Ogundele, Tony Perkins.
Thoughts – Again, not a fan of bringing Connor McCaffery off the bench but it’s not without its merits. Bohannon provides a sniper off the bench who can take advantage of tired opponents running them off screens. Toussaint stands out as Iowa’s best on-ball, perimeter defender and penetrator on offense, but he’ll have to show he can consistently hit the outside shot to help spacing with this lineup.
Starters – Connor McCaffery, CJ Fredrick, Joe Wieskamp, Jack Nunge, Luka Garza.
Regular Rotation Pieces – Joe Toussaint, Jordan Bohannon, Patrick McCaffery, Josh Ogundele, Tony Perkins.
Thoughts – A more traditional lineup which would allow Nunge and/or Garza to pull their defenders away from the basket, freeing up the other to operate on the low block. That also would open up the lane for Fredrick and Wieskamp to drive if opponents get up in their space.
Starters – Joe Toussaint, CJ Fredrick, Joe Wieskamp, Connor McCaffery, Luka Garza.
Regular Rotation Pieces – Jack Nunge, Jordan Bohannon, Patrick McCaffery, Josh Ogundele, Ahron Ulis.
Thoughts – Option 5 is Iowa’s starting lineup in ’19-20 once Bohannon and Nunge were sidelined with injuries, although there were times when Ryan Kriener started when coach McCaffery went big. While it’s a smaller lineup, more programs are playing with four guards these days. Connor McCaffery’s ability to guard multiple positions makes this group work.
Other options exist, obviously, but these are the most likely choices in my mind so I’ll stop there. And let’s hope everyone stays healthy.
For me, Garza, Wieskamp and Fredrick are starters. That’s why they are included in all of my options.
Connor McCaffery also opens games for me. As I stated earlier, he’s the glue guy that doesn’t need to score to be effective. He rebounds, defends and keeps the offense moving crisply.
That leaves me with one spot between Bohannon, Nunge and Toussaint. All are worthy options.
I’m going with Option 1. Here’s why: Bohannon with Fredrick and Wieskamp on the court spreads out defenses and creates room for Garza. Connor McCaffery can guard multiple positions and allows Bohannon to play off the ball at times. It isn’t Iowa best defensive lineup but this team is going to win with offense anyway.
Toussaint gets another year to work on consistency and brings energy off the bench. Nunge can ease back into action off of major knee surgery and serves as a safety net if Garza picks up early fouls.
Again, it’s a hard decision for coach McCaffery. He has options. And that’s a good problem to have.