Breaking Down the Season + Preview of What’s Coming Up
The Iowa men’s basketball team played in the shadow of the women’s team, which made it all the way to the championship game of the NCAA Tournament in the 2022-23 season. The men, on the other hand, bowed out in the first round of the tournament.
Iowa relied heavily on top scorer Kris Murray, who announced shortly after the season that he will be entering the NBA Draft. For the Hawkeyes to dominate their 2023-24 schedule, they will need to incorporate a number of new players and hope that some returning players will take a big step forward in terms of production.
This season will be a significant one for longtime coach Fran McCaffrey. The Hawkeyes have not made a Sweet 16 since 1999, despite having some high-performing players, including legendary Hawkeyes like Jordan Bohannon, Luka Garza, and Keegan Murray.
That’s not to say that McCaffrey’s job is in jeopardy, but a run beyond the second round is certainly in order. McCaffrey’s best team, in 2021-22, was a two-seed in the Big Dance but still lost in the second round. That’s not good enough and means that this season could be a bit of a referendum on the long-time coach.
2022-23 in Review
Though the Hawkeyes’ season ended abruptly with a first-round NCAA tournament loss to Auburn, there were plenty of highs. Kris Murray became the 25th All-American in school history. He was the only Division I player who averaged 20 or more points, seven or more rebounds, and at least one block per game while also scoring more than 65 three-pointers. But Murray is entering the NBA Draft and should be a first-round pick.
The Hawkeyes’ campaign was marked by lows as well, including how the season ended. They lost six of their last ten games, including the last three in a row, to finish the season 19-14. First-round exits from both the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament have put a damper on things.
The team was fairly good on offense, averaging 80.1 points per game, good for 19th in the county and tops in the Big Ten. Unfortunately, their defense was lacking, giving up 74.7 points per game, tied for 307th in the nation. That’s out of 350 total teams in Division I. So the Hawkeyes didn’t give themselves any room for error.
That lack of cushioning, and the dichotomy between a top offense and a bad defense, helped lead to an inconsistent season and a disappointing finish. Any improvement next season will have to start on the defensive end. That may be a challenge while trying to incorporate a number of new players.
The 2023-24 Iowa Hawkeyes are losing a lot of key players. Their star, Kris Murray, will be in the NBA. Filip Rebraca and Josh Ogundele are gone. So are long-time stalwarts Connor McCaffrey and Aaron Ulis. There are some high-profile freshmen coming in, but ensuring that someone replaces the production of Murray will be difficult.
In particular, Iowa will have to fortify its frontline, as they are losing a number of key players there, especially Rebraca and Ogundele. However, given their issues on defense, that might not be a bad thing. Iowa gave up 34.7 rebounds per game, 221st in the nation. They only grabbed 36.6 rebounds, not enough differentiation to stand out.
2023-24 Iowa Basketball Schedule
While we wait on the 2023-24 Iowa basketball schedule, we can take some educated guesses on what it will look like. Obviously, they will have plenty of massive Big Ten tilts. They will need to improve their Big Ten play this season. They finished just 11-9 in conference play last year.
Games to Watch
The 2023-24 Iowa basketball schedule has yet to be released, but from past seasons we can expect a few things. The Big Ten will be a bear. There will be strong teams such as Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan, Rutgers, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Michigan. And, of course, a Purdue team that earned a No. 1 seed in the 2022-23 NCAA tournament will be there too.
All of this is to say that Iowa will have its hands full this year. It’s an incredibly tough conference schedule, and the Hawkeyes will be relying on unproven players to shoulder the load. That’s not to say they can’t get it done. But with so many unproven components, it will take someone to step up and take control of the team on both sides of the floor.
Players to Watch
The Hawkeyes have certainly lost some very critical players. Starting center Filip Rebraca has graduated, while junior Josh Ogundele has entered the transfer portal. And, of course, their best player, Murray, is off to the NBA.
The Hawkeyes did add Valparaiso transfer Ben Krikke. Krikke was the Missouri Valley Conference leading scorer last season, at 19.4 points per game. He also had 5.9 rebounds per game. He’ll be counted on to be the team’s leading offensive threat.
Freshmen Owen Freeman and Ladji Dembele will be strong additions to the frontcourt, and their first contributions will have to be on the defensive side.
So, it will have to be Payton Sandfort who takes a big step forward. The 6’7” junior was the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 10.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game. Sandfort will be called upon to be a starter, and that will be a big transition. He will have his brother, Pryce Sandfort, there to join him. Named Mr. Basketball in Iowa this past season, he joins the Hawkeyes as a four-star recruit.
They will also need their third, fourth, and fifth-leading scorers to shoulder significantly more of the offensive burden. That refers to, in order, Tony Perkins, the elder Sandfort, and Patrick McCaffrey. But that’s a big ask; last season Perkins averaged 12.3 points, Sandfort averaged 10.3, and McCaffrey averaged 9.8 points per game.
Those three, along with the younger Sandfort and the transfer Krikke, could lead Iowa to success this season. However, that will require the trio to blossom into stars. We don’t know yet if they can do that.
Bottom line, with the amount of star power the Hawkeyes have lost, an NCAA tournament bid might be a longshot in 2023-24.
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