Depth a strength for Iowa basketball

With one of the most highly touted rosters in Iowa basketball history, head coach Fran McCaffery will have his work cut out for him when crafting his rotation.


Nichole Harris

Iowa Head Coach Fran McCaffery laughs at a call during a men’s basketball game between Iowa and Penn State on Saturday, Feb. 29 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 77-68.

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

The Hawkeye men’s basketball team officially started practice on Wednesday, and with it, an unprecedented season for head coach Fran McCaffery.

Throughout the offseason, McCaffery and his team dealt with the effects of COVID-19. McCaffery disclosed in a virtual Oct. 6 press conference that multiple Iowa basketball players contracted the virus.

On top of the pandemic’s heavy hand, McCaffery and the Hawkeyes have dealt with the weight of high expectations and will continue to do so. Iowa is considered by many to have a shot at the Final Four next season. Many pundits have also predicted that center Luka Garza will once again be in the conversation for national player of the year awards.

“I still think the players are aware of expectation,” McCaffery said during the press conference. “I don’t think that will change. I think when you look at expectations from the outside, I look at it more like, ‘OK, what does our team expect of themselves? What do they expect from themselves individually and collectively?’ That won’t change, regardless of what the media would say or a particular magazine would say or a sports commentator might say.”

Despite all the outside pressure, McCaffery’s greatest challenge might come in balancing his rotation.

Last season, the Hawkeyes were injury-riddled and short on depth. McCaffery said his team is much deeper than before and that he is comfortable playing anyone on the roster.

In addition to the team’s cornerstones — Garza and forward Joe Wieskamp — Iowa will continue to get an added boost from its role players. Sophomore guards Joe Toussaint and C.J. Fredrick will be coming back as will junior Connor McCaffery.

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Forward Jack Nunge and guard Jordan Bohannon will be returning from injuries after missing the majority of the previous season. Nunge went down with an ACL tear in November and lingering hip problems forced Bohannon to take a medical redshirt for surgery.

Freshman forward Patrick McCaffery will also be a resource at Iowa’s disposal this season after redshirting last year to deal with some residual health effects related to thyroid cancer treatment he received in 2014.

On that stacked roster sheet, it’s easy for Iowa’s five true freshmen to fly under the radar

Hailing from London, Josh Ogundele is an early contender to factor into Iowa’s low post rotation. Outside of Garza and Nunge, Ogundele is the only player on the team that stands over six-foot-nine.

Also in the front court mix are twins Keegan and Kris Murray. Both attended Cedar Rapids Prairie High School and played post-high school basketball at DME Academy in Daytona, Florida.

And then there’s Ahron Ulis. Younger brother to Tyler Ulis, former Kentucky basketball star under head John Callipari and current NBA player, Ahron comes to Iowa City from Marian Catholic High School in Chicago, off an AP All-Area First Team campaign as a senior.

With COVID-19 being a potential factor that could impact player availability, McCaffery believes he may not redshirt any of the freshmen, as having access to all the weapons on the roster could be critical this season.

“I have those discussions with my staff,” the head coach said of the redshirt possibilities. “It’s always, ‘OK, what’s best for the team and what’s best for the player?’ I struggle with that sometimes because what’s best for the team isn’t what’s best for the player when it comes to that. But I can’t even predict that now.

McCaffery said all the freshmen are “capable of playing,” and final decisions will be made later.