The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa men’s basketball’s newcomers look to flip the script after disappointing 2023-24 campaign

Head coach Fran McCaffery retooled the roster in the offseason with a talented freshman class along with two key transfers.
Jerod Ringwald
Iowa guard Payton Sandfort backs down a defender during a men’s basketball game between Iowa and Maryland at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Terrapins, 81-67.

One could say the 2024-25 season is an important one for the Iowa men’s basketball program.

The Hawkeyes suffered through a disappointing 2023-24 campaign. After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six seasons, resulting in many frustrated fans calling for head coach Fran McCaffery’s job, Iowa still hasn’t advanced to the Sweet 16 under McCaffery despite the legendary careers of All-Americans Keegan Murray and Luka Garza.

But even with constant pressure surrounding the program, the Hawkeyes feel they have quietly put together a productive offseason that could make some noise in the new Big Ten this season and beyond.

Impactful transfers

To retool the roster, McCaffery dipped into the transfer portal and landed the services of Manhattan forward Seydou Traore and Morehead State guard Drew Thelwell.

Traore signed with the Hawkeyes on June 4 after spending his freshman campaign with the Jaspers, where he posted 11.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. He was the lone bright spot on a Manhattan team that went 7-23 and finished in 10th place in the MAAC. Traore was also the only player in the conference to record 300 points, 200 rebounds, 60 assists, 40 steals, and 30 blocks during the season.

Traore will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

“The Iowa system will be great to be a part of to get out and showcase my athleticism,” Traore told HawkeyeSports after signing. “I am excited to show I can play in any conference, win games, and display my complete skill set.”

Standing at 6-foot-7, Traore’s large and athletic frame makes him a difficult matchup for opposing defenses, since he can use his speed to make plays in transition. Along with his offensive abilities, Traore is a solid rim protector with 1.3 blocks per game, which could pair well with center Owen Freeman.

Joining Traore in the transfer class is Thelwell, who brings four years of experience with him to Iowa City. During his career with Morehead State, Thelwell led the Eagles to two NCAA Tournament appearances, two OVC regular season titles, and 94 total victories – the most in program history.

Thelwell will have one season of eligibility remaining.

“I was looking for the right fit, and with the Iowa coaches and overall program, I found it,” Thelwell told HawkeyeSports after signing. “I wanted to find a family and a home away from home, and I believe the University of Iowa is the perfect fit.”

Thelwell tallied 10 points, three rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game during his senior season while shooting 43.5 percent from the field and 33.8 percent from behind the arc. Morehead State finished the season with a 26-9 record and returned to the Big Dance for the second time in three years.

Standing at 6-foot-3, Thelwell is an athletic and versatile scorer who is dangerous from all areas of the court. He is best known for his passing, which led the OVC and ranked 15th nationally.

One of the biggest factors in postseason success is solid guard play. Iowa has lacked consistent play from the position over the last few seasons, but Thelwell’s passing and veteran leadership could provide a big boost for the Hawkeye backcourt in 2024-25.

Talented freshmen class

Along with two transfers, Iowa added small forward Cooper Koch and power forward Chris Tadjo to its 2024 class. Both were ranked as four-star recruits by Rivals and ESPN.

Hailing from Peoria, Illinois, Koch starred at Peoria Notre Dame for three years before transferring to Metamora High School for his final season. During his senior campaign, Koch posted 17.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, earning him IHSA Class 3A and Illinois Media first-team All-State honors. Koch was ranked as the No. 2 player in Illinois by On3.

Additionally, Koch has maintained a tight connection to the Iowa program for his entire lifetime, as his father JR played for the Hawkeyes from 1995-99 and helped lead the 1999 squad to a Sweet 16 appearance.

McCaffery cites Koch’s versatility as the biggest aspect of his game.

“Cooper is incredibly versatile and is a phenomenal shooter, but he is also skilled in so many different areas,” McCaffery told HawkeyeSports. “He runs the floor, moves constantly, puts it on the floor, and can make plays for so many other people. He’s going to have a great impact for many years.”

Completing the 2024 recruiting class is Tadjo, who hails from Montreal, Canada. He was rated as the No. 66 player and the 11th-best power forward by On3.

Before his college career, Tadjo attended the NBA Academy Latin America in Mexico, which is an elite training program that trains the top athletes from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and Canada. He was also named the MVP of the White Team at the BioSteel All-Canadian Games in 2023.

Similar to Koch, Tadjo is a versatile scorer who can catch fire from a distance or bully opponents inside with his 6-foot-8-inch frame. His athleticism has already impressed his new Iowa teammates.

“He had a dunk in practice the other day where he got the rebound, took it coast to coast and almost dunked from the free throw line, it seemed like,” third-year guard Josh Dix told Tyler Tachman of The Des Moines Register.

High potential

As the Big Ten enters its new era of expansion, many national pundits anticipate the Hawkeyes to finish near the bottom of the standings, though McCaffery’s teams have only finished 10th or worse in league play twice.

Last season, the Hawkeyes were defined by youth, as the roster featured four freshmen who played regular minutes. Now, those four have a year of experience of college basketball under their belts — something that pays off in March.

Iowa will continue to rely on several underclassmen to contribute on both ends of the floor, but with more athleticism on the roster combined with a powerful offensive attack, the Hawkeyes have a great opportunity to surprise the Big Ten in 2024-25.

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About the Contributors
Brad Schultz
Brad Schultz, Sports Reporter
Brad Schultz is a sophomore at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in Sports Studies. This is first year working as a sports reporter and he has a deep passion and love for sports. Outside of the Daily Iowan, Brad is a contributor for Saturday Blitz, a college football site, with his content primarily covering Iowa and the Big Ten.
Jerod Ringwald, Creative Director
Jerod Ringwald is the Creative Director at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. He was previously a managing editor this past summer as well as a former photo editor. During his sophomore year, he worked as a photojournalist covering news and sports.