The first few days of the Fran McCaffrey era in Iowa City have been a little rough, to say the least. Second-leading returning scorer Aaron Fuller announced that he would be continuing his basketball career at another program, and two of the four committed recruits to the Hawkeyes (guard Ben Brust and forward Cody Larson) both asked for, and received, releases from their letters of intent. Due to Big Ten rules, neither will be eligible for scholarships from other Big Ten schools, so both are still at least keeping the option of recommitting to Iowa open thus far. Given that McCaffrey was already taking over a team that won just ten games last year and has finished 10th in the conference two years running, a tough job just got a little tougher.

What McCaffrey does have returning is some experience: three returnees who started all 32 Hawkeye games last year: junior off-guard and leading returning scorer Matt Gatens, sophomore point guard Cully Payne and junior power forward Jarryd Cole. Add to that mix sophomore swingman Eric May, who took over a starting position after swingman Anthony Tucker was suspended and eventually left school following a DUI arrest. And, sophomore center Brennan Cougill, who got seven starts throughout the season, and you have the likely starting five. Payne is a scrappy, undersized and underathletic point and his backcourt mate Gatens is a bomber, both of whom shoot similar percentages from the field (both shoot around 37% from the field and 31% from behind the arc) that will need to be improved for Iowa to improve. Up front, Cole is a grinder down low, Cougill is a pick-and-pop type of center, and May is a versatile small forward that can step out and shoot the three, rebound well and is the team’s best defender.

And, that’s the good news. Beyond that, there is almost no depth here. Center Andrew Brommer returns for his junior year, but he is little more than a warm body. It is not expected that John Lickliter, walk-on son of deposed head coach Todd Lickliter, will return to the team in the backup point role he filled last year. The two recruits who remained committed to the Hawkeyes, off-guard Roy Marble, Jr. (son of the Hawkeye legend and all-time leading scorer) and power forward Zach McCabe will likely be thrust into big roles as soon as they step on campus. Then, there’s redshirt junior forward Devon Archie, a JuCo transfer before last season who didn’t play a minute do to a shoulder injury and then pneumonia. He is a big interior defender and rebounder who could potentially get some serious minutes up front, or at the very least spelling Cole, a player to whom he is somewhat similar.

McCaffrey will get a pass in his first season in Iowa, regardless of what happens, so at this point if 10-11 goes to hell as it looks like it could, he had better at least have a plan for improvement for 11-12. And, given that this is an incredibly young roster he’s got returning (zero seniors, four juniors), there is plenty of room for these individuals to improve, but for the Hawkeyes to make any serious headway in the Big Ten, they’ll need tostart bringing in some new recruits. Convincing Larson and Brust to stick with the Hawkeyes would be a good first step.

 


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