IOWA CITY, Iowa – Earning a starting position on the Iowa men’s basketball team requires a number of skills, along with effort and poise.
No one thing determines whether a player starts for Fran McCaffery, but there is one thing that stands out more than anything else when earning playing time – the ability to put the ball in the hoop, especially from 3-point range.
“That’s the one thing that can keep you on the floor despite other weaknesses,” McCaffery said Wednesday on a teleconference with reporters. “It’s just a matter of how bad are those weaknesses and how good of a scorer are we talking about.”
McCaffery is in the process of identifying four new starters to play alongside all-Big Ten senior guard Peter Jok, who is the only returning starter from last season’s team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Fans will get their first look at Iowa’s new lineup on Friday when the Hawkeyes face Regis University in an exhibition game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
McCaffery declined to say who would be in the starting lineup on Friday, nor did he reveal who started in Iowa’s intra-squad scrimmage this past Sunday.
But McCaffery mentioned 6-foot-7, 227-pound senior forward Dale Jones as somebody who shoots well enough to compensate for other weaknesses.
Jones only played in six games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. But Jones is now healthy and has shown, even in his brief playing time at Iowa, that he is a gifted shooter.
Jones made a 9-of-20 3-point shots in just six games last season.
“Dale Jones is a guy, he can score the ball,” McCaffery said. “But he’s been out for so long and he’s really trying to get caught up with what we’re doing. He’s really working defensively. That’s never been a strength of his, but he does fight in the post, on the glass. He’s got a physicality to his game.
“But he’s a guy who could end up on the floor despite maybe some other mistakes that he’s making until he can get it all figured out. But every team has got those kinds of guys.”
In addition to Jones, sophomore guard Brady Ellingson and freshman guard Jordan Bohannon also are considered solid perimeter shooters, although, Ellingson struggled last season, making just 12-of-44 3-point field-goal attempts in limited duty off the bench.
Ellingson’s inability to make 3-pointers with any consistency ultimately cost him playing time as last season progressed.
“Factor in the three-point line and that’s another great equalizer,” McCaffery said. “Are you making threes? It’s one thing if you’re making buckets, it’s another thing if you’re making threes because threes change the game.
“And sometimes that will be a deciding factor whether a guy gets in the lineup over another guy or not.”
The 6-0 Bohannon was a prolific scorer in high school, with many of his points coming from 3-point range. He led all of Class 4A in Iowa last season with 593 points as a senior at Linn-Mar High School.
It is reasonable to think that Bohannon might struggle this season as he adjusts to college and to playing point guard after being mostly just a shooter in high school.
But if Bohannon can make threes with any consistency, McCaffery will find minutes for him because that is too valuable of a skill to waste on the bench.
Bohannon is competing for the point guard position with 6-6 sophomore Christian Williams, whose greatest strength might be his versatility.
McCaffery said last week that the competition was too close at point guard to name a starter. He was asked Wednesday if there was more clarity at point guard.
“No, is the answer to that question,” McCaffery said. “I thought Jordan played really well on Sunday. So that’s been important for him.
“I think Christian has played very well consistently and he had some great moments as well in that game. The truth of the matter is we need them both. They’re both going to play a lot and one may start over the other. They’re both going to play. And as I’ve said before, there will be times when I play them together.”
Iowa has played in the NCAA Tournament in each of the past three seasons under McCaffery. The previous three teams all had plenty of size, depth and versatility, but struggled to shoot from the perimeter at times.
The current team is stacked with frontline players that include freshmen forwards Tyler Cook, Cordell Pemsl and Ryan Kriener and sophomore forward Ahmad Wagner.
And with the 6-6 Jok likely to draw and double and triple teams, there should be open looks on the perimeter, which could benefit Bohannon.
“Jordan gives you a dimension offensively that is really important to our team, especially when we probably have more low-post options than we’ve ever had, starting with Tyler Cook,” McCaffery said. But we’ve got Cordell Pemsl, Ryan Kriener, guys that we can throw the ball inside, Ahmad Wagner, guys who can post-up and score.
“The more three-point shooters you surround them with, the more space they’re going to have.”