By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Fran McCaffery has moved a step closer to landing a point guard in the 2019 recruiting class, but his work is far from over.
Iowa currently has a one-in-six chance to land Bettendorf point guard D.J. Carton, who trimmed his list to six schools on Thursday.
The other schools in addition to Iowa that Carton still is considering are Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana, Marquette and Xavier.
Some of the speculation has Ohio State as the frontrunner, followed closely by Michigan, Iowa and Indiana.
In other words, nobody really knows at this stage, except for Carton. And he might not even know.
Iowa fans hope that Carton will ultimately pick the Hawkeyes because of in-state loyalty, proximity to his home and the chance for playing time.
To say that Iowa needs to sign a point guard in the 2019 recruiting class is like saying Iowa needs to play better defense.
Starting point guard Jordan Bohannon is entering his junior season and redshirt freshman Connor McCaffery, who is Fran McCaffery's son, is the only other player on the current Iowa roster who is close to being a point guard.
The 6-foot-2 Carton appears to be just what Iowa needs as a versatile point guard who can score off the dribble, shoot from the perimeter, facilitate and defend.
All signs point to him being a good kid, too.
It could help Iowa that Carton’s grandfather played basketball for the Hawkeyes in the 1950s because the other five schools can’t match that. The other five schools also aren’t within a one-hour drive from Carton’s house, as is the case with Iowa.
What remains to be seen is how Carton would react if one of the blue blood programs like Duke or Kansas finally extended an offer?
Would he stick with the six pack or expand his field?
It was thought for a while that Wisconsin was the leader for Carton due partly to being one of his first scholarship offers. But the Badgers didn’t even make his final six, proving that too much is made out of who offers the first scholarship.
There was concern that McCaffery hurt his chance to land Carton by not offering him a scholarship before the Badgers had offered.
So much for that concern.
It seems obvious that Carton is a recruiting priority for Fran McCaffery. Iowa only has one scholarship currently available in the 2019 recruiting class and McCaffery would love for Carton to take it.
McCaffery's son, Patrick McCaffery, is the only player committed to Iowa's 2019 class. Patrick is a 6-8 small forward and a four-star recruit just like Carton.
Minneapolis point guard Tyrell Terry also has an Iowa offer, but his stock continues to grow, along with his offer list, which now includes Minnesota, Butler and Xavier.
Should Iowa fail to land Carton, it wouldn't be from a lack of effort, vision or salesmanship.
It’ll be more a case of another school having more to offer.
Few teams exceeded expectations more than Ohio State did last season under first-year coach Chris Holtmann. A team that was picked to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten instead finished 25-9 overall and 15-3 in the Big Ten.
Holtmann is also considered a top-notch recruiter and has signed multiple conference player of the year recruits.
He has the Buckeyes on the rise again, and that has Carton’s attention.
Michigan is led by one of the most respected and successful head coaches in college basketball in 65-year old John Beilein. The Wolverines are also hot after finishing as the NCAA runner-up this past season.
Indiana isn’t what it used to be, but there is a growing belief that Archie Miller will make the Hoosiers a contender again.
Xavier has flirted with elite status over the past decade, but that was under Chris Mack, who resigned shortly after this past season to take the Louisville job. Mack’s departure wasn’t enough to scare Carton away, but it remains to be seen if Xavier can sustain the same level of success without Mack.
Marquette has had its moments under head coach Steve Wojciechowski, including making the 2017 NCAA Tournament. But the Golden Eagles failed to make the NCAA Tournament this past season and have failed to make it in three of Wojciechowski’s four seasons as head coach.
Iowa also has some flaws, including being the only team in Carton’s final six to finish with a losing record this past season. Iowa has failed to make the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons after having made it three years in a row under Fran McCaffery.
So the timing of Iowa's current skid couldn't be worse with regard to Carton's recruitment.
Carton also would be competing with the head coach's son for playing time at Iowa. But I've seen enough of him and 6-5 Connor McCaffery to believe they could easily play together.
Carton has said before that he wants to play for a school that is built to win now. He wants to compete for conference titles and for more than that. That could give Ohio State and Michigan the advantage, especially if Carton chooses to sign during the early signing period in November.
Iowa wouldn't have a chance to show Carton that last season was a fluke or an aberration if he signs early as expected.
The challenge for Fran McCaffery is to convince Carton that last season was a fluke and that Iowa is his best option as a student-athlete.
McCaffery has made it this far, but so have five other head coaches who have plenty to offer.