By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – For the second time in barely four years, Fran McCaffery appears to have gone all in on the recruitment of one highly acclaimed point guard, only to fall short again.
Bettendorf five-star point guard D.J. Carton announced his top three schools on Instgram on Sunday, and much to the dismay of Hawkeye fans, Iowa didn’t make the cut, while three other Big Ten teams did.
So unless a late-arriving blue-blood program like Kansas or Kentucky gets involved, Carton will choose between Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State.
Iowa had made Carton’s final six schools, along with Marquette and Xavier, and it was previously thought that he would visit all six schools before making any cuts.
But as is often the case in recruiting, plans change because feelings and circumstances change.
Carton took official visits to Michigan and Indiana last week, and has since cut his list in half.
The timing of his two visits and the cutting of his list of schools could just be a coincidence, but probably isn't.
Carton’s recruitment is similar to when McCaffery focused almost exclusively on former star point guard Tyler Ulis, who grew up near Chicago.
Iowa was considered one of the leaders for Ulis until Kentucky made a late push with a scholarship offer. He signed with the Wildcats and then played in college for two seasons from 2014-16 before leaving for the NBA.
McCaffery was left to scramble for another point guard in 2014 and settled for much-traveled junior college prospect Trey Dickerson, who then left Iowa after just one semester as a backup.
Final 3?? pic.twitter.com/VwrRhkKgl1
— DJ Carton (@DJCarton) July 8, 2018
Carton and Minneapolis native Tyrell Terry were thought at one time to be McCaffery’s top two point guard targets in the 2019 class.
But Terry eliminated Iowa months ago, according to a source close to his situation, and has since made a verbal commitment to Stanford.
Some other names have been mentioned as possible point guard options for Iowa in the 2019 class, but it seems clear that McCaffery has thrown almost all of his recruiting eggs into Carton’s basket.
There still is time for McCaffery to land a point guard in the 2019 class, but the field of candidates has been trimmed considerably over the past six months to a year. And he might have to play catch-up with some other point guards after having spent so much time and effort trying to land Carton.
In fairness to McCaffery, he has landed most of the players from instate to whom he has offered a scholarship, including incoming freshman Joe Wieskamp, who comes highly decorated from Muscatine.
McCaffery just couldn't close the deal with Ulis or Carton at a position of need, and the loss cuts even deeper with the 6-foot-2 Carton due to him being from instate.
Carton had to realize that Iowa needs him desperately just by the manner in which McCaffery recruited him and by the makeup of the current Iowa roster. It wasn't from a lack of effort that McCaffery failed to land Carton.
It was due more to factors like Iowa's 14-19 record from last season, including just 4-14 in the Big Ten, and its failure to make the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons.
Iowa hasn't won a Big Ten regular-season title since 1979 and hasn't advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 since 1999 or to the NCAA Final Four since 1980. Those flaws are hard to overcome when you're competing against schools like Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State for a coveted recruit, regardess of where the recruit might live.
The other schools probably used Iowa's lack of success against McCaffery because that is the nature of big-time recruiting.
Losing Carton hurts for lots of reasons, including the fact that the state of Iowa rarely produces a five-star point guard. And now one finally comes along and the Iowa coaches couldn’t close the deal.
Iowa also has to restock the point guard position sooner rather than later with Jordan Bohannon entering his junior season.
Fran McCaffery's son, Connor McCaffery, will provide depth at point guard as a 6-5 redshirt freshman. But the pickings are slim after Connor.
The hope was that Iowa would benefit from being the home-state school because there are built-in advantages with that, including the UI campus only being about one hour from Carton’s home in the Quad Cities.
Carton also is friends with some of the current and future Iowa players, and his grandfather played basketball for Iowa in the late 1950s. So there was hope that his family would encourage D.J. to be a Hawkeye.
And maybe they did.
Iowa might have made Carton’s final six schools because of all the reasons just mentioned. But maybe those same reasons weren't enough for Iowa to crack his top three.
Those wondering if Carton didn't want to deal with the father-and-son dynamic at Iowa is a fair question. But Carton and Connor McCaffery, because of their size and versatility, could've easily played together in Fran McCaffery's system.
Hawkeye fans have every right to be sad and disappointed, and even upset, over Carton’s decision. But they don’t have a right to criticize him for eliminating Iowa.
This is probably the biggest decision that D.J. Carton will make in his young life up to this point, so it’s important that he acts in his best interest.
Despite all of the built-in advantages with being the home-state school, Iowa still was fighting an uphill battle after performing so poorly last season.
With regard to recruiting Carton, Iowa’s timing couldn’t have been worse.
Michigan is coming off a season in which it finished as the national-runner up under veteran head coach John Beilein.
Ohio State was arguably the biggest over-achiever in the Big Ten last season under first-year coach Chris Holtmann, while Indiana is showing signs of making a resurgence under second-year head coach Archie Miller.
Iowa, on the other hand, is coming off a season in which tied for the most conference losses in program history.
Carton has made it abundantly clear that he wants to play for a program that is in position to compete for titles, and it’s hard to say that about any team that finished 4-14 in conference play the previous season.
Iowa only has itself to blame for losing D.J. Carton.