By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Fran McCaffery has to replace arguably the greatest player in program history, the most statistically accomplished point guard in program history, and possibly an All-Big honoree.
Life on the court without Luka Garza, Jordan Bohannon, and possibly Joe Wieskamp, will undoubtedly look different, and might even feel different.
Iowa fans became so used to watching the 6-foot-11 Garza dominate opponents on offense, and used to watching Bohannon make clutch 3-point baskets.
In some ways, it’s the end of an era, and now what lies ahead?
What will Fran McCaffery do during the offseason from a roster standpoint?
He might not do anything, but that seems unlikely.
Part of it will depend on whether Iowa’s roster stays intact.
And while there are no red-hot rumors about anyone transferring at this stage, the season ended just three days ago, and a lot can happen between now and the start of next season.
Injuries could impact Fran McCaffery’s thinking with 6-11 forward Jack Nunge recovering from a torn meniscus in his right knee, and with guard Connor McCaffery, who is Fran McCaffery’s son, preparing for surgery to repair torn labrums in both hips.
Both players are expected to make full recoveries, though, and should be ready for the start of next season.
How it plays out in both cases will be critical because Nunge and Connor McCaffery will likely both be starters next season, Connor McCaffery almost for certain since he started in each of the past two seasons.
Nunge also has started before, and his height will be needed without Garza in the post.
The offseason development of freshman center Josh Ogundele will be another important storyline. He played little this season after arriving late in the summer from his home in London, England, and then he battled with illness and fell behind from a conditioning standpoint.
Ogundele could ultimately prove to be a good player, but there is no way of knowing right now.
That’s why it would make sense for Fran McCaffery to explore his options at center, or at power forward, in the transfer portal, which was established in 2018 in order to empower student-athletes to make known their desire to consider other programs.
To say that the transfer portal has been embraced by student-athletes would be an understatement as approximately 700 were reportedly in the portal as of this week.
Penn State power forward John Harrar has entered the transfer portal after having averaged 8.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game this past season.
He excels at getting offensive rebounds, and is a pretty good defender, and a decent shooter.
It would be easy to see the 6-10, 240-pound Harrar playing alongside Nunge, and Keegan Murray or Patrick McCaffery on the frontline.
But there will be plenty of competition for Harrar because almost every team could use a proven veteran who excels as a rebounder, and who provides size and a level of toughness. It was reported shortly after Harrar entered the transfer portal that he had heard from at least 16 schools, but Iowa wasn’t among the schools listed.
It was also reported on Thursday that Rutgers center Myles Johnson had entered the transfer portal. Johnson excels as a defender, and like Harrar, should have a lot of interest from schools.
Fran McCaffery’s success with Garza might convince another post player to transfer to Iowa, or some might consider it too much of a burden to replace Garza, or too awkward transferring to another school in the same conference.
There are just so many factors to consider, especially in the case of where Big Ten players might stand with Iowa.
It would make sense for Fran McCaffery to check the portal for a proven 3-point shooter, because without Bohannon and Garza, and possibly Wieskamp, Iowa will be without three of its best 3-point shooters from the previous three and four seasons.
Bohannon is Iowa’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals made, while Garza and Wieskamp also made a bunch of treys.
Iowa might find it more difficult to spread the floor on offense next season, and that could have a big impact on shooting guard C.J. Fredrick, who has benefitted from playing alongside Bohannon and Wieskamp on the perimeter, and with Garza.
Fredrick also has to get healthy after having been slowed by an undisclosed lower leg injury for much of the season.
Some will say that Fran McCaffery should also consider adding an athletic combo guard who can defend.
That was a popular narrative in the wake of Iowa’s 95-80 loss to Oregon in the second round of the NCAA Tournament this past Monday in Indianapolis.
Iowa struggled with Oregon’s quickness on the perimeter, and it was clear throughout the game that Oregon was the more athletic team.
Iowa loses Bohannon at point guard, but still has two point guards on the roster in sophomore Joe Toussaint and freshman Ahron Ulis.
Toussaint is a better defender than Bohannon, and much quicker, but Toussaint also struggles as a shooter, while Ulis didn’t play enough this season to know his strengths and weaknesses.
Freshman shooting guard Tony Perkins showed promise at times this season, and saw his minutes increase down the stretch. He is a capable defender and ball handler, but the jury still is out on his ability to make 3-pointers.
Keegan Murray showed signs of having star potential as a versatile 6-8 forward, while 6-9 Patrick McCaffey, who is also Fran McCaffery’s son, has a scorer’s mentality and a playing style that fits nicely in his father’s fast-pace system.
Freshman forward Kris Murray, who is Keegan Murray’s twin brother, should see his role increase next season after having played little this season. Kris Murray’s strength is perimeter shooting, and that’s what Iowa will need next season without Bohannon, Garza, and possibly Wieskamp on the roster.
Payton Sandfort, a 6-7 incoming freshman from Waukee, will provide depth on the frontline, and could play a key role right away if he can make shots, especially from 3-point range.
There is currently one more scholarship available, two should Wieskamp leave, but that could change with college rosters being so fluid in this age of the transfer portal.
“I think we have a really good core of young guys who experienced what it’s like to have winning people in your program and how to prepare and how to compete,” Fran McCaffery said after the loss to Oregon. “So I’m really excited for the future.”
Iowa does have a talented group of young players, and some depth.
But it’s also not very often that a coach has to replace arguably the greatest player in program history and the all-time leader in assists and 3-point field goals made.
Rosters are fluid, especially this time of year, and the transfer portal is there for a reason.
And Fran McCaffery has reason to give it a long look this offseason.