By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Hawkeye fans will get their first look at life without Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp, Jack Nunge and C.J. Fredrick when the Iowa men’s basketball team plays Slippery Rock in an exhibition game on Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It will also be the first time to see junior Joe Toussaint as the starting point guard and sixth-year senior Jordan Bohannon as the starting shooting guard.
Bohannon agreed to switch from point guard to shooting guard for two main reasons, one being the need for Iowa to take advantage of Bohannon’s 3-point shooting prowess as he ranks second in Big Ten history with 364 3-point field goals.
The loss of Garza, Wieskmap, Nunge and Fredrick will be felt in numerous ways, including from 3-point range where all four of them had success.
The hope is that Bohannon will have more opportunities to shoot from 3-point range by not having to play point guard. He always could switch back to point guard if circumstances call for it.
But the plan since the summer has been to give the 6-foot Toussaint the keys to the offense.
“He is who he is,” Fran McCaffery said at media day when asked if Toussaint’s approach changed after learning he would be the starting point guard. “I mean, he’s a killer. That’s what you want. He goes after people defensively. He attacks the rim. He’s constantly trying to beat whoever lines up in front of him. And sometimes as a point guard, you want them to, all right, back it off a little bit. But one of the reasons we recruited him was because who he is.
“He’s a warrior, that guy. And you never want to take that away from him. But I think maybe — and you would expect this — his leadership has continued to improve over time. And it should.”
Toussaint isn’t near the shooter Bohannon is from long-range distance, but Toussaint is much quicker and a better defender.
But until Toussaint starts playing significant minutes on a regular basis, and with Bohannon playing next to him, there is no way of knowing if these changes will work.
Friday’s exhibition will be just a small sampling, but it’s a step forward.
The season will start for real when Iowa faces Longwood next Tuesday at 9 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Unlike a year ago when fans pretty much knew what to expect from the Garza-led Hawkeyes, the current team is an intriguing mystery in which multiple players could have key roles.
A solid case could be made for four or five different players leading the team in scoring on a given night, whereas a year ago the biggest question was who would finish second behind Garza in scoring.
And that would prove to be Wieskamp, who along with Garza is now playing in the NBA; Wieskamp with San Antonio and Garza with Detroit.
It was pretty much a given that Garza would score somewhere between 20 and 30 points in every game, and feeding him was option one, two and three.
But now there are so many scoring options on the current team, some proven such as Bohannon, and some emerging such as forwards Keegan Murray and Patrick McCaffery.
The 6-foot-9 Keegan Murray wasn’t asked to score much last season because Iowa had so many veteran scorers. That allowed him to focus on defense and rebounding, and he excelled in both areas, making the Big Ten All-Freshmen team.
Murray’s role will change this season on offense due to the roster changes, and because he seems ready to expand his role.
Murray worked hard on his perimeter shot in the offseason, so Friday’s exhibition will be a nice test.
Murray’s twin brother, 6-8 forward Kris Murray, is also expected to play a bigger role this season after having played sparingly last season. One of Kris Murray’s strengths is perimeter shooting, and that’s what Iowa needs this season.
Friday’s exhibition game will also be the first time for fans to watch North Dakota transfer Filip Rebraca play. The 6-9 Rebraca was brought in to help fill the massive void left by Garza on both ends, but especially on offense.
Rebraca posted 20 double-doubles at North Dakota and scored in double figures in 33 of the last 34 games.
“He’s going to have to play a very important role,” Fran McCaffery said. “We need him. A veteran guy — even though he’s not been here — he’s a veteran guy. He’s big and strong and can do a lot of things. So he was recruited to be a major factor. And he will be.
“At first he was just trying to learn his way. He went home and got sick, took him about a week or two to get back. He was a little under the weather, but he’s back strong now. He’s been back for a while and really, I think, in a good place. He had a good practice on Saturday. We’re excited about him.”
Patrick McCaffery, who is Fran McCaffery’s son, provided a spark off the bench last season, mostly as a versatile scorer, and now he could be on the verge of starting as a 6-9 small forward.
Connor McCaffery, who is Patrick McCaffery’s older brother, could come off the bench this season after having started in each of the past two seasons in the backcourt. The 6-5 Connor McCaffery is the best passer on the team and can guard multiple positions.
And though Toussaint is the starter at point guard, he will have competition from 6-3 sophomore Ahron Ulis, while 6-4 sophomore Tony Perkins will compete for minutes at shooting guard.
Sophomore Josh Ugundele and true freshman Riley Mulvey, who bypassed his senior year of high school to enroll early at Iowa, are both competing for minutes at the center position, and both are at least 6-10.
True freshman Payton Sandfort, a 6-7 forward, is yet another option, and based on what Fran McCaffery said at media day, Sandfort is ready to contribute.
“I said we’ve got a lot of guys. He’s one of them,” Fran McCaffery said. “But he’s ready. He’s ready. It’s not like it’s going to take him some time. He’s ready.”
Unlike a year ago when Iowa was ranked fifth in the Associated Press preseason poll, outside expectations aren’t nearly as high for the current team.
In fact, Athlon Sports picked Iowa to finish 10th in the conference.
“We know the talent that we have in our locker room and we know the ability that we all have, and we think we can make some serious noise and I can’t wait to do that and prove a lot of people wrong, and prove others right,” Patrick McCaffery said at media day.
Iowa vs. Slippery Rock
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena