Let's Talk Iowa Men's Basketball Playing Time: 2018 Edition

By Matthew Lundeen on October 17, 2017 at 12:00 am
It's that time of year again. It's time for the annual practice in futility that we call estimating playing time.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
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It's that time of year again. It's time for the annual practice in futility that we call estimating playing time.

Every year that I write this piece I note how difficult of a task it is to try and guess how often each player on the roster will play. Moreover, every year that I write this piece, it only seems to get more difficult to forecast. And this year that is especially the case, as Fran McCaffery has amassed a small army of basketball players. (Mostly at the forward positions.) The good news is that most of them appear capable of ranging from above average-to-great college basketball players. The bad news (it's not really bad news) is that it makes guessing minutes pretty futile.

But that's never stopped me before, so why let it stop me now?

Projected Minutes

  Player Position Min. Per Game
1 Jordan Bohannon G 30
2 Nicholas Baer F 27
3 Tyler Cook F 24
4 Isaiah Moss G 22
5 Luka Garza C 20
6 Ahmad Wagner F 15
7 Cordell Pemsl F 15
8 Brady Ellingson G 13
9 Christian Williams G 13
10 Jack Nunge F 13
11 Ryan Kriener F 13
12 Dom Uhl F 10
13 Maishe Dailey G 8

To quote last year:

With 40 minutes available every night, multiplied by five players on the court at a time, a season's minutes per game total should come out to roughly 200. It usually tends to range from 210-230 due to overtime games, and because you have guys who play a lot during the non-conference schedule and get injured or just see a drop in playing time. Those guys tend to have higher minutes early in the season, but their minutes get cut drastically and they may not even play during the conference schedule. And when everybody on the roster doesn't play in the same amount of games, it makes it so achieving a perfect 200 is impossible over the course of a season.

Last season's minutes per game added up to 223, and my estimates for this year's team adds up to 223 again. Fran pretty much confirmed what we already knew about the starting lineup: Bohannon, Cook, and Moss are starters, while the three and five spots are open. 

He also said his rotation will be 10-11 guys, which means two or three guys off the list above are going to be seeing very low minutes. 

As it stands right now, I have Dom Uhl and Maishe Dailey as the low men on the totem pole. 

Projected Starters

  • Point Guard- Jordan Bohannon
  • Shooting Guard- Isaiah Moss
  • Small Forward- Ahmad Wagner
  • Power Forward- Tyler Cook
  • Center- Luka Garza

Position Breakdown

Traditional position designations don't necessarily mean a whole lot with this team. Just about everyone on this roster can play two or three positions pretty interchangeably if needed. However, for organizational purposes, I am still breaking things down in the traditional manner.

Point Guard

Starter: Jordan Bohannon
First off the Bench: Christian Williams
Others: Maishe Dailey?

The starting point guard position is perhaps the least questionable position on the team. If there is one thing to criticize Fran about when it has come to recruiting, it is the fact that he has failed to recruit and maintain talented depth at the point guard spot in recent years. Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons worked well, but when Trey Dickerson left after one season, Iowa was in a bit of a tough spot. Fortunately, Jordan Bohannon's development was at least a full year (if not two) ahead of where I imagined he would be last season. Not only was he the sharpshooter we were anticipating, but he was a better passer than I was expecting him to be and his turnover rate was actually pretty low for a true freshman running a college offense for the first time. Because Iowa is still lacking in proven depth at the one position, I think Bohannon is the only surefire bet to play 30 minutes per night on a regular basis. We all better pray to our deities of choice that he doesn't get injured, though. 

After Bohannon, the backup point guard is a bit of a question mark. Christian Williams is the default pick for now, as it's not entirely clear Maishe Dailey can actually/wants to play the point. But for Williams, the key to more playing time boils down to him drastically improving on the offensive end of the court. That means, at a bare minimum, he needs to cut down on the turnovers. If he can at least do that, there are a few things that Williams brings to the court that Bohannon doesn't: length and defense.

That should probably be enough for him to see at least 10 minutes per game and be a situational late-game sub when Fran needs to slow down an opposing team's attacking guard. But if he wants to up those minutes even more, offense is where he needs to focus.

Lastly, what about Maishe Dailey? He's never played point guard for Iowa and he has even stated that he considers himself to be more of a shooting guard. That said, it isn't outrageous to think that he could slide over and take a few minutes here and there and that he may actually turn out to be pretty decent while doing so. From what we can gather from the 91 minutes he played last season, he looks almost exactly like a Christian Williams clone. Both are super-athletic guys with outrageous wingspans, who can play defense, grab rebounds, block shots, and pick pockets. The question, again, comes on the offensive side of the ball. Basically, if Williams struggles to improve much from last season, Dailey could get a chance to show what he's got here.

Shooting Guard

Starter: Isaiah Moss
First off the Bench: Brady Ellingson
Others: Christian Williams, Maishe Dailey

Considering he made his way into the starting lineup last season, it's a pretty safe bet to imagine that Isaiah Moss is going to start over the veteran Brady Ellingson. Moss is only a sophomore, thanks to his redshirt season (something very rare nowadays), and he looks like he has plenty of upside. First of all, it was his defense that got him in the starting lineup last year as a redshirt freshman. Defense wasn't exactly Peter Jok's forte and it was easily Bohannon's biggest weakness last season, and when McCaffery needed someone to try and contain penetration from the perimeter, he turned to Moss with mostly good results. And with one full year of playing time under his belt, Moss is a potential breakout candidate this season. He's got the ability to put up double-digit points on any given night, and he pairs with it above average defense.

He's still got to show that he is more than just upside, but if he does, you could very well see him in the starting rotation for the next three years. Because he is still a sophomore and his backup is very experienced, I imagine he will see just over 20 minutes per game this season.

After Moss, Brady Ellingson should be the first one off the bench. This will be Ellingson's fourth year in the program, and thanks to an injury redshirt, he has seen action in all of his three previous seasons. Ellingson is a heady player with a reliable three-point shot and a knack for finding the open man when he doesn't have a good look from deep. He may not be a top scorer for this Hawkeye team, but he is a trusted guy who can come off the pine, knock down the three, and not embarrass himself on defense. That alone is good for about 13 minutes per game.

Rounding out the two-guard spot are Christian Williams and Maishe Dailey. Like I already said, both guys look to have similar skillsets and their defense could be very helpful against guard-heavy teams. We all remember what happened at Northwestern last year, right? (If not, I don't blame you for having suppressed that memory.) That game is a prime example of why perimeter defense will get at least one, if not both, of these guys on the court this year. 

Small Forward

Starter: Ahmad Wagner
First off the Bench: Nicholas Baer
Others: Jack Nunge, Dom Uhl

Ahmad Wagner at small forward is an interesting move. He certainly has the athleticism to play on the perimeter, but it really appears to be a move that was made because Iowa simply has too many bodies in the post. Wagner started 18 games last year, including 12 of the team's final 13. However, in none of those games, did he start at the three position. That being said, he clearly has Fran's trust, and the fact that he started in two of Iowa's four Euro games this summer at the position (Baer started one),gives me a gut feeling that he will start there this year. 

I'll go ahead and first mention the positives of playing Wagner at the three. Mostly, I think it could be a good thing for Iowa's perimeter defense. Not only is Wagner athletic enough to defend most wing players, but he has a physical presence that could also disrupt them. Additionally, Wagner's offensive game really flourishes around the basket, and allowing him to play defense on the wing should get him out in transition more often and lead to some easy buckets. 

If there is a downside, it's that, up to this point in his career, Wagner's offensive game hasn't developed all that much away from the rim. He was a much-improved passer as a sophomore, but his lack of three-point range could spell trouble for offensive spacing this year. If his man doesn't have to worry about getting a hand in his face from beyond the arc, that could clog things up in the middle of the floor and close off lanes to the basket. However, if playing Wagner at the three ends up being an even trade of defense for offense, then it may be a move worth making. 

Coming off the bench, Nicholas Baer is the reigning Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year. He did start 10 games last year, including the first eight games of the season, so he could very well be your starter at some point this season. For now, though, I have a feeling he is Fran's first call to enter the game.

Baer is the absolute backbone of this team, and even if Wagner starts at the small forward position, Baer will still get the bulk of the minutes. (Think of the Isaiah Moss situation last year.) The reason I would make him the starter is because Baer's defense is just as good as Wagner's, and his offensive game -- three-point shot, included -- is better. Iowa was simply better in all aspects of the game with Baer on the floor last season, and having him on the court at tip off could help ensure that Iowa gets off to a fast start. Of course, bringing in someone like Baer off the bench could also give Iowa quite a boost.

Despite all the words I've typed over it, I'm not too worried over the Wagner/Baer situation. We've seen Fran make lineup adjustments when necessary, and I imagine he will make the correct adjustments when/if needed.

Dom Uhl is the lone senior on this team, and he is down the depth chart quite a ways. He may start the season ahead of Nunge in the rotation, but I have a feeling Nunge passes him in the rotation. Uhl's athleticism has made him valuable on defense, but, like Christian Williams, his offense has kept him from logging a ton of playing time. And as much as I like Uhl and want him to succeed, the possibility is real that his playing time dwindles even more this year with the true freshman Nunge breathing down his neck and Ryan Kriener demanding more time in the post.

As for Nunge, he was all the rage in the Prime Time League this summer, but cooled off noticeably overseas. He certainly looks to have the tools to be a contributor this year, but it's hard to figure out where his playing time comes from, outside of jumping Uhl at both forward positions. Baer is the most deserving of the bulk of playing time at the three, and maybe McCaffery won't increase his minutes past 24 again this year. But with Baer set in stone, Wagner pretty embedded in the rotation, and a host of capable bodies at the power forward position, I'm having a hard time finding more than 15 minutes per game for Nunge.

Power Forward

Starter: Tyler Cook
First off the Bench: Ryan Kriener
Others: Ahmad Wagner, Dom Uhl, Cordell Pemsl, Jack Nunge

Tyler Cook started all but one game that he played in last season, and it's difficult to imagine him not starting this season. He was fantastic as a freshman last season, and he should be even better as a sophomore. That said, it's hard to see him getting much more playing time than the 25 minutes per game he got in 2017. That's not a knock on Cook. Rather, that's a compliment to the amount of depth that Fran has on this roster. Iowa simply has too many bodies and not enough minutes to go around. 

After Cook, there should be somewhere around 15 minutes per game left at the power forward position. And during that time, I am going out on a ledge and estimating that Kriener gets a lot of that playing time. If Kriener can cut down on the fouls and improve on the defensive side of the ball this season, his offense -- including his ability to stretch the defense -- and his rebounding will make him plenty valuable off the bench for the Hawkeyes. 

After Kriener, I'm sure the rest of the rotation will include scattered minutes of Ahmad Wagner, Dom Uhl, Cordell Pemsl, and Jack Nunge. The lineup possibilities with this team are virtually endless. 

Center

Starter: Luka Garza
First off the Bench: Cordell Pemsl
Others: Ryan Kriener, Tyler Cook

I have Garza starting at the five position simply because his size and length (he has a 7'3" wingspan) should bolster Iowa's interior defense immediately giving the Hawkeyes the rim protector that last year's squad lacked. He can also hopefully help Iowa better defend teams that possess giant human beings (Purdue), and keep opposing guards from taking too many uncontested layups in the paint. Because Garza has size that no one else really has on this team, I have him playing exactly half of the minutes at the center position. Hopefully his offense is as good as advertised and he can stay out of foul trouble.

Once Garza goes to the bench, I think Cordell Pemsl can be an energy guy in the way that Nicholas Baer is. While Pemsl's lack of size makes him vulnerable to defending bigger opponents down low, he is still a hell of a rebounder and decent shot-blocker on that end of the floor. And that speaks nothing to his ability to give Iowa instant offense when inserted to the game.

If he can stay healthy this season (and that does seem to be a question mark with him), Pemsl could be Iowa's best reserve player if Baer ends up in the starting lineup.

Past Pemsl, Ryan Kriener is probably the third guy in the rotation. His big body is more what you think of when you think of a traditional center, but his ability to knock down the jumper away from the basket (and Pemsl's inability to) is what makes me think he will get more playing time at power forward and Pemsl at center. Still, Kriener will probably play center at times this season, and if Pemsl gets injured, the bulk of Kriener's playing time would probably come at the five instead of the four. Again, Iowa just has so many options, it's hard to know who is going to play where and how often.

Overall, this is the deepest team that Fran has had since probably the 2014 season. As we all know from 2014, depth isn't everything. However, when you listen to McCaffery speak, he really thinks it is important for his team to be able to play the way they want to.

The best thing and the most consistent thing is we’re going to continue to play fast. And what that does is it requires you to sub. If we play at a certain pace, you can’t play 38 minutes at that pace. Nobody can.

The 2017 team was Fran's most up-tempo team at Iowa since 2014, averaging 71 possessions per game compared to just short of 70 three seasons before. And it looks like the 2018 team should play at an equally hectic pace, if not more so.

Last year's team had the depth and athleticism to play fast, but lacked length at some positions. This year's team is just as deep and athletic, but now has length at every single position, and more experience to boot. That should allow them to consistently pressure other teams all the way up the court and use their long arms to jump passing lanes, block shots, and get out in transition for easy baskets.

In other words, Iowa should be one of the most exciting teams to watch this season. Hopefully they can pair that exhilarating style of play with a top-tier finish in the Big Ten and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

I can hardly wait for November 10th.

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