Tony Perkins led all scorers with 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting, and the hometown Hawkeyes cruised to an 89-58 victory over Bethune-Cookman in a season-opening victory on Monday night. Kris Murray added 14 points of his own in a game where Fran McCaffery leaned on the bench early and often, as no starters played more than 23 minutes for the game.
With the departures of Keegan Murray, Jordan Bohannon and Joe Toussaint in the offseason, Iowa figured to have a substantially new look in its offensive approach this season. And as it turns out, Iowa's new look might be, well, several of them.
nearly any five-man combination is going to be a viable unit on the floor.
Iowa pressured the Wildcats all evening, jumping passing lanes and contesting entry passes with a fervor not seen in previous seasons. All told, the Hawkeyes forced 16 turnovers from the overmatched visitors, and it felt like more — especially with Bethune managing only 11 assists for the game.
Based on the Truman State exhibition from last week and today's rotations, it looks like Fran's comfortable with at least eight players — he even mentioned that he's "very happy with 10" after the game, though it's easy to say that after dispatching a SWACrificial lamb.
But let's say, conservatively, it's eight: Tony Perkins, Payton Sandfort, Patrick McCaffery, Kris Murray and Filip Rebraca starting, with Ahron Ulis, Dasonte Bowen and Connor McCaffery off the bench. There's enough versatility there that nearly any five-man combination is going to be a viable unit on the floor. If the Joshes (Dix and Ogundele, who have virtually nothing else in common as players) can keep earning minutes as well, so much the better.
That's a coach's dream come true, especially when these players have the type of transition skills that this team does (Iowa finished with a 33-10 advantage in fast break points in the win). Even the lineups with Bowen and Ulis showcased uncommon rapport between the two guards, especially considering Bowen's a true freshman combo guard on a team with no shortage of capable ball-handlers. He fits in the team's flow, and that's never a guarantee with freshmen, especially as early as [checks notes] the literal first game of the regular season.
Perkins, a 6'4" junior from Indianapolis, dazzled at the point again, dishing out a team-high five assists along with his leading scoring, and he looks to have taken a significant step forward as a two-way player this season. In his postgame appearance, McCaffery specifically mentioned Perkins' willingness as both a passer and a scorer with the ball in his hands, something rare for players in their first year of moving onto the point. Perkins also finished 2-for-2 from deep, and keeping that long jumper hot will be critical to keeping defenses off balance with him.
Murray scored "only"(?) 14 in the victory, though there were a few flashes of his big-game ability. It's worth noting that he also led the team with four turnovers, and the Hawkeye offense seemed to lose steam in a first-half stretch where it looked like teammates were trying to run the offense through him. The rough patch ended up as an a 3:27 scoreless drought — one that just so happened to come in the middle of an 11-0 run, as Bethune was in its own concurrent 5:09 drought. And just to be clear, Murray had six of Iowa's 11 points in that run. He didn't play poorly. But he just didn't show as much half-court dominance as his brother, which, fair. Who would?
Thankfully, Iowa had plenty of contribution from elsewhere in the lineup. Payton Sandfort's box score "only" shows 13 points and a 3-for-9 shooting performance from downtown, but he played an assertive, high-IQ game on both sides of the floor, including as a rebounder, defender and facilitator. His deep shot is his best asset, to be clear, but at one point he was leading the team with four assists, and they were all quality passes to boot. Most of his looks from deep were clean, and Bethune was lucky he only hit a third of them. Very encouraging game.
Filip Rebraca kicked in 11 points and 10 rebounds with a pair of blocks; he's stronger and playing with a newfound world of confidence that'll only serve him well as the season progresses.
That's a lot of names playing a lot of good ball — opponent strength notwithstanding. Bethune-Cookman was ranked outside of KenPom's top 300, and they're projected as a middle-of-the-road SWAC team. So in a sense all we've seen so far is that Iowa would be very, very competitive in the SWAC, which, yeah, you'd hope so.
But with the quality bench minutes from a largely inexperienced* second unit, and with a defense with much less need to hide anyone slower of foot, we see a different formula for success than in years past, and one that just might translate into sustainable success, from here through the meat-grinder of the Big 10 and maybe, just maybe, on into March.
*Connor the obvious outlier.
This was fun to watch. These guys like to run, they've all got green lights and they're going to cause serious problems for unprepared defenses. May it be the first of many, many wins.
GO IOWA AWESOME.