IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — It's been a while since Iowa went into a season without a big-name player.
Luka Garza was the national player of the year in 2021. Keegan Murray was a first-round NBA draft pick in 2022 and his twin brother, Kris, was a first-rounder in 2023.
The way coach Fran McCaffery looks at this season, the whole might be greater than the sum of its parts.
“I think our team is deeper this year, maybe than it’s been in quite some time,” McCaffery said. “We have probably 12 guys that I would be comfortable playing, and that’s not usually the case."
Iowa, which went 19-14 overall last season and 11-9 in the Big Ten, lost Kris Murray and Filip Rebraca, the top two scorers from last season. Tony Perkins (12.3 points per game), Payton Sandfort (10.3 ppg) and Patrick McCaffery (9.8 ppg) are back.
“We have a number of double-figure scorers, none of them who average 20, but we have a number of guys who are capable of averaging 20,” Fran McCaffery said.
Forward Ben Krikke (Valparaiso) and center Even Brauns (Belmont) joined the Hawkeyes through the transfer portal and four freshmen were added, all of whom are expected to play.
“I got tired of looking at the old faces,” Perkins joked. “But it does feel different. I’m used to coming back and seeing the same people. We’ve got new faces on this team, and that’s how we’re going to roll.”
KRIKKE’S QUICK CHOICE
Krikke had numerous options after leading the Missouri Valley Conference in scoring. Krikke considered staying with the Beacons for his final year of eligibility, but when coach Matt Lottich and his staff were let go, Krikke looked elsewhere.
“I didn’t see any point in dragging it along, having conversations with coaches and stringing them along for a month or two,” said Krikke, who averaged 19.4 points and 5.9 rebounds. “I knew what to expect. I knew what college was about, and I knew what I wanted out of a school for my fifth year. Just having a short list of what I wanted made my decision easy.”
McCaffery said Krikke is a perfect fit. “And that’s why we went so hard at him out of the portal," he said.
The freshman class of guard Brock Harding and forwards Pryce Sandfort, Ladji Dembele and Owen Freeman has made an impression.
“The new guys, they bring in this youthful energy,” Patrick McCaffery said. “Brock’s a constant chatterbox. Pryce is really funny. Owen’s really funny. Ladji has his own unique energy. It’s really fun and I really enjoy being around these guys.”
Sandfort is junior forward Payton Sandfort’s brother and was Iowa’s Mr. Basketball. Harding and Freeman combined to win a state high school basketball championship at Moline (Illinois) High School. Dembele, who is 6-8 and weighs 250 pounds, provides frontcourt size.
UNDER THE RADAR
Iowa's lack of star power has led to a lack of preseason attention.
“Oftentimes when you’re not maybe thought of as much, it’s because they don’t think you can score,” Fran McCaffery said. “We don’t have a problem there. We can score. We have a lot of guys who can make 3s. We have way more size than we probably have had in the last five years. So we should be able to rebound pretty well, which obviously triggers the break. So I feel really good about this team.”
The move to put Perkins in the starting lineup midway through the 2021-22 season helped spur a late surge that led the Hawkeyes to the Big Ten Tournament title. Now that he’s a senior, McCaffery expects Perkins to be one of the team leaders like past teams had with Garza, Jordan Bohannon, Connor McCaffery and the Murray brothers.
“I think he expects a lot from himself,” the coach said. “We’ve had good leaders in the last couple of years... So who is going to do that this year? That’s what I need Tony to do, especially if he’s going to play some at the point.”
Iowa opens at home against North Dakota on Nov. 7. The Hawkeyes' toughest nonconference game is Nov. 14 at eighth-ranked Creighton in the Gavitt Tipoff Games. Big Ten play opens Dec. 4 at third-ranked Purdue.
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