IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa’s defense improved last season, but coach Fran McCaffery thinks it can be even better this season.
The Hawkeyes went 26-10 season with a team that struggled at times to stop opponents.
The numbers told the story.
• Iowa surrendered 71.2 points per game, ranking 13th in the Big Ten and 233rd nationally.
• The Hawkeyes ranked 144th in opponents’ 3-point field goal percentage (.329) and 199th in field-goal percentage defense (.437).
• Iowa did lead the Big Ten, and ranked 40th nationally, with 264 steals. The Hawkeyes ranked seventh in turnover margin at plus 4.4.
Those numbers, McCaffery said, should improve, but it comes down to rebounding as well.
“We have the ability to do that,” he said at Wednesday’s media day. “We can put pressure on the ball. We can be in the passing lane. When you start looking at defensive numbers, it comes down to rebounding because if you're giving up second shots, typically that's a high-percentage shot. It's an offensive rebound kick-out, open 3, it's an offensive rebound put-back that's a high-percentage shot.
“The shooting percentages against your team and effectiveness in terms of point production are going to go down. But if you limit them to one, and we put pressure on the ball and we get our defense back, we can get everybody underneath the ball and communicate, switching, not switching, how we're playing, ball screens, all that stuff is great, but you have to get the rebound.”
Iowa had a plus-1.4 rebound margin last season, and McCaffery thinks that even though the Hawkeyes can be undersized against certain lineups, he has players who can get rebounds.
Among his three key returning forwards — Filip Rebraca, Kris Murray and Patrick McCaffery — Fran McCaffery has 465 rebounds coming back from last season.
“Everybody wants to play small these days. It's OK to play small because you're going to shoot a lot of 3s, you're going to drive the ball,” McCaffery said. “But can you rebound effectively night-in and night-out. That's the challenge.
“Payton Sandfort is a really good rebounder. Tony Perkins is a really good rebounder. Connor McCaffery is a really good rebounder. Filip Rebraca is a really good rebounder, Kris. Patrick was solid, he's got to get a little bit better, and he has been. He's really focused on that.”
It will also help, too, if the Hawkeyes can improve defensively. .
“I say this all the time — we can run on makes, but we'd prefer to run on misses,” McCaffery said.
POST PRESENCE: Iowa’s lineup will have a lot of versatility, but there will be a time when the Hawkeyes need size and strength at center.
McCaffery is confident he has that in Josh Ogundele and Riley Mulvey, although Ogundele, with his experience, is likely the leading choice.
Ogundele, at 6-foot-10 and 275 pounds, has been used in certain situations, especially against some of the Big Ten’s biggest centers like Purdue’s Zach Edey and Kofi Cockburn.
“Well, it's going to be really important against certain teams. It won't be as important against other teams. But as you know, you look around our league, there's some pretty imposing ‘5’ men. Not only in terms of talent but physical size. You look at Edey and (Michigan’s Hunter) Dickinson in particular, those guys. There's just a number of guys that are a handful.
“I thought Josh last year when we needed him to step up in those situations produced well, whether it was against Kofi, whether it was against Edey, he was good. Riley has got to get there.”
NIL: McCaffery understands that college basketball players are taking advantage of the ability to make money off their name, image and likeness.
But he also doesn’t want to get into a bidding war for players.
“I think we have to continue to work hard and be competitive in the NIL market, which we have been,” he said. “I've been very active myself in that arena. It's all new for every one of us. But I want my guys to know that I'm out there fighting for them to help them be in a position to profit from what is, I think, a really good rule, the NIL, so that our guys do profit from their name, image and likeness.
“I've said this before publicly and I'll say it again today. I'm not going to give a bunch of money to a high school kid that I'm not giving to one of the guys that's already played for me. I'm not going to do that. That could be foolish over the long haul. Maybe we'll lose a guy or two. But if we get to the point where we're paying our guys a substantial amount of money and then we can offer the same money to that other guy, OK, we'll do it then.”