Wednesday night, Jarrod Uthoff announced where he would play basketball for the next four years. It was the second time in 24 months that the Cedar Rapids native made such an announcement and the second time coach Fran McCaffery and the Hawkeyes hoped the former Iowa Mr. Basketball would choose to play for the program just 30 miles from home. McCaffery wouldn’t be disappointed twice as Uthoff selected Iowa the second time around.
A top 100 recruit in 2011, Uthoff is another talented player to add to the improving Hawkeye roster. After redshirting in 2011-12, his decision to transfer from Wisconsin surprised his coach and the drama surrounding Bo Ryan’s subsequent transfer restrictions created national headlines.
Uthoff now represents another coup for McCaffery. But it does raise questions on how he will fit in with the current roster, its impact on future Hawkeye recruiting, and what it ultimately means for the Hawkeyes.
As talented and long, big men with ball skills, Uthoff and White (both are 6'8") have similar games. So similar, in fact, that White may never have had the opportunity with the Hawkeyes had Uthoff accepted the Iowa offer (Uthoff committed to Wisconsin in mid-July 2010 and White was offered shortly after). He made the most of that opportunity averaging 11.1 points and 5.7 rebounds in an All-Freshman campaign.
White clearly is an important part of Iowa’s plans the next three years, two of which will overlap with Uthoff’s eligibility. In those two years, both will see significant minutes and not necessarily at each other’s expense. White played the majority of his minutes last year as a face-up power forward and Bo Ryan was grooming Uthoff to play the same position with the Badgers. But one of the main reasons for Uthoff leaving Wisconsin was that he wasn’t happy with his expected role in Madison. By coming to Iowa, Uthoff will have an opportunity to use his ball handing and open court skills as a small forward, especially considering the logjam at PF for the next two years with Melsahn Basabe, Zach McCabe, White and freshman Kyle Meyer.
Uthoff may not fill the exact role Iowa currently covets in an ultra athletic SF and lock-down defender, but in McCaffery’s system talented and athletic players with length are rarely duplicative. Positions are less defined in his up-tempo offense and Uthoff is another player with the flexibility to play multiple positions. Finding a role for a player of his caliber is a high-class problem for Fran and his staff.
Uthoff was a class of 2011 recruit for Wisconsin. However, with four years remaining to complete his eligibility, he lines up with the class of 2012 at Iowa, becoming the sixth member of this year’s class. That is 50 percent of the 12 scholarship players currently projected to the 2013-14 roster.
This sort of class imbalance can create challenges for a coaching staff. It limits flexibility in recruiting when they have fewer scholarships to offer in subsequent years. It creates a leadership void when those players all exit the program at the same time. It puts pressure on recruiting to find that many quality replacement players in a single class.
While McCaffery has previously stated that he expects all five true freshmen to play meaningful minutes in 2012-13, Uthoff’s addition may change that. Look for Fran to redshirt one or two of the new freshmen to even out the classes a bit. The obvious candidate would be PF Kyle Meyer. Big men typically benefit more from a redshirt season than do guards, and with three seasoned PF ahead of him on the depth chart, and Meyer likely would not see more than a few minutes a game anyway.
The second redshirt candidate for further class balance would be shooting guard Patrick Ingram. Ingram will be competing for minutes on the wing with Devyn Marble, Eric May, Josh Oglesby, and to a lesser extent White and even Gesell/Clemmons when both are on the floor together. Ingram could also benefit from a year of developing his outside shot. However, McCaffery likes Ingram’s athleticism and will likely want him available for particular defensive match-ups and to provide a spark off the bench.
The state of Iowa has had its share of highly recruited players over the years. However, the Hawkeyes have struggled to keep them in-state. Roy Williams has been most notorious at poaching Iowa talent with a list that includes Raef LaFrentz (1994), Nick Collison (1999), Kirk Hinrich (1999), Harrison Barnes (2010) and Marcus Paige (2012). But Bo Ryan had also landed two Iowa Mr. Basketballs in Jason Bohannon (2006) and then Uthoff (2011). In fact, it seems that when going head to head with high major programs for Iowa prep ballers, the Hawkeyes have lost more than they’ve won.
This unfortunate trend looks finally be changing under Coach McCaffery. McCaffery has recruited eight in-state players since taking the Iowa job: Zach McCabe (2010; originally committed to Todd Lickliter then reaffirmed his commitment to McCaffery), Josh Oglesby (2011), Jarrod Uthoff (2011), Wes Washpun (2011), Kale Abrahamson (2012), Mike Gesell (2012; Nebraska high school, but Iowa AAU), Marcus Paige (2012) and Adam Woodbury (2012). All had other high-major offers. Uthoff’s transfer means that five of the eight are now Hawkeyes, a significant achievement when considering Iowa’s on-court struggles in recent years.
The Hawkeyes will always face challenges when it comes to recruiting against elite programs like Michigan State and Kansas. But winning the top two 2011 in-state players and two of the top three in 2012 is a sign that Iowa is again an appealing choice to homegrown talent when compared to nearby programs such as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.
Now about that Roy Williams…
Assuming Uthoff goes on scholarship beginning the 2013-14 season, McCaffery will have one scholarship to offer to the 2013 class and three scholarships for 2014.
The most pressing need is still an athletic wing that can get to the basket, create his own shot, and defend the SF position, so expect that to be McCaffery’s first choice for the class of 2013. If he can’t corral the right player, the scholarship will go to the best available player.
2013 offers are currently out to 6'4" E.C. Matthews who could project to any of PG, SG and SF, as well as 6-9 Akoy Agau, an athletic PF. Both players will have plenty of options by the time signing day rolls around.
McCaffery will be replacing Basabe, Marble and McCabe in the class of 2014. Despite not graduating a PG, one of the three scholarships will go to a PG. The position is too important to have a two class gap to follow Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons. Iowa will also be looking for a C or a physical PF in 2014. The Hawkeyes will have several skilled big men on the roster, but will be missing a “banger” to enforce the paint. Iowa will be seeking a SG/SF with the last scholarship.
While still early, 2014 offers have already been extended to SG Peyton Allen, SF Malek Harris, PF Cliff Alexander and PF/C Seth Bonifas.
Devyn Marble will lead a talented, deep and experienced Hawkeye team in 2013-2014
After sitting out his transfer year in 2012-13, Uthoff will see the floor in 2013-14 for his first competitive action in three seasons. He will then have three seasons of remaining eligibility.
The 2013-14 season was already looking to be a strong year for the Hawkeyes and Uthoff now adds yet another weapon for McCaffery that year. Look for him to get approximately 20 minutes off the bench on a team with great depth.
However, other Big Ten teams will also be prepared to make runs that year. Indiana appears to be in position to be the class of the league for the next two to three seasons and Ohio State and Michigan State will remain at or near the top of the conference for the foreseeable future. But Iowa won’t be too far behind and should be in the hunt for a top four finish and a nice seed come March.
Uthoff also helps to replace three solid players after the 2013-2014 season. His versatility in playing both SF and PF will be critical in replacing Basabe, Marble and McCabe in an effort to keep Iowa in the top half of a strong Big Ten.
Hey, if the Big Ten can have twelve teams, then my top five can have six questions.
Iowa-Wisconsin is a rivalry that doesn’t need any additional storylines. The two states share a border. The Hawkeyes and Badgers are tied 42-42-2 all-time in football. Iowa holds a 78-77 advantage in basketball. Wisconsin’s athletic director and football coach have Hawkeye roots (and tattoos).
Yet Fran and Bo have graciously added some drama to the rivalry in just two short years. Bo landed the first blow via the Ben Brust saga of 2010. Brust was an Iowa commit that jumped ship for the Badgers after Iowa fired then coach, Todd Lickliter. Ryan proceeded to welcome McCaffery to the conference with a heartbreaking OT win in Iowa City in their only meeting in 2010-11.
Fran struck back in 2011-12 with a shocking two-game sweep of the Badgers and has now evened the player poaching score as well by taking Uthoff.
The Big Ten is loaded with quality coaches, but no personal rivalry is shaping up to be more interesting than Fran-Bo. From contrasting playing styles, to similar recruiting targets, to lingering feelings over player transfers, this is a rivalry worth paying attention to both on and off the court.