The Iowa Hawkeyes‘ 2023-24 men’s college basketball season is officially underway.
It really couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start. The Hawkeyes made quick and decisive work against a team that finished just 13-20 a season ago and was predicted by the coaches to finish fifth in the Summit League.
Looking to advance to a fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament, Iowa made an early case as to why this team is capable of doing just that.
“We have a lot of weapons. We have a lot of different guys that can make plays. Whether it be off a rebound or out of our motion game. We can move guys around on our sets and create shot opportunities. The aggressiveness of the guys and their ability to do that is a game changer,” Iowa head men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery said afterwards.
Iowa (1-0) will host Alabama State (0-1) on Friday inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena at 7 p.m. CT for the Veteran Appreciation Game. In the meantime, here’s five key takeaways from the Hawkeyes’ impressive season opener.
What a start from Payton Sandfort
It looked the way it should look for Iowa in general, and that was the case for one of Iowa’s top returning weapons in junior forward Payton Sandfort. The 6-foot-7, 215 pound forward scored 10 points in the game’s first four minutes and change, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers during that span.
The Waukee, Iowa, product finished with a team-high 21 points on an efficient 7-of-13 shooting, including 3-of-7 from 3-point range. Sandfort also grabbed nine rebounds, dished out a pair of assists and came away with a pair of steals. He did all of that in just 21 minutes of floor time.
Sandfort has always been capable of getting hot shooting the basketball in a hurry. It’s the consistency that has been at times problematic. That will be the piece to watch over the Hawkeyes’ next several games.
For now, Sandfort authored the type of start that was expected of him. Is he ready to be Iowa’s No. 1 offensive option?
How about those freshmen
Fran McCaffery has been pretty excited about the group of freshmen the Hawkeyes added this season. After one outing, it’s easy to see why.
Freshman guard Brock Harding tossed a beautiful alley-oop to fellow frosh Freeman. Those two played together at Moline High School in Illinois where they won a state championship and Harding was eventually named Illinois’ Mr. Basketball to close last year.
Harding had six points and seven assists in 11 minutes of action and knocked down the lone 3-pointer he attempted. Meanwhile, Freeman looks like he’s going to be a natural scorer rolling to the cup inside. He finished with 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting.
Ladji Dembele scored eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers, and Pryce Sandfort knocked down a trey as well.
A nice Hawkeye debut for Ben Krikke
It was a really nice debut for the Valparaiso transfer. Ben Krikke was the Missouri Valley Conference’s leading scorer a season ago, and, at least in the opener, Krikke was right toward his averages from a year ago.
The 6-foot-9, 245 pound graduate student forward finished with 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting. The Alberta native even stepped out and knocked down a 3-pointer. Krikke grabbed three boards as well.
Does Iowa truly have a 10-man rotation?
Against an overmatched foe like North Dakota, it presents an opportunity for coach McCaffery to really get a look at a number of different players.
It’s the season opener against the Fighting Hawks—a team that isn’t really expected to contend in the Summit League—so everything will naturally get taken with a bit of a grain of salt. But, 10 different Hawkeyes earned 11 minutes or more floor time.
That group included starting guards Dasonte Bowen and Tony Perkins, small forwards Payton Sandfort and Patrick McCaffery and forward Ben Krikke. Guards Josh Dix and Brock Harding and forwards Ladji Dembele, Owen Freeman, and Pryce Sandfort were among those 10 as well.
Fran McCaffery has been touting this team as one of his deepest in Iowa City. Early on, it looked like Iowa has 10 players it could feature among its nightly rotation.
Good defensive beginnings
It’s tough to complain too much in a 110-68 rout, but there were some pointing out that Iowa only won the rebounding battle 44-38 in this one.
That said, the defensive showing to begin the 2023-24 season was encouraging. Iowa held North Dakota to just 40.3% shooting and a frosty 160% from 3-point distance.
For a program that can really score the basketball, Iowa’s consistent Achilles’ heel has been its inability to defend at times. The jury is of course still out, but this was a nice start in that regard.
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