Connor McCaffery’s return could correct Iowa basketball’s trajectory this season

IOWA CITY, Iowa — In 11 games this season, Iowa sophomore point guard Jordan Bohannon has notched statistics similar to those of his record-setting freshman campaign.

Bohannon has hit 31 3-pointers and is shooting 45.6 percent from long range. Last season he knocked down an Iowa freshman record 89 and was 41.6 percent from 3-point range. He was one of only two players nationally in the last 25 years to record at least 175 assists and 85 3-pointers as a freshman. He had 175 assists and 76 turnovers last season, slightly better than his current ratio of 49 assists to 23 turnovers.

But the only numbers that really matter for Bohannon — and the Hawkeyes — are the floor leader’s minutes and the team’s record. The Hawkeyes are 5-6 this season, which is below par. Bohannon’s 29.5 minutes per game are the same as his 2016-17 numbers, which were way too high. If Iowa continues to play Bohannon like that, he’ll break down. That’s why freshman point guard Connor McCaffery returning to the team Sunday after a lengthy illness was essential for the Hawkeyes.

Connor McCaffery, the 6-foot-5 son of coach Fran McCaffery, plays unselfishly at the point. He can move the ball without pressing for his own shot and is the best post passer on the team. His basketball intelligence exceeds that of most freshmen. Connor McCaffery can shoot, as demonstrated by his one 3-point attempt that he knocked down, but his team-first mindset is vital for the Hawkeyes to take steps forward this season.

The Hawkeyes needed Connor McCaffery a month ago. That’s when backup guard Christian Williams opted to transfer. Connor McCaffery was supposed to redshirt while he played for Iowa’s baseball team. When Williams left, McCaffery was the only point guard on the roster and gave up the redshirt. McCaffery missed the first two games because of an ankle sprain, then he contracted mono. He missed the next eight games and spent two nights in the hospital when the Hawkeyes were in the Cayman Islands.

McCaffery’s absence was difficult for both the freshman and the Hawkeyes. Opponents relentlessly attacked Bohannon, who struggled to run the offense effectively and find ways to get his shot. Backups Brady Ellingson and Maishe Dailey were forced to run the point either to spell Bohannon or move him off the ball to get him open shots.

“It’s tough watching because they really come after [Bohannon],” Connor McCaffery said. “Being one of our best shooters, we need to get him shots. People need to screen for him. He needs to be open and he needs to get shots off, and we know that. But if he always has the ball, it becomes a little tougher for him sometimes initiating the offense.

“If people are denying him, he’s having to work really hard, whereas I can help him. I can come in ― and I can have the ball and I can initiate the offense ― and he can come off screens and he can run around. And I can throw him the ball and he can get jumpers. Now that I’m back, hopefully I can help him get open and just do whatever I can do to take a little bit of pressure off of him.”

Sunday, Connor McCaffery was slated to play about 5 minutes against Southern. Mono sapped both his wind and his legs so conditioning and strength were a concern, especially after only three practices. But as the game materialized, coach McCaffery left his son in the game. Iowa played primarily zone defense and the pace wasn’t as wide open as usual in a blowout game. Connor McCaffery stayed in for 17 minutes and was active.

“He played the way I know he can play, the way he knows he can play,” coach McCaffery said. “Physically he’s still a long way away. He’s really gassed. He doesn’t have his legs underneath him. If the pace of the game was a little faster, it would have been harder for him. I probably would have had to take him out.”

In his 17 minutes, Connor McCaffery dished 4 assists to just 1 turnover, grabbed 3 rebounds and added a steal. He connected on his only shot, a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 21 seconds left in the game. Connor McCaffery passed up a decent look from the free-throw line to feed Jack Nunge in the post for an open dunk.

“He moved the ball really well,” coach McCaffery said. “He was very effective. We got the ball inside when he’s in there, that’s something that he’ll do. Very unselfish and he made a 3, which is always good, too.”

“It’s great to see him out there,” freshman center Luka Garza said. “Connor has been so good in practice, and it’s tough to see him through that sickness and he’s coming back. You can see his impact as soon as he’s on the floor, moving the ball. He’s a great point guard. A great teammate, very selfless. He’s passing the ball, moving it around. He didn’t take a shot until the end of the game. He had been in for a while. That tells you a lot.”

Connor McCaffery will stay at the point for this season, although he knows the other guard positions. If he can play 15 minutes a game, Bohannon will be much better and so will the Hawkeyes. It’s possible that a freshman backup point guard truly was the missing piece to Iowa’s success the first month of the season.

Now that he’s playing, can Connor McCaffery help put the Hawkeyes in position to succeed for the final three months? It’s actually a possibility.

The post Connor McCaffery’s return could correct Iowa basketball’s trajectory this season appeared first on Land of 10.

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