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NCAA Tennessee Iowa Basketball

Iowa's Tyler Cook, left, drives past Tennessee's Kyle Alexander in the first half of Sunday's 83-77 loss to the Volunteers.

The Iowa basketball team made a significant step forward this season, going 23-12 and making the NCAA tournament a year after going 14-19 with largely the same group of players. With only one senior (Nicholas Baer) on this season’s team, the prospects for further improvement are bright.

Some questions and answers about the Hawkeyes looking ahead to next season:

Will Tyler Cook be back or will he turn pro?

No one has provided any clues on this. He’s almost certainly going to enter his name in the NBA draft again and by all accounts, he was close to not returning to college last year. This time he may be even less likely to come back.

If Cook leaves, who replaces him in the starting lineup?

Probably either Jack Nunge or Cordell Pemsl, both of whom are redshirting this season. Nunge started 14 games during the 2017-18 season and has a bigger upside. He also has beefed up to 250 pounds so he won’t be as easy for Big Ten post defenders to shove around now.

What sort of role will Patrick McCaffery play?

He should back up Joe Wieskamp at small forward unless Patrick decides to redshirt in an effort to pack some weight onto a very slender frame.

What sort of role will incoming freshman Joe Toussaint play?

There doesn’t figure to be much playing time for a third-string point guard so he’s an even better candidate to redshirt. He could play a role, however, as a situational player when the Hawkeyes are trying to press or if they run up against a small, quick point guard.

What sort of role will CJ Fredrick play after redshirting this season?

He should see some playing time as a backup shooting guard or a third point guard, and also could help as a situational player when the Hawkeyes need an extra 3-point shooter or added quickness when trying to apply defensive pressure.

Will anyone else besides senior Nicholas Baer and possibly Cook be gone?

Anything is possible. Isaiah Moss might again enter the draft or he could be eligible to go elsewhere as a graduate transfer. Another player who could seek increased playing time elsewhere is Maishe Dailey, who played less than 13 minutes per game as a junior and could lose even more playing time to Patrick McCaffery and/or Fredrick. Dailey played only 11 minutes in the two NCAA tournament games.

If there is an open scholarship, will the Hawkeyes seek or accept a transfer?

Also not likely. Fran McCaffery is less inclined to dabble in the transfer market than almost any coach in the country. He hasn’t taken a Division I transfer since Jarrod Uthoff. He’s going to have enough trouble finding playing time for everyone as it is.

With Baer gone, who fills that role of being the player who comes off the bench and gives the team a jolt of energy?

Patrick McCaffery or Pemsl could do that although it’s doubtful either of them will be as good at it as Baer was. If Touissant plays, he has a chance to be that sort of player.

Which Iowa player figures to make the biggest improvement between now and next season?

Wieskamp. No one is more dedicated to working on their game. After an outstanding freshman season (11.1 points, 4.9 rebounds per game), he’ll probably try to add 10 to 15 pounds of muscle and will become an even more effective scorer around the basket as well as being a major 3-point threat.

Who leads this team in scoring next season?

The obvious answer is Cook again, if he’s back. But Luka Garza and Wieskamp may give him a run for his money. It wouldn't be surprising to see all three average more than 14 per game.

Will there be any changes in the Iowa coaching staff?

Not likely. McCaffery has had the same three full-time assistants for his entire nine-year tenure at Iowa. Two of them (Kirk Speraw and Sherm Dillard) are in their 60s, which means they shouldn’t be strong candidates to land head coaching jobs elsewhere.

If Cook returns, where are the Hawkeyes likely to be picked to finish in the Big Ten?

Probably around fourth. Much depends on which underclassmen on other teams decide to enter the NBA draft. Michigan State, Michigan and Maryland probably would be picked ahead of them unless Cassius Winston, Ignas Brazdeikis and Bruno Fernando turn pro. Other possibilities are Purdue (if Carsen Edwards doesn’t turn pro), Indiana (if Romeo Langford doesn’t turn pro), Penn State (if Lamar Stevens doesn’t turn pro) and Ohio State, which has a tremendous recruiting class coming in.

If Cook doesn’t return, where are the Hawkeyes likely to be picked in the Big Ten?

Below several of those aforementioned teams plus maybe Wisconsin and Minnesota (if Amir Coffey doesn’t turn pro).

What does next year’s schedule look like?

McCaffery said it will be the most challenging schedule in Iowa history and it certainly will be the toughest of his tenure. The Hawkeyes play Cincinnati at the United Center in Chicago and play in the four-team Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational, which includes Texas Tech, Creighton and San Diego State. Add to that a road game at Iowa State and games against big-time opponents in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and the Gavitt Games plus 20 Big Ten games, and there should about 15 games against teams that played in this year's NCAA tournament. The rest of the schedule includes two yet-to-be-determined home games against teams as part of the Las Vegas Invitational plus SIU-Edwardsville (10-21 this season), Oral Roberts (11-21) and Kennesaw State (6-26).

Improved defense was the big point of emphasis during last year’s off-season. What about this year?

There may not be one big item but defense will be a focus again. It was better this season but still not quite where it needs to be to challenge for a Big Ten title.

How is recruiting going for the class of 2020?

The Hawkeyes do not have any verbal commitments yet but as the roster stands now, they will five seniors next season (Jordan Bohannon, Tyler Cook, Isaiah Moss, Ryan Kriener and Maishe Dailey) so there are plenty of scholarships to fill. The priorities figure to be a point guard and a post player. Look for them to possibly get some commitments this spring but they're more likely to get a bunch in late summer or early fall. Only five Big Ten teams have commitments for 2020 right now. Nebraska has two and Maryland, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin one each.

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