Iowa Basketball: Hawkeyes guard Joe Toussaint is due for a sophomore breakout

Across the nation, many players are looking to step up into larger roles than they were in last season. Iowa Basketball guard Joe Toussaint has the chance to take one of the biggest leaps.

Typically, when a college basketball player has a breakout season, it’s due to a player above them on the depth chart leaving the program. For example, University of Maryland standout Jalen Smith was stuck playing behind All-Big Ten center Bruno Fernando. Once Fernando moved on to the NBA, Smith went and had an All-Big Ten season of his own.

The reason for this is two-fold. First, and most obvious, players typically put up better stats with more opportunity. The question of efficiency remains, but in terms of pure production, it is quite likely that the player’s numbers will increase. Second is overall development. Different players develop quicker than others, and the leap that each athlete takes from year to year is super variant. While a change in role is noticeable to the average fan, internal development is much more of a guessing game.

With Iowa guard Joe Toussaint, his potential breakout is derived almost entirely from his freshman to sophomore season development. The Hawkeyes return almost every rotation player in their backcourt, and actually bring back 2018-2019 starting point guard Jordan Bohannon. With an elite low post scorer in Luka Garza, along with a crowded collection of guards including Bohannon, CJ Fredrick, Joe Wieskamp, and Connor McCaffery, Toussaint will certainly have to work for touches and playing time. If his talent and flashes from last year are any indications, he may break out in his second season with the Hawkeyes.

Simply put, as good as Iowa may be next season (most experts have them firmly in the Top 10), they don’t have another player like Toussaint. While Bohannon, Fredrick, and Wieskamp rely on their outside shooting, Toussaint is a bowling ball heading to the rim and plays with extreme toughness and grit. Coming from the Bronx, he brings a tough-nosed attitude whenever he’s on the floor.

Most importantly to Iowa’s team success, he provides them with a quick, aggressive defender at the point of attack. For a team that finished 260th in points allowed last season, the defense Toussaint gives them is already worthy of keeping him on the floor. Individually, Toussaint finished fifth in the Big Ten in steals last season, assisted by his aggressive on-ball defense against even the best guards in the league. Team-wise, having Toussaint defend the opposition’s best scoring guard allowed Wieskamp and Fredrick amongst others to be more effective offensively.

Joe Toussaint’s areas for improvement

It’s on the offensive end that Toussaint showed some freshman growing pains. He didn’t score very often, or very efficiently. He averaged 6.5 points per game, on only 37.8% shooting from the field. His 29.7% three-point shooting with only 11 makes on the year didn’t help much either. Still, he improved slowly as the season progressed. Six of his 11 makes from deep came in the last six games of the season, and he made his last 17 free throws to end the year.

The fact of the matter is Toussaint’s offensive game starts with his drives to the rim. He is a very crafty finisher at only 6-0 flat and can get there with an array of dribble moves and hesitations. Being able to make threes on a more consistent basis would really help improve the quality of his drives.

Playing alongside so many elite shooters, Toussaint needs to keep defenses honest so that he isn’t the player they’re laying off of. If he can improve his three-point shooting percentage up to 35% this year, his drive game will be much more effective, leading to better efficiency numbers overall.

This leads to the last part of Toussaint’s game, his passing and playmaking. He finished 15th in the Big Ten in assists last season, despite being 88th overall in minutes played. Averaging almost three assists per game, he was able to find open teammates with regularity. On the other hand, like any freshman guard with the ball in his hands a fair bit, Toussaint struggled with turnovers.

He led the Hawkeyes with 62 on the year, giving him only a 1.5-1 assist to turnover ratio. For him to truly take the next step, Toussaint will have to keep on working on his playmaking for the elite shooters around him, without it hampering his efficiency.

When it comes down to it, a big reason to project a breakout from Toussaint along with his obvious skill and year of experience is Iowa’s roster construction. It simply doesn’t make much sense for coach Fran McCaffery to play all of Bohannon, Fredrick, and Wieskamp at once. All three have their own defensive liabilities and are more shooters than they are playmakers. Starting Toussaint and keeping one of those three players on the bench to start the game makes much more sense when it comes to balancing out the lineups. His aggressive defense and driving ability could really open up better looks for his teammates and relieve their defensive issues.

All in all though, Toussaint’s development will truly be indicative of the work he’s put in this offseason. Known as a tireless worker, the bet is that improved shooting and decision making can change his role from spark plug off the bench, to Big Ten starting point guard. It may not be quite the same jump, but perhaps looking at Minnesota’s Marcus Carr can be a goal for Toussaint, given their similar games and intangibles.

Should the Iowa Hawkeyes provide him the role, Joe Toussaint could be in for a big step up from his freshman season. If he’s able to reach his full potential in year two, he could be another lethal weapon for what could be one of the best offenses in the nation for the 2020-2021 college basketball season.