After losing leading scorer Kris Murray to the NBA, the Iowa Hawkeyes tip off their 2023-24 season with a matchup against the North Dakota Fighting Hawks.
TV Schedule: Tuesday, November 7, 7:00 p.m. CT. BTN+
Arena: Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa
For the first time in a few seasons, the Iowa Hawkeyes enter the season with some uncertainty. After enjoying the presence of stars such as Luka Garza, Keegan Murray, and Kris Murray, Iowa enters the 2023-24 season with no go-to scorer. Sure, they have some talented pieces returning, along with several newcomers who have the potential to be really good players down the road, but the Hawkeyes were picked ninth in the Big Ten preseason media poll.
As is the custom under head coach Fran McCaffery, Iowa should still be able to put the ball in the bucket, but defense will define this team’s ceiling. In their exhibition match against Division II Quincy, the Hawkeyes allowed the Hawks to shoot 46 percent from three, something that this team can not afford against Big Ten competition.
The biggest names to watch for this Iowa squad are senior Tony Perkins (12.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg last season) and junior Payton Sandfort (10.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg last season). Perkins is not only one of the best defenders in the conference, but his ability to get to the basket has made him one of the most versatile scorers in the Big Ten. Sandfort is one of the most lethal three-point shooters in the Big Ten, and maybe the entire country, after shooting 34 percent from behind the arc a season ago. Both will need to step up in order for the Hawkeyes to make the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight season.
Also, Iowa fans should be watching the development of their highly anticipated freshman class of point guard Brock Harding and forwards Owen Freeman and Ladji Dembele. Harding and Freeman played together in high school, and they flashed some of that chemistry in the exhibition game. Dembele showed off his blocking ability with a spectacular block in transition against Quincy. He’s cleary inexperienced, but his defense and rebounding will be key for the Hawkeyes.
On the flip side, North Dakota enters its fifth season under head coach Paul Sather. This could be a make or break year for Sather as his Fighting Hawks teams have compiled only a 43-80 record during his tenure. Last season, North Dakota went 13-20 to finish in ninth place. The Fighting Hawks did double their win total from 6 wins in 2021-22 to 13 in 2022-23, so if you’re looking for positives, there’s one.
The main player to watch on this North Dakota squad is sophomore forward B.J. Omot (12 ppg, 3.7 rpg last season). As a freshman, Omot was the leading scorer for this Fighting Hawks unit, and he also spent the most time on the floor, earning an average of 31.7 minutes per game. Omot isn’t afraid to take some shots from the perimeter, shooting a respectable 30 percent from deep.
For North Dakota to make a jump up the Summit League standings, they are going to have to find a way to get the ball in Omot’s hands. I would assume Iowa will try and keep him from getting the ball as much as possible. As for the rest of the roster, the Fighting Hawks only have two seniors on the roster, including leading rebounder Tsotne Tsartsidze, but this is a team fit with a nice mix of veterans and newcomers.
This game will likely be a one sided affair, but if Iowa gets off to a slow start and lets North Dakota hang around, then anything can happen. After all, it wouldn’t be college basketball without chaos, right? But, I expect the Hawkeyes to get their high powered offense going towards the end of the first half, and pull away for a season-opening win.