The stage is set. The fans are ready. For the first time in years the levels of excitement and anticipation for an upcoming Iowa basketball season are through the roof.
A proud program that just a few seasons ago was dwelling in the cellar of the Big Ten conference has risen back into the spotlight. With a returning roster loaded with experience and two newcomers expected to provide a boost, this Hawkeye squad is looking to put a stop to the program’s seven year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament.
After last season closed with a runner-up finish in the NIT these Hawkeyes are looking for more.
The entire starting lineup returns in the form of seniors Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe, junior Aaron White, and sophomores Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury. Pair that experience along with a bench that coach Fran McCaffery expects to contribute six additional bodies and you just may have found the deepest team in college basketball.
It’s that kind of depth and experience that the Hawkeyes will need to rely upon this season. If you were to research the roster you wouldn’t find any five-star recruits or McDonald’s All-Americans. With the exception of Gesell and Woodbury (both 4-star ESPN top 100 recruits), coach McCaffery has built his team one step at a time with players that were either lightly sought after or overlooked completely by other major conference programs.
As they prepare for the fast approaching season the Hawkeye players and coaching staff all recognize what it will take in order to make the leap from average to upper-echelon. Playing as a cohesive unit is crucial, especially when games go down to the wire against top tier opponents.
Last season a few of the most notable losses on Iowa’s resume included a four point defeat at home to Indiana, two three point losses to Michigan State, and road contests against Wisconsin and Minnesota in which late leads were blown. A lot of that can be attributed to two untested freshman in the starting lineup and another who played significant minutes off the bench. This year those will no longer be valid excuses.
A large portion of the Hawkeyes’ squad will be upperclassmen, and those previously inexperienced freshman now return having been through the fire. As McCaffery enters his fourth season on the sideline at Iowa he has a team at his disposal that was recruited to play his style and knows his system.
It’s much more than simply the depth that has been accumulated on this roster that will make for a successful season this winter for the Hawkeyes. If ever there was a team perfectly balanced by position to find floor time for eleven players it would be this Iowa squad.
Gesell, Marble, and Anthony Clemmons are all capable of running the point or playing off of the ball. Marble can actually play anywhere from the 1-3 positions because of his length and 6-6 frame.
Next up are two three point specialists in 6-5 junior Josh Oglesby and 2013 Iowa Mr. Basketball recipient 6-6 Peter Jok. The coaching staff anticipates a return to form for Oglesby to his near 40% shooting from behind the arc as a freshman after a down year in 2012-13. Meanwhile, Jok should enter the season brimming with confidence after an impressive summer shooting the basketball against both local and international competition.
The Iowa roster really starts to get interesting upon examining the front court options.
The Hawkeyes have an abundance of forwards ranging from 6-7 to 6-9 who will all see the floor this season. Iowa receives toughness and occasional outside shooting in the form of senior Zach McCabe, athleticism and shot blocking prowess from senior Melsahn Basabe, a potential breakout season awaits from returning 3rd Team All-Big Ten member Aaron White, and the player who could be the most skilled of the bunch is redshirt sophomore transfer Jarrod Uthoff.
Moving even further inside the Hawks have what could conceivably be the two most improved players on the roster. Highly touted 7-1 sophomore Adam Woodbury returns as well as the 6-10 athletic freak that is Gabriel Olaseni.
The beauty of having so many capable contributors is that foul trouble and/or an off shooting night for a player shouldn’t affect the Hawkeyes in most cases. Both backups and starters alike know the expectations of the coaching staff, and have proven at one time or another that they can get the job done.
It would be exhausting to even attempt to run through all of the possible lineup combinations that coach McCaffery could conceivably use this season. One thing is for sure though, the Hawkeyes should consistently be able to dictate and/or adapt to any style of play over the course of a 40 minute game.
McCaffery has made it clear that simply being penciled in as a starter does not ensure extensive playing time night after night. He is more than willing to utilize whichever lineup is playing the best on a particular night, even if it means having back-ups on the floor during crunch time.
As long as the Hawkeye players continue taking the floor with the same selfless attitudes that they exhibited all of 2012-13 this team could be one of the most unique and difficult matchups for any opponent on their schedule. If I had to bet on it, I’d say that’s exactly the type of squad fans can expect to see each night they tune in to see their Iowa team hit the hardwood.
Hawkeye players and fans alike should pencil in March 20th on their calendars. Iowa will be a participant in the Big Dance this spring, and it shouldn’t shock anyone if they do some serious damage once they get there.