With their first and only exhibition game coming up this Sunday against Augustana (Illinois) College it’s just about time to turn our attention towards Iowa basketball and the 2013-14 college hoops season.
As the most anticipated season in years approaches, Hawkeye fans are gearing up for a top 25 caliber team to support, and an expected berth in the NCAA tournament at season’s end. Looking ahead there are increased expectations for this Iowa team as a whole, and a hope that each practice and game will move them one step closer to regaining the national prominence the program once had.
So what should fans and pundits alike be looking for out of the Iowa squad this winter?
The greatest asset that the Hawkeye team will possess this year is its unheard of amount of depth and balanced scoring. Last season only Devyn Marble and Aaron White averaged double digit points for Iowa, but a total of nine players scored at least 4.3 ppg. In 2013-14 that number very likely could rise to an absurd 11 players scoring at or greater than 5 ppg.
With the additions of freshman wing Peter Jok and redshirt sophomore forward Jarrod Uthoff, coach Fran McCaffery will have the enviable dilemma all season long of trying to find enough minutes for all of the talented players on his team. These two newcomers in particular may force themselves into greater roles in the rotation based on the area Iowa needs to improve the most coming off of last season’s run to the NIT championship game.
As a team in 2012-13 Iowa shot only 42% from the field and just over 30% from three point range. These struggles from the field contributed to a few of the late game collapses that ultimately kept the Hawkeyes out of the NCAA tournament. Jok and Uthoff are two of the players that will be looked at this season to help raise those percentages, specifically with their ability to shoot from beyond the arc.
With the contributions of newcomers and the expected improvement of the other capable shooters within the program it shouldn’t be unrealistic to expect a jump to somewhere in the range of 35% from three and a percentile in the high 40’s overall from the field.
Despite their shooting struggles the Hawkeyes managed to find other ways to attain their win total of 25 games (tied for second most in school history) last season. If Iowa can continue to build on these positive habits there is no reason that an increase in production and a substantial tournament run shouldn’t come to fruition.
Collectively last season the Hawkeyes did a tremendous job of both rebounding and passing the basketball, finishing 10th and 30th in the country respectively in those two categories. These areas should once again be a source of strength as two of the primary backcourt contributors in 2012-13 were freshman in Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons, and a roster boasting six players expected to see major minutes that are 6-7 or taller should once again dominate opponents on the boards.
Another way last season’s Hawkeyes managed to find success was by getting to the charity stripe. On the year Iowa’s opponents only attempted 20 more free throws than were made by the boys wearing black and gold. Such a disparity will keep most teams in any game they play, and it was especially helpful to the Hawkeyes who put in 73.1% of their attempts at the line.
The defensive end of the floor is probably the area that Iowa made its biggest jump last season. With its pressing style and a mixture of both zone and man-to-man schemes the Hawkeyes finished among the top teams nationally in defensive efficiency, holding their opponents just below 40 and 30 percent from the field and three point line respectively.
Once again Iowa’s depth will come to its aid as the Hawkeyes will be able to run fresh bodies at their opponents throughout each game to wear them down, specifically with the full-court press. In Melsahn Basabe and Gabriel Olaseni they will have two players among the upper echelon of Big Ten shot blockers, so expecting continued defensive excellence is very realistic for Hawkeye fans.
The final aspect that should give the Iowa fan base tremendous optimism for the upcoming season is head coach Fran McCaffery. No stranger to the NCAA tournament, McCaffery is looking to make the Hawkeyes his fourth program to have led into March. He has the track record, fan support, and respect of his players necessary to take Iowa to the Big Dance this season.
After looking at the various aspects of this year’s version of the Iowa basketball team it’s now prediction time.
In terms of postseason awards it is very realistic to expect to see numerous Hawkeyes listed among the best of the Big Ten. I predict that Devyn Marble and/or Aaron White will be voted second team All-Big Ten or higher at season’s end, Peter Jok will make the All-freshman team (with Jarrod Uthoff also being among the top newcomers), and Fran McCaffery will be named Big Ten coach of the year.
Looking at the season itself I will attempt to throw all bias aside in predicting the outcome for this Iowa squad (excuse me if I fail to remain completely objective). The non-conference schedule sets up nicely to pile up a few easy wins, but it also provides opportunities to boost an NCAA tournament resume that the Hawkeyes have not had in previous years. I think Iowa has a great chance to finish this portion of its schedule 12-1, with the biggest matchup potentially awaiting in the finals at the Battle for Atlantis tournament against Kansas should both Iowa and the Jayhawks win their first two games.
Moving on to the conference schedule, there will be no shortage of chances for big wins. Home-and-home matchups against preseason top 10 teams Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State will all be tough, but the Hawkeyes proved last season that they can be competitive against the Big Ten’s elite. Other games to look at are a road trip to Bloomington to take on Indiana, as well as two tilts apiece with Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois.
Should Iowa prove able to take care of business against all of its inferior opponents in conference play they will be sitting at five victories. Throw in what I believe will be two wins each against Illinois and Minnesota and the Hawkeyes’ total rests at nine, which would equal last year’s final conference tally.
I’m hesitant to pick Iowa (much less any team this year) to go on the road and pick up wins versus OSU and the two Michigan institutions, but I do believe the Hawks have every chance to end road trips at Wisconsin and Indiana with victories. A return trip to Iowa City from each of the aforementioned schools (minus Indiana) is what will ultimately determine Iowa’s fate in the Big Ten.
These crucial home contests are of the toss-up variety in my eyes, but should Iowa play well both their place in the conference standings as well as their NCAA tournament seed will skyrocket. In the end I see the Hawkeyes finishing 12-6 in Big Ten play to go along with a top four seed and in the conference tournament.
So many factors can alter the course of a season for a college basketball team, but I fully expect Iowa to be comfortably in the field of 68 at season’s end. I see the Hawkeyes receiving a five or six seed, and at minimum getting a win in their first tournament game since 2006-07.
Call me crazy if you’d like, but fans of Iowa basketball should have a tremendous amount of confidence in this year’s squad and it’s potential for the upcoming season. I certainly do, but then again talk is cheap.
The official countdown to season’s start is at 10 days.
That being said, let the games (and hopefully Hawkeye victories) begin.