In any team sport a coach often finds that at certain crucial moments they prefer to have a particular lineup or group of players in a game. They might not always be the best or most talented members of the team, but when the outcome of a contest hangs in the balance they can be trusted to make the right plays at the right times.
For head coach Fran McCaffery the Iowa basketball team presents a unique challenge in finding that perfect combination of 18-22 year-olds.
Hawkeye fans and/or followers of college basketball in general probably know that this Iowa team typifies the exception rather than the norm in terms of the player rotation it utilizes. With 11 players currently averaging 10+ minutes per night the Iowa’s substitution patterns often look more like line changes in a hockey game. Simply put, McCaffery believes he has an abundance of good players that can help the team while on the floor.
The number of different lineup combinations used this season are too numerous to list. It’s more all-encompassing and frankly less strenuous to say that Iowa can play big, small, fast, slow, and everywhere in between.
This type of versatility makes the Hawkeyes difficult to match up against and further challenging to exploit with a single strategy. Iowa has the ability to adjust and adapt, all the while placing lineups on the floor that can be successful in their own unique ways.
With that being said, as postseason play roles around and the stakes continue to get higher there will undoubtedly be increases in the roles of some players and reductions in those of others. Eventually a conscious decision to go with the five players whom you trust the most must be made.
During Iowa’s huge road victory this past Sunday over previously 3rd ranked Ohio State, I found myself watching what very well could be that particular combination of Hawkeyes.
The group of Mike Gesell, Devyn Marble, Jarrod Uthoff, Aaron White, and Melsahn Basabe just might be the key to the numerous games that will inevitably go down to the wire.
Against the Buckeyes these five showed the necessary cohesion and execution to be relied upon consistently in crucial situations. Not only did they help to erase a nine point deficit on the road against a top 5 opponent, but even more importantly stayed poised in the face of tremendous pressure to close out a victory.
A backcourt of Gesell and Marble has proven itself capable of taking care of the basketball and distributing to open teammates. Each player has also shown the ability to get to the basket against elite defensive pressure such as Ohio State’s, and both guards have a made marked improvement on the defensive end. Marble in particular looks more and more like a future pro and a potential 1st team All-Big Ten selection with every passing game.
The tandem of Uthoff and White presents all kinds of match up problems for opposing 3′s and 4′s. These two hybrid forwards are both ultra efficient scoring the basketball, and complement each other’s offensive strengths well. They can handle the ball and stretch defenses in a variety of ways. Plus at 6-9 apiece, Uthoff and White are also adept at challenging shots with their length .
Lastly the seemingly ageless wonder that is Melsahn Basabe has been the key cog that really holds this unit together. His 8.5 point, 9 rebound, 1.5 block averages in Big Ten play give this athletic and versatile lineup a steadying inside presence.
With these five players on the floor Iowa can press full-court and aggressively switch or trap actions in the half-court. A true physical inside presence could take advantage of this lineup, but by going to a 2-3 zone like they utilized against Ohio State this group can mask their lack of beef on the interior.
The offensive end is where the group can really do damage.
Four different players can stretch the defense to the three point line, and in addition drive the ball to the hoop. Basabe also has a respectable mid-range jumper, and the quickness to go by slower centers.
This unit makes for a nightmare match-up with so many players capable of scoring in a variety of ways. Not to mention it’s also very respectable from the free throw line.
In the end it can be debated at length which combination of players makes for Iowa’s most effective chance to win. However, with that being said I wouldn’t hesitate to put my money down on these five Hawkeyes to get the job done with the game hanging in the balance.