With its season in the rear view mirror, the Iowa basketball team and its fans can now turn their attention towards what needs to be done in order to improve the program heading into 2014-15.
A 20-13 finish this past year was less than ideal, but receiving an NCAA Tournament berth (Iowa’s first since 2006) helped to cushion the blow of a somewhat underwhelming record based on how the Hawkeyes performed in the non-conference portion of their schedule. If next year’s team wants to make another leap up the college basketball ladder and advance in postseason play, it will have to improve in a few key areas.
1. Defense, Defense, Defense
Just a year ago, Iowa possessed one of the less heralded but most effective defenses in the country. The 2012-13 Hawkeyes gave up only 62.8ppg on less than 40% shooting from opponents. Those numbers jumped to 70.3ppg and almost 42% shooting this season.
Even worse, in Big Ten play opponents hit a robust 44.8% of their shots from the field, including 35% from 3-point range, for a total of nearly 74ppg. One of the primary reasons that the Hawkeyes experienced a slide down the stretch was because of their inability to get stops when they needed to.
Solid teams can be either offensively and defensively average, or be far better on one end than the other. Great teams excel in both areas.
If Iowa wants to be great, it needs to close the gap between a shockingly porous defense and an offense that was one of the most explosive in college basketball last season.
2. More paint touches
If you watched enough of the Hawkeyes last season you probably heard at least one announcer make reference to the length present on the roster. Yes, Iowa had a great amount of height and length on its team, and it will again next season despite the gradation of three “lengthy” seniors.
With that being said, there weren’t nearly enough shots attempted at or around the rim in 2013-14.
For all of Iowa’s size there were too many instances in which the team settled for 3′s and mid-range jumpers. Much of that was due to a lack of multiple options that could take their defender off the dribble and get into the lane.
With the departure of All-Big Ten performer Devyn Marble the Hawkeyes have lost their best one-on-one offensive option and a player capable of creating shots for both himself and his teammates by attacking the basket. Soon-to-be senior Josh Oglesby and young Peter Jok are mostly spot-up shooters from the wing position, so Iowa will likely need to look elsewhere for driving opportunities.
Guards Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons would seem to be the most viable options, but both players need to improve their ability to get by defenders and deep in the paint. Another possibility could be incoming junior college recruit Trey Dickerson. The 6-2 guard out of Williston State College is one of the highest ranked players in the JUCO class, and could be the type of explosive guard that can really break down the defense and cause problems for the opposition.
It’s also vital that the Hawkeyes figure out if Adam Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni can be a reliable scorers on post-up plays. Woodbury in particular showed some unexpected flashes in the season finale against Tennessee, finishing with a career high 16 points on 8-11 shooting.
3. Make Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff uncomfortable
While the above statement might seem a bit counter-intuitive on its surface, Iowa will not experience its maximum possible growth as a team if these two players are not demanded to do more.
The pair of skilled 6-9 hybrid forwards are statistically the two most efficient shooters on the entire team, and it’s really not even close. Both White and Uthoff shot over 50% from the field and over 80% from the free throw line this past season, and yet took only the 6th and 8th most shots per 40 minutes of all players on the TEAM.
Efficiency is a very valuable skill in the game of basketball, but not if it isn’t being utilized to the fullest extent. Some might attribute the lack of shot attempts to the depth of the Iowa team, but in reality it has more to do with the unselfish nature of the two players. As skilled as White and Uthoff are, they aren’t inherently “scorers.”
I’m not suggesting that either player goes Kobe Bryant of 2005-06 next season in terms of shot attempts, but the Hawkeyes need to establish primary scoring options in the absence of Devyn Marble’s 17ppg. White and Uthoff are far too talented to not force the action offensively on more occasions, and they need to be pressed by both the coaching staff and their teammates this off-season to do so.
You’d never know it just by looking at them, but these two are perfectly capable of scoring 14-15 points apiece each night while still maintaining much of the efficiency that made their production past season so numerically tantalizing.
However high the ceiling is for the Hawkeyes in 2014-15, they will only start to knock their heads against it if White and Uthoff are forced out of their respective comfort zones and into the expansive offensive roles that they are more than capable of occupying.