Iowa basketball look ahead: Mike Gesell

In the first installment of a series, I’ll take a look at each player set to fill a roster spot for the Iowa basketball team this upcoming season. Everything from strengths and weakness to areas for improvement and career progress will be examined, hopefully helping to paint a picture of what fans can reasonably expect from each Hawkeye in 2014-15.

Player number one on the docket is a two-year starter at point guard whose ability and impact have been the source of some debate among Iowa fans. He has also been compared to myself in physical appearance on numerous occasions (though I’m fairly certain he knows nothing about this).

I’m of course referring to returning junior (and the dashingly handsome) Mike Gesell.

The 6-1 South Sioux City, Nebraska native came to Iowa in tandem with Adam Woodbury as a consensus top 100 recruit, and provided fans with a renewed sense of optimism for the program’s future. After a solid but unspectacular first season in Black & Gold, Gesell was expected to take his game up another level to help buoy the ever-improving Hawkeyes to greater success.

Whether he fulfilled those expectations or not is a matter of opinion, but based on the two year body of work at hand I would say that his contributions have certainly been more than serviceable thus far.

Whether you're a fan of his or not, Mike Gesell has unquestionably done a solid job of running the Hawkeyes during his young career in Iowa City.

Whether you’re a fan of his or not, Mike Gesell has unquestionably done a solid job of running the Hawkeyes during his young career in Iowa City.

In comparing years one and two of Gesell’s career there are really only a few glaring areas that stand out; those being field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and assist/turnover ratio.

On one hand he experienced a somewhat confounding and precipitous drop in shooting percentage from both the field and the foul line, but on the other he made the type of leap that all coaches dream of seeing from their floor general in terms of increasing assists and limiting turnovers, doubling his ratio from 1.5:1 to over 3:1 (good enough to rank 12th nationally in the category).

Gesell shot a porous 37.5% from the field and 67.1% at the charity stripe, an unacceptable number for a point guard. However, it’s foolish for people to completely devalue his contributions based on this data alone.

Does he need to shoot the ball at a higher clip in order to help the team maximize its potential? Of course he does, and I believe that a renewed sense of self-confidence is the best remedy for doing so (see Josh Oglesby this past season). With that being said, if Gesell continues to make strides distributing the basketball and reducing mistakes he can without a doubt be one of the upper echelon point guards in the Big Ten.

Aside from the general improvements like the aforementioned shooting percentages, ball-handling, and defense that all players should strive to attain in the offseason, both Gesell and the Hawkeyes could benefit most from him shoring up his ability to finish at the basket.

[Iowa basketball: Projected starting five]

I firmly believe that Gesell has the shooting stroke to become a reliable outside threat, and his handle is decent enough to break down a defender and get into the lane. The next step is being able to consistently finish those plays in the paint when the opportunity to dump a pass off to an open teammate doesn’t present itself. Working on a variety of floaters and lay-ins that he can complete depending on the situation at hand will go a long way towards elevating his all-around game.

(On a side note, re-upping his free throw percentage to the nearly 80% clip he hit as a freshman is just as big of a factor in alleviating these overall shooting struggles. When a player is unafraid to get sent to the foul line they tend to finish shots much more confidently through contact.)

There was surely an understandable amount of frustration in fans that accompanied the ups and downs of Gesell’s play in 2013-14, but with continued growth over the next few months he can go a long way towards putting many of those concerns to rest once the season rolls back around in November. I don’t think it’s at all out the question that he could average double digits in scoring as well as post five or more assists per game.

Whether or not Gesell experiences the jump I believe he is capable of making won’t be known for some time, but I’d encourage Iowa fans not to form a lasting opinion until they next see him out on the floor with a meaningful game on the line.