It is a big season in Iowa this year. For the first time since the glory days of Adam Haluska and Jeff Horner, Iowa should be favored to find a spot in the NCAA Tournament after going .500 in the Big Ten last season, going to the NIT Finals, and returning basically everyone from that squad.
Essentially, nobody. They did lose a starting wing in Eric May, a shooter/glue guy that played well throughout the run to the NIT Finals, but ultimately he's a completely replaceable piece.
The Hawkeyes only had room to bring in one player this recruiting season. Peter Jok is a 6'6 wing shooter who should step in and replace some of May's minutes off the bench. Interestingly enough, Jok was one of the best players in his age group early in life, but then struggled through an injury-riddled high school career, where he labored to return from a torn patellar tendon through his first three seasons. He put it all together during his senior season though, where he averaged 24 points per game on 42% three-point shooting and 92% from the free-throw line on his way to being named Mr. Basketball in Iowa. It's also worth mentioning that he is pretty awesome and does the Soulja Boy dance:
They've also brought in Jarrod Uthoff, a transfer from Wisconsin. Uthoff is a 6'8 power forward that won Mr. Basketball in Iowa in 2011 and hasn't yet played college ball. He's expected to immediately enter the rotation.
Oh, where to begin with Fran McCaffery. There might not be a more entertaining coach to watch in the NCAA. From his red-in-the-face outbursts to chest-bumping his team after big wins, McCaffery just seems like the kind of guy that I'd want my non-existent children to play for. On top of just being generally awesome as a person, he presses constantly and plays up-tempo basketball, which makes him a recent Big Ten anomaly. He's also been extraordinarily successful, including a win over Ohio State in the 2009 NCAA Tournament with Siena. McCaffery is without doubt one of my favorite coaches in the NCAA.
The four remaining starters from last season, Melsahn Basabe, Aaron White, Adam Woodbury, and Devyn Marble, should start to begin the season, with White and Marble being potential All Big-Ten performers. Marble is their point guard, and at 6'6, he's unlike most in the Big Ten. He did a little bit of everything for the Hawkeyes in 2013, including leading the team in scoring with 15 points per game. He also tacked on four rebounds and three assists per game for good measure, demonstrating the variety of ways he can affect a game.
However, McCaffery seems to be highest on White heading into this season. At 6'9, this junior out of Strongsville averaged 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last season, along with nearly 2 blocks/steals. White's clearly a player that makes things happen, and guys like him are any coach's dream. He was a member of the disappointing USA World University Games team, which featured talent like Doug McDermott, Adreian Payne, Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey, Cory Jefferson, and Spencer Dinwiddie. How that roster finished in ninth is a guess for another day, but White proved that he belonged, coming off the bench and averaging six points and four rebounds. McCaffery went out of his way this preseason to praise the development in White's game, and has gone as far as calling him a future NBA player.
Basabe and Woodbury are glue guys that help bring the team together. Basabe is a do-it-all combo forward that began starting midway through last season, and Woodbury is a sophomore 7'1 center that blocks shots and takes up the lane. Apparently Woodbury has been the most impressive player in early practice, and he should play more minutes this season as long as he can stay out of foul trouble. The fifth starter will most likely be Mike Gesell, a 6'1 sophomore who is coming off of a wrist injury this summer. He's still more of a combo guard at this point, but he gives Iowa another option to run the offense if Marble needs a rest or if they want to get him some off-the-ball looks.
This is undoubtedly one of the deepest teams in the Big Ten. At guard, sophomore Anthony Clemmons will back up Gesell and Marble at guard. On the wing, Josh Oglesby will play as well as he shoots, otherwise I'd expect Jok to get most of the run here. Jok's ability to stretch the floor is going to be essential for this team, as will be explained in a minute. At forward, Zach McCabe will try to hold newcomer Uthoff off for minutes this season, but both should see time.
But according to reports there may not be a more improved player on the roster than 6'10 center Gabriel Olaseni on the Iowa roster. According to McCaffery, the Hawkeyes are planning on playing both he and Woodbury together at times in order to slow down the opposition. Just take a look at Olaseni's athleticism in this video. If a guy with this much athleticism has put his game together then he should be expected to be a rather large piece of the team going forward.
Yes, this guy is 6'10, can do a between the legs dunk, stick his entire elbow in the rim, and dunk from the foul line. Needless to say, he's at least one of the most intriguing players in the Big Ten this season.
Biggest Question Mark:
How does McCaffery get all of these guys on the court, still get his best players minutes, and maximize their skill sets together? Each one of these players provides a unique game, but is his starting five is the five that fit best together? Last season, they really struggled with their shooting from distance, so I'll predict here that Jok eventually leapfrogs Balsabe and enters the starting lineup in order to get his shooting in play for the starters. He'd be the fifth option on offense, meaning he should get plenty of open looks for three both in the corner and on the wing. Balsabe then drops down to the second unit where he should be a perfect fit next to Uthoff's ability to stretch the floor in the forward spots.
Best Case Scenario:
McCaffery's face stays pale this season as the Hawkeyes become ranked for the first time late in November and ride that to a 13-5 Big Ten record, good for a tie for third-place in the conference and a 4th seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Worst Case Scenario:
Marble and White fail to improve upon their campaigns last season, Woodbury doesn't learn how to stay out of foul trouble, and the team struggles out of the gates against Xavier, Notre Dame, and Iowa State. Poor late shooting kills them in close games, and the team falls to 8-10 in conference, and they fail to make the tournament for the first time since 2006.
Most Likely Scenario:
I really like this squad a lot. Iowa flirts with being ranked all season long, go 12-6 in conference play and makes a decent run in the conference tournament, leading to a fifth or sixth seed in the NCAA Tournament.