B1G Basketball Preview: Iowa
The Iowa Hawkeyes ended last year 22-12 overall and 12-6 within the Big Ten. With Fran McCarley and Aaron White’s lead, the Hawkeyes tied for third in their division and achieved their second consecutive berth into the NCAA Tournament. This year Iowa hopes to fill big shoes and quiet critics.
Key Returning Players
Iowa has a significant number of players returning; those to watch for increased production are Jarrod Uthoff, Adam Woodbury, and Mike Gesell.
Uthoff is the player projected to replace Aaron White. Last year he had a large offensive role, especially as the team’s most productive outside shooter (averaged 12.4 points a game), as well as contributing to the team’s success defensively with rebounds. If he continues to make improvements, especially regarding his capabilities on the inside, he could have a breakout season and distance himself from White’s shadow.
Woodbury, a massive presence, needs to insert himself into the game plan with more productive minutes than last year, while Gesell needs more consistency as point guard.
Other players to watch are Peter Jok, Anthony Clemmons, Dom Uhl, and a number of recruits and redshirts.
Since last season, Iowa has lost six players, the most notable being Gabriel Olaseni and Aaron White (with an impressive split of 16.4/7.3/1.4).
Although Olaseni did not play as much as expected last season, he was a key component to the Hawkeyes defense and depth, especially with regards to his size and block rate.
But all and all, Aaron White is the most devastating loss for the Hawkeyes. He was the third best rebounder and second best scorer in the school’s history, while also leading his team statistically across the board. His dynamics at forward are not easily replaced.
Kyle Denning, Trey Dickerson, Josh Oglesby, and Charlie Rose are among the other players who left; although they provided depth and experience, McCaffery can find just as or more productive replacements.
Last year, Iowa generally found itself ranked in the middle of the pack on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. They were ranked highest in scoring, at 118, and in rebounds, at 33. Aside from rankings, their play could be described as inconsistent, with fluctuations between offensive and defensive output.
While Iowa holds more depth with defensive weapons, Aaron White’s presence will be missed immensely on the offensive because of his ability to find the net for the Hawkeyes and his constant involvement in play (78 percent of Iowa’s minutes). Fans should expect to see a decline in statistical rankings this 2015-2016 season, unless another sound player and leader finds his way into the spotlight.
Before entering Big Ten play, Iowa will play a total of eight non-league games, including two exhibitions, two road, and four neutral site games, which all are seemingly manageable and schedule boosters.
The Hawkeyes will experience their toughest non-conference challenges at the Advocare Invitational and during the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series. From Nov. 26-29, the Hawkeyes will certainly face the Dayton Flyers and the likes of either Notre Dame or Monmouth, two of which made it to the NCAA tournament last year.
As the Hawkeyes prepare for conference play, they will face their in-state rivals, the Iowa State Cyclones, on the road. While historically the Hawkeyes have experienced more success, the Cyclones have won their last six match-ups. With both teams returning experience and similar offensive strengths, this should create an intense rivalry face-off.
Although Iowa has four returning starters, many foresee last year’s third place divisional finalists as this year’s occupants of the bottom half of the conference.
Why is Iowa falling in the conference ranks, when they have barely lost any manpower from last year’s successful season? Because of the loss of Aaron White, the question of who will step up in his absence, and the other daunting opponents residing in the Big Ten, arguable the best conference in the league, attempts to answer Iowa’s predicted decline.
The Hawkeyes have arguably the toughest schedule in the conference. They face Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue twice, while only facing-off once against Maryland and Ohio State, but Iowa travels for both of those key games.
Their formidable schedule will most likely leave them in a balancing act to maintain a .500 record.
Coach’s Hot Seat
Fran McCaffery finds himself far from being under the scrutiny of the hot seat. Since replacing Todd Lickliter in 2010, McCaffery has created a constantly improving program, from an NIT runner-up finish in 2013 to continuous NCAA Tournament appearances in 2014 and 2015 and even a top three-conference finish tie in 2015.
Although Aaron White left the Hawkeyes for greener pastures in the NBA, McCaffery and the Hawkeyes have high hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament with four returning starters.
Heading into the upcoming season, Iowa surges forward with a number of unanswered questions and what ifs. But with a coach like McCaffery and a returning number of experience, one cannot begin to fathom why people do not view this season as another way for the Hawkeyes to continue to improve from the previous year.
Of course many factors come into play when their potential success is questioned, like: White’s replacement (if it has not been hit over the head enough), key improvements to style of plays and players themselves, and even the integration of recruits for this season and the future. Essentially what it equates to is each teammate doing their respective jobs because depending on Jarrod Uthoff, there may or may not be a star player to lead the pack, but instead the pack has to unite and lead one another.
The Hawkeyes are currently so unpredictable that their schedule’s outcome could surmount to anything from 20-12 to 17-15. Realistically they will probably fall between sixth and seventh in their division.
But with a bold prediction, McCaffery, Uthoff, and the Hawkeyes are going to surprise fans and upset games.
Madeleine Balestrier is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org