VanLaere: Huge Excitement Tempered with a Splash of Realism (MBB Season Preview)
Iowa Hawkeyes Men’s Basketball 2013-14 Preview / Prediction
Huge Excitement Tempered with a Splash of Realism
By Justin VanLaere, @storminspank
Coming off a season that ended in New York City, playing for the N.I.T. Championship, Iowa Basketball now owns some of its highest expectations in over a decade.
I’ve always been an optimistic guy when it comes to Iowa Hawkeye sports (perhaps by definition, a homer, if you will). Yes, I’m that guy who thought Todd Lickliter, in his third year as head coach of Iowa, might be able to get his team to finish in the top half of the Big Ten. Yes, I’m that guy who thought maybe, just maybe, Iowa fans were being too hard on Steve Alford back in 2005. And now I’m saying that while I think Iowa is going to be better than last year, fans and media might want to step back on their enthusiasm just a bit. Wait.. What?! It’s true. Iowa has been labeled a “dark horse” so many times in the preseason, Black Beauty is jealous. Rip Van Winkle thinks calling the Hawkeyes a “sleeper pick” has been overplayed. Iowa being tabbed as this year’s “sexy pick” has Kate Upton… ok, you get the point, I’ll stop already. Sorry.
But why not get excited? Why not eat up all the publicity and high preseason praises and go with the flow? Be a man and pick Iowa to win the Big Ten! No. Why? The short version – Iowa is basically the same team it was last season when it failed to win the essential resume-building games (Indiana and MSU), while losing a few resume-destroying games (Virginia Tech, Purdue, Nebraska). The long version – keep reading.
CONCERNS GOING INTO THE SEASON:
The Hawkeyes return almost 92% of their scoring offense from last year, an offense that ranked in the lower 1/3 of all DI programs with an eFG% of 46.6. Iowa made 204 treys last season, which is pretty respectable except for the fact that they attempted an astounding 668 shots from behind the arch. At just over 30% from long range, Iowa was one of the worst 3 pt shooting teams in the country. Most of Iowa’s points came by way of transition or putbacks on misses, which proves out why their Off Reb% was so outstanding.
Lack of a “Go to Guy” –
Solid guard play wins games in college basketball. Guards who can take over games win championships in college basketball. It’s not to say you can’t ride a dominant big man to a championship (you can), but guard play is so important. Iowa needs to have a player that can take over a game, if need be. They need to have someone who can get a bucket at will in order to stop a scoring drought or change momentum. Right now, I don’t see a Trey Burke or Marcus Smart type player on the team – someone who can carry his team to a victory. Could Devyn Marble be that player? He certainly can be; the potential is there. He will need to prove it this season, though.
Defensive Efficiency / Rule Emphasis –
Can Iowa continue its efficiency on defense? Last year, Iowa was one of the best teams in the nation in Defensive eFG% and also held opponents to under 30% from behind the arc. This was one year removed from being one of the more inefficient defensive teams in the nation. Was last year an aberration or will it be the norm? The changing rules/emphasis might have something to say about that, albeit not to the extent it will impact Michigan State, Ohio State or Wisconsin. If you haven’t heard about the rule changes/points of emphasis during the off-season, read up on them here. This rule will affect several players on Iowa’s team. The aggressive defenders like Basabe, Woodbury and Olaseni could see foul trouble, as well as the “beat you to the spot” defenders like McCabe, Clemmons, and Gesell. As I previously stated, the Hawkeyes won’t be affected nearly as much as some of the other Big Ten teams, but it’s something to consider.
STOP WORRYING, THERE’S GOOD NEWS:
Team Depth –
The depth, oh my goodness, the team depth on this team. Iowa can go 11 players deep and compete with anyone in the conference. That number has been reduced to 10 with the right foot injury to Josh Oglesby, but unless his rehab takes a turn for the worse, he should be back for the Big Ten opener. The Point can be run by Marble, Gesell, or Clemmons. Between Gesell, Jok, Marble, and Clemmons, the two spot is locked down. Then in the 3 and 4 spots, there is a plethora of talent with White, Uthoff, Basabe, and McCabe, with Marble swinging to the wing if need be. Woodbury and Olaseni will handle center, with Gabe having the chance to move to PF to create a twin tower situation for the Hawkeyes. There was a place in time where Iowa had a rough go at putting five D1 players on the court, thankfully that era is over.
Improvements in the Bigs –
Woodbury and Olaseni had very good off-seasons and continue to grow as players. Both have added moves to their offensive portfolio. Gabe will be one of the better bigs in the conference in terms of getting up and down the court, while Woodbury continues to be skilled with both hands. They will also look to make their mark near the bucket on the defensive side of the court. There should be less thinking and more doing – something very important for a big man in the college game.
Offensive Efficiency / Rule Emphasis –
Iowa likes to play fast, but under control. They are an aggressive team on offense and were rewarded with one of the highest FTRates in the nation last season. They went to the line quite a bit and made a respectable 73% from the charity stripe. With the new rule emphasis, it’s not inconceivable to expect Iowa to get to the line at a larger clip. If you see Iowa getting to the line 40-50 times a game, that will likely translate into more wins.
THE ROSTER :
A quick look at this year’s roster.
Departures: Eric May, Patrick Ingram, Chris Rickert (walk-on)
New Arrivals: Peter Jok, Jarrod Uthoff, Okey Ukah (walk-on)
Current Look –
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|Marble, Roy Devyn|
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BREAKDOWN OF THE SCHEDULE AND GAME PREDICTIONS
Last year, I correctly predicted Iowa to go 20-11 (9-9) and be just off the Bubble due to a poor non-conference schedule. I also mentioned that Iowa was a year away from making serious noise in the conference – I’m sticking to this prognostication as we enter this season.
Here’s the breakdown of the Hawkeyes’ regular season schedule –
Home Games: 8 non-conference, 9 conference
Away Games: 1 non-conference, 9 conference
Neutral Games: 4 non-conference
Totals: 17 home games, 10 away, 4 neutral
The average Pomeroy rating for the eight non-conference opponents Iowa will face at home is 274.5. Going on the road to play ISU and playing in the Atlantis tourney will help the SOS, but those home games will likely hurt Iowa’s RPI more than help it. Six of the eight home opponents are preseason 300+ Pomeroy, with two teams (UMES and FDU) ranked in the bottom ten of DI basketball.
|UNC-Wilmington||WIN. Buzz Peterson’s team won’t stay within 20 of the Hawkeyes in the season opener.|
|Nebraska-Omaha||WIN. The Mavericks recently moved up to D1 a few years ago, but their defense remains at a D3 level.|
|Maryland Eastern Shore||WIN. UMES is averaging 23 losses/yr under Coach Allen and is coming off a 2 win campaign in 2012-13.|
|Abilene Christian||WIN. This will be the Wildcats’ 4th game as a D1 program. Expect Denning and Ukah to have career highs in this contest.|
|Penn||WIN. The Quakers: not awful, not great. A marginal team from the Ivy League coming off a disappointing season last year.|
|Xavier (Atlantis)||WIN. Iowa’s first real challenge of the season. They step up and beat an Xavier team predicted to finish in the bottom half of the Big East.|
|Tennessee or UTEP (Atlantis)||WIN. Assuming Iowa beats Xavier, they probably get the Volunteers (another NIT team from last season). Very comparable team to Iowa. Will be a fun one.|
|Likely KU or Nova (Atlantis)||LOSS. Again making an assumption Iowa makes it to the championship, the Hawkeyes probably get the Jayhawks or the Wildcats. I don’t think Iowa beats either of those teams.|
|Notre Dame||WIN. Love this matchup. The storyline is there (McCaffery used to be an asst for the Irish, his wife played college ball there, etc..) Past that, you get a Mike Brey coached team that is fun to watch on offense (4 out 1 in). I see Iowa winning this closely contested game in the B1G/ACC Challenge.|
|Drake (Big Four Classic)||WIN. Drake is still trying to figure out how to win without Rayvonte Rice (now at Illinois). This won’t be that game..|
|Fairleigh Dickinson||WIN. The Knights return less talent from a team that won just two Northeast Conference games. Maybe their new coach can turn the program around.|
|at Iowa State (Cy-Hawk)||WIN. Hilton Magic is real, I’ll be the first to recognize that. Iowa hasn’t won in Ames since Sonderleiter and Worley teamed up to take down the Cyclones in that 2003 NIT game. The Hawkeyes are the better team this year, and Ejim might not be healthy when these teams face off. The Magic won’t be enough to carry the Clones to victory.|
|Arkansas-Pine Bluff||WIN. Google tells me they are the Golden Lions and they share the same colors as Iowa (OH MAN I HOPE THIS DOESN’T CONFUSE EVERYONE ON THE COURT). I don’t expect a SWAC team to beat the Hawkeyes at home this year.|
|Nebraska||WIN. Man, I love Tim Miles. But he’s not leaving Carver with a win. His program won’t be basement dwellers for much longer, though.|
|at Wisconsin||WIN. The Kohl Center isn’t what it used to be and McCaffery has outcoached Bo in every meeting – even in the losses (Iowa’s two losses were both in OT and a result of on-court collapses)|
|Northwestern||WIN. An uptempo Northwestern basketball offense? It’s going to happen. But it won’t matter at home.|
|at Ohio State||LOSS. Iowa has lost 8 in a row (and 10 out of 11) to the Buckeyes, not to mention they haven’t won in Columbus since 2004.|
|Minnesota||WIN. Lil Pitino brings a shiny new mentality to the stale Gopher program, now they just need more talent.|
|at Michigan||LOSS. If Ann Arbor is a whore, she’s not very nice to the Hawkeyes who have only won once in the last five trips to Crisler. Oh, also, UM is still a really good basketball team.|
|at Northwestern||LOSS. I think Iowa wets the bed on a roadie they should win at least once this year. Collins will have 20 games to have his players acclimated to the new system.|
|Michigan State||WIN. Iowa lost by 3 last year without Devyn Marble in the lineup. This year they finally beat Sparty for the first time in the last seven tries.|
|at Illinois||LOSS. Groce is recruiting well and the Illini are a wildcard in the loaded Big Ten. A toss-up here.|
|Ohio State||WIN. I’m pegging this to be one of the marquee wins of the season for the Hawkeyes.|
|Michigan||LOSS. I think Iowa will be tough at home this year. The crowd will be that sixth man, but Blue has too much talent right now.|
|at Penn State||WIN. Even with Frazier back and Newbill returning, I like Iowa to win this road game.|
|at Indiana||LOSS. Another toss-up to me. I don’t love this Hoosier team, but they play well at home. This may be the year some of the Hawkeyes shut up Sheehey, though.|
|Wisconsin||WIN. Again, McCaffery’s gameplan works so well against Bo Ryan’s “system”. And with the rule emphasis this season, the Badger D won’t be the same.|
|at Minnesota||WIN. The Barn has produced some great games as of late between the Hawkeyes and Gophers. Iowa on top in a classic.|
|Purdue||WIN. Can Painter rebound his team after a down year? Maybe. But Iowa will be the better team in this game at home.|
|at Michigan State||LOSS. Iowa hasn’t won in East Lansing in over 20 years. Not happening this year either.|
|Illinois||WIN. Iowa exacts revenge on an earlier loss and takes momentum into the Big Ten Tourney.|
That’s a +3 in the win column and enough to get this Iowa program back into the NCAA Tournament. Instead of starting out the conference slate with three losses like they did last year, I expect them to start it out with three wins.
Conference: 11-7, 5th Place in the Big Ten.
Final Record (pre-B1G Tourney) 23-8
NCAA Tournament – #6 Seed, Sweet Sixteen
Ok, so I suppose there IS a lot to get excited about. There’s improved talent on the team, there’s gained experience on the team, and there’s more depth on the team. That said, Iowa needs to clear the hurdles they have stumbled over in years’ past. Shooting needs to improve and someone has to be able to take over games on the offensive side of the court – if that happens, the preseason hype surrounding the Hawkeye program might actually be understated. Let’s not crown them yet, though. They have a lot to prove on the court before they can be seriously considered as a contender in the Big Ten.
The national media has taken notice of the program – Iowa has primetime slots, several Big Tuesday games, receiving votes in national polls, etc… they will be in the spotlight this season, so they’ll have every opportunity to prove they deserve to be there.
This much is certain, we’ll be watching the best team Iowa has fielded in quite a long time. We’ll see if they can meet the newly-acquired expectations of the fan base and media.