Fran McCaffery’s 4th Iowa media day brought with it something the other three did not; great expectations.

That is to say that this year feels like an ‘NCAA or Bust’ type of season.  Zach McCabe said as much on Wednesday while Devyn Marble wouldn’t go along with that, at least not publicly.

The truth is pretty simple; anything short of an NCAA tournament bid will be viewed as a fail by most of the fanbase and probably the media, too.  My take; unless this team is decimated by injuries, count me among those I just mentioned.  There is too much talent NOT to make the NCAA tourney as nine of Iowa’s top 10 scorers return.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that we are excited that people think enough of our team to rank us in the top 25 and project us to be in the NCAA Tournament,” McCaffery said. “That’s exciting. It’s an accomplishment for some of the guys who have been here and haven’t had that before. But the reality is now we have to go out and do it.”

While Iowa will miss Eric May’s leadership, toughness and defense, they add Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok, return an emerging defensive star in Gabe Olaseni, a determined senior in Melsahn Basabe and two bonafide first team All Big Ten players in Aaron White and Devyn Marble.  Adam Woodbury and Mike Gesell aren’t bad, either.  Josh Oglesby may respond favorably to the pressure he faces in practice from Jok, who will look to take some minutes.  Anthony Clemmons may be the only true point guard on the team and McCabe seems determined to go out with a bang in his senior year.

While they haven’t played yet, I think this team is probably the most deep Iowa basketball team in terms of the number of players who can legitimately play in a Big Ten rotation since the 1986-1987 club who won 30 games.  That was one of the two or three most talented Iowa teams of all time, if not THE most talented team.

Some may cringe at that, saying not to heap even more expectations on this team.  I am not saying they are going to be as good as that team, but quite frankly I wouldn’t want to place any limits on the ceiling of this squad.  If they stay healthy, they look to be built like a team who could make a really good run in the tournament if they are getting key guard play and making three-point shots more consistently this year than last.  McCaffery has a special looking team on his hands, and it begins with Devyn Marble.

McCaffery is not messing around this year, saying on Wednesday that Marble would be running the show at point guard from the get go.  That’s a good idea considering Marble’s scintillating run over the end of last year. Marble has lifted his level of play in each of his first three seasons and he still has room to grow:

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(Click here to see more of Marble’s career stats).

“(Marble) is a guy that clearly is a better player when he has the ball as opposed to waiting for it coming off screens. But again, as you look at it, sometimes you say, well, he always has the ball on top and he’s always in the same place, and that makes it easier for teams to scheme defensively against him,” McCaffery said. “So I think while he is going to be our starting point guard, I’m going to move him around, I’m going to get him the ball in different situations where he can be more creative. He’s always played well from the wing, he’s always played well on the baseline, which is not typically where you have your point guard, but your point guard is usually not 6’7″, either, so we will take advantage of his entire skill set.”

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Marble averaged 18.0 points and 3.4 assists over his final 15 games last year, which is probably as many points as any other Big Ten player scored during that stretch. He carried the team on his back at times and most of those games were played from the point, after Mike Gesell was injured at Nebraska.

So on the one hand you have the senior and then you have an incoming freshman in Peter Jok who has produced great expectations with his play in the Prime Time league and the team’s summer trip to Europe where he was their 2nd leading scorer.

We know he can shoot it in the hole, but what we have to do is make sure he understands that not only are we going to go to him and we’re going to set him up, we’re going to put him in a position where he can be successful for us, but he’s got to play the other end, because in our league, he’s either going to be playing the 2 or the 3, and pretty much everybody at those positions in our league thinks they’re going to play in the NBA,” McCaffery said. “Now, they all won’t, but some of them will. You have to be able to understand how to play defense with the same level of intensity that you play offense, and then sustain that effort over long periods of time. If he does that, now you’re talking about a guy who has a chance to play in the NBA. And I think what we’ve seen as coaches is a growth in that area.”

Never let it be said that Fran McCaffery never met a superlative he didn’t like. That’s rather refreshing, isn’t it? Living in a world where coaches and players typically give you the standard soundbytes or the ‘one game at a time’ mantra, Fran McCaffery is his own program’s marketing department and has been since he arrived. Perhaps he had to be, coming off the Little Ice Age Todd Lickliter era.

Oh by the way, I haven’t mentioned Aaron White.  He’s going to be a junior and his best basketball is still ahead of him.  It will be fascinating to see where he takes his game this year and how Fran gets the best out of him.

“His jump shot has improved,” McCaffery said.  “I think his game is much more complete, and he’s a fierce competitor, as well.  I mean, there’s somebody that I think has a chance to be first‑team all‑league and ultimately play in the NBA.”

Here’s more comments from Fran from media day:

On Depth: “I’m very comfortable playing five players who didn’t start the game in the last two minutes, and I don’t think there’s very many teams that would do that.”

On the Schedule: “We’re playing a lot of teams in the top 10 twice. We’ve got a tremendous amount of opportunities to take care of business, and obviously we’ve done that here, and now we’ve got to do a little better job on the road.”

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January 20, 2018 — Howe: Script Holds in Hawkeyes’ Blowout Loss to Purdue

No surprises at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Saturday. The better team rolled to victory.

On Mike Gesell:  “He is a guy that’s got a chance to be a star.  He’s in phenomenal shape.  He’s making shots.  He’s making plays.  I’m playing him at both spots.  He’ll still play a lot of 1, even though he won’t start there, but he’ll play a lot at that position.  Just an amazing, amazing competitor.”

On Adam Woodbury:  ” I think Woodbury has been our most impressive player since the first day of practice.  He’s hungry.  He’s in phenomenal shape.  He has been incredibly consistent, and I’m just thrilled with his development.”

On Gabe Olaseni: “He was really good overseas.  He had a phenomenal summer.  He’s a completely different player than when he first got here.  He’s comfortable now in what’s expected of him, what he’s capable of doing.”

On Melsahn Basabe: “Great freshman year, sophomore year inconsistent, junior year really came on, arguably better than anybody overseas.  He’s really, I think, right now in the best shape of his life in terms of where he is physically and his confidence level.  So for him, I think he kind of views himself on a different level.  ‘I’m where I was supposed to be, an elite player’, and that’s what I expect from him.”

You can read all of McCaffery’s comments at this link.

Embrace the love…it’s out there and not going away until Iowa either falls short of expectations or grasps that brass ring.

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