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Schwartz: Let’s Talk Basketball

December 11, 2015

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

Twenty minutes into Iowa’s gut-punch loss to Iowa State on Thursday night, Jarrod Uthoff looked like an All-American. The Cyclones looked lost. The Hawkeyes looked like they finally had it figured out.

Of course, Iowa State won, 83-82. The Cyclones took the lead with 10 seconds to go.

Gut punch.

The Hawkeyes fell to 7-3 in the most painful way possible. They lost the game. They lost an upset bid against the No. 4 team in the country, falling to 1-15 in their last 16 games against Top 5 teams. And all this happened against rival Iowa State.

We’re 10 games into an under-the-radar season. Football has cast a shadow so massive and so entertaining that men’s basketball has skated by.

But football is on hiatus until the Rose Bowl nearly three weeks from now. Let’s take a minute to focus on Iowa hoops.

What’s happened, what hasn’t, and what needs to:

Marble … White … and now Uthoff

For the third straight season, Iowa’s best player is a senior. That’s rare in 2015 for college basketball.

The sport has been decimated by players leaving early for the NBA. The coaches have become superstars, while fans scramble for their smartphones to figure out who No. 31 or 12 is.

Not at Iowa. Would it be nice to have an NBA-ready sophomore? Sure. Still, what we as Hawkeye fans have is pretty great. Players who we recognize and can watch develop. We watched Marble transform into a good passer and White find his three-point range. Now, we’re seeing Uthoff come to terms with his considerable talent.

One of the early knocks on LeBron James — no, I’m not directly comparing Uthoff to LeBron — was his unwillingness to accept he was better than his teammates. He needed to learn that it was OK if he took more shots. It was OK to take over.

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The last couple of games, we’ve seen Uthoff, a better all-around player than Marble or White, take that step. He scored 24 points in the first half Monday against Western Illinois. He scored 30 in the first half Thursday night against Iowa State, shooting threes with his right arm and windmill dunking with his left.

Iowa State is a good team. They shut down Uthoff in the second half. Which brings us to the next point.

Adam Woodbury has improved, but …

Coach Fran McCaffery said in October he foresaw his center playing 30-35 minutes a game. Woodbury, a senior, never averaged more than 22.7 through his first three seasons because of foul trouble and other liabilities.

So where is Woodbury, a third of the way through the 2015-16 season?

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23.9. A good 6-11 minutes per game below McCaffery’s target. But the center is trending upward as Big Ten play nears.

Woodbury’s scoring is up, too, and his shooting percentage is solid (57.6 percent), but the Hawkeyes don’t have much height. Their tallest player by at least 4 inches remains, at times, a liability regardless of how hard he works in practice and during games.

Woodbury didn’t leave his feet Thursday as Iowa State’s Monte Morris shot and hit the game-winning runner.

Maybe that was no coincidence. Was Woodbury fatigued? He played a career-high 35 minutes against ISU.

Then there’s this: Morris told ESPN that the final play called for him to go at Woodbury because, “[Coach Steve Prohm told me] Woodbury kind of struggled a little bit moving his feet.”

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Still, Thursday’s loss wasn’t Woodbury’s fault. It was a team effort, and obviously the Cyclones deserve credit. Nevertheless, it says something profound when the opposing team’s strategy is “OK, we want you drive at the 7-foot-1 senior who has started 113 games.”

 

McCaffery is doing a good job with the new guys

For a team heavy on seniors (again – by college basketball’s low standards), Iowa has a lot of young or inexperienced talent.

McCaffery, to his credit, has divided minutes fairly and wisely. Integrating Brady Ellingson will pay dividends for years to come. Non-scholarship player Nicholas Baer looks like a legitimate contributor. Ahmed Wagner, although he didn’t play against Iowa State, is reminiscent of former Hawkeye James Winters, an undersized power forward who crashes the boards.

It’s easy to get caught up in won-loss records. Those matter, right?

But a coach needs to have one eye on the present and one on the future. McCaffery is doing that.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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