Yesterday, I wrote about expectations surrounding incoming center Adam Woodbury. Some folks are expecting BIG things from Woodbury as it relates to on the court production. I am not one of those people and that has more to do with my general experience watching freshman big men for the past 40 years of my life; most struggle early in their careers.
Another position where younger players struggle is at the point guard slot, however those struggles are not as pronounced as they were say 15 years ago. More and more freshmen guards are stepping into big time conferences and delivering solid campaigns.
Iowa will likely start a true freshman at the point next year in the form of Mike Gesell. While my expectations for Adam Woodbury tempered, the same is not the case for Gesell; I think he has a chance to come in and make a huge contribution in minutes, tempo, ball distribution and some scoring.
We’ve seen a mixed bag in recent years in the Big Ten conference as it relates to true freshman point guard performances. Here is a glance at what we have seen as of late.
2012 Tracy Abrams, Illinois: Abrams played 21.1 minutes per game last year for the Illini and averaged 4.3ppg and 1.9apg with an assist to turnover ratio of 1.2 to 1.0. Those are not eye popping stats, but he did log a lot of minutes for a fresh face and he started 19 games.
2012 Dave Sobolewski, Northwestern: He played over 35 minutes per game for the Cats last year, a mind blowing figure. He averaged over eight points per game and dished out 121 assists to just 46 turnovers, which is even more impressive. While not the best shooter in the world, he made great contributions for Northwestern and by all accounts had a wildly successful true freshman campaign in the Big Ten.
2012 Trey Burke, Michigan: The starter for the Wolverines as a freshman, he turned into the team’s catalyst as a freshman while playing alongside the uber talented Tim Hardaway, Jr. That’s not an easy trick to pull off but Burke did it and averaged 14.8 points per game. He dished out 156 assists and averaged over 35 minutes per game. He thought about turning pro after that season but is staying around for a second campaign.
None of these comparisons are totally apples to apples. Teams have different needs and players are all different. Gesell is going to have every chance to have bigger numbers because the team he plays for is lacking players at his position; point guard. Devyn Marble can log some minutes there and will, when Gesell needs a rest. Anthony Clemmons will probably get some spot minutes, too. But I think Gesell is going to have a chance to play a minimum of 25 minutes per game as a true freshman which will lead to some good numbers for a true freshman. How good?
Let’s take a look back about a decade to when Jeff Horner came to play for the University of Iowa. That was in the 2002-2003 season. Horner was the team’s point guard and there were few people behind him. Hence, he received a great deal of opportunity; 35.4 minutes per game worth of opportunity, to be exact. He also started all 31 of Iowa games that season. He averaged 8.2ppg, 4.4rpg and 4.5apg as a true freshman, all of those being very solid numbers when compared to historical averages for true freshmen. His 140 assists were a true freshman record at that time and he also had 77 turnovers. However, he shot the ball poorly; less than 28% from three and just 33.2% from the floor in general. I think his shooting suffered due to logging so many minutes.
In 1985-1986, BJ Armstrong averaged just 8 minutes per game as Bill Jones was the team’s starting point guard. All of his numbers were lower because he was a reserve and just wasn’t ready to see the floor.
Gesell will see the floor. He is going to be playing in an uptempo style, much different than what Horner had the chance to play in. Initially, I wasn’t thinking of pegging Gesell’s stats higher than Horner’s. But after the feedback I have received from Gesell’s Prime Time League play, I think the kid has a chance at a great year.
Gesell will also have a backcourt mate who will be attracting attention right out of the box in Devyn Marble. Horner played alongside Chauncey Leslie in 2002-2003 and Leslie averaged over 15 points per game that season. Gesell will be able to slide over and log some minutes at the two, just like Horner was capable of doing in 2002-2003. However, the supporting cast around these two will be more talented than Iowa had in 2002-2003.
I think Gesell will average between 25-30 minutes per game. I think he will score between 8 to 10 points per game and challenge Horner’s 140 assists as a freshman. I believe he has the talent to exceed those numbers, but I don’t expect that. A lot of that will depend upon the growth of Josh Oglesby and what Anthony Clemmons might be able to offer. Iowa can go with Marble at the point and Oglesby at the two for stretches. While there is some pressure on Gesell, he’s not the only show in town as Marble has shown he can handle the point guard position.
I think that only helps a young player like Gesell. Iowa will need him to deliver but may be able to survive the off nights that will come from being a freshman.
The only out of proportion expectation I see right now is that of Gesell’s reported height. He’s been listed at 6-1, 6-2 and I have even seen 6-3 in places.
Former Master’s Champion Zach Johnson’s PGA profile lists him at 5-11. Check out this photo of Johnson alongside Gesell from this past weekend (Adam Woodbury far left, Matt Gatens far right. Shot taken by Iowa Sports Information Department member Matt Weitzel)