Iowa Basketball: NCAA Tourney Not Enough

The BTN is rolling out it’s preseason profiles and commentaries related to each basketball team and Iowa’s turn came up on Tuesday evening.

Let’s get right to the money shot:

“And while Matt Gatens was a very good shooter, his absence cannot account for the drop off in Iowa’s three-point accuracy last year. Even if you ran the exact same team (and everyone was still the same age and had the same experience) out there for another 38 games, you would expect Iowa’s outside shooting to be better.  So yes, the expectation should very much be that Iowa is on the shortlist for Big Ten title contenders. And that status carries “Final Four Contender” with it; we should see a powerhouse Iowa basketball team.”

Well now.  You were wondering if YOUR expectations were too high?

I have a confession to make.  I gave Wolfgang a call a couple weeks back, he of the Miller & Wolfgang basketball podcast that will be coming to you on a most of the time weekly basis this winter.  I had just spent an hour or so pouring over Iowa’s roster and projecting.  He didn’t answer, so I left a voicemail and I said a few things in it I will keep to myself right now, but the gist was this Iowa hoops team, even though being discussed as as preseason Top 25 team, has a chance to be much, much better than that.   The biggest issues I kept coming back to were three-point shooting and how the guards would play this year.

With three-point shooting, my conclusion that Iowa is going to improve in this area nearly as a matter of statistical percentages; the odds are in Iowa’s favor that they will not have everyone on the team shooting that poorly again this year.  This article from the Big Ten Geeks goes there and they did so with a graph that showed how Iowa led the league in free throw shooting percentage but was last in three-point percentage.

I think one of the problems last year was that Iowa didn’t have a half-court interior game that scared anyone.  Adam Woodbury was a freshman who could be pushed around, Zach McCabe wasn’t a name that an opposing coach drew up a gameplan to stop, Melsahn Basabe was inconsistent and didn’t play much more than 20 minutes and Aaron White scored effort points but his half court offensive game just wasn’t there.  That allowed for most teams to overplay man to man when the ball was on the perimeter and Iowa didn’t get a great number of uncontested threes.

This year, things are going to be different.  The interior will be a strength, as every one of those players mentioned is going to be better, including Gabe Olaseni, who may make more than one Big Ten coach utter the phrase “Who the **** is this guy?”.   If I am coaching against Iowa early in the year, I slap on a zone and take my chances with the three-game beating me.  This will also limit Devyn Marble’s ability to get to the rim off of the dribble and slow down White from attacking the rim in the half court set.

Iowa is going to have to knock down three-point shots this year in order to open things up offensively, however they will be taking more ‘open look’ three-point shots this year than they saw one year ago.  They’ve also added Peter Jok to the mix, and he is a very good three-point shooter.  Jared Uthoff can hit the three.  McCabe has slimmed down some and that could help his stroke.

This team shot .305 from three last year.  Eric May had the best shooting percentage from beyond the arc, but he’s gone.  If you take away his statistics from the mix, Iowa shot .300 from three last year.  Here is a list of BCS conference teams who shot worse than .300 from three last year:

Depaul
Penn State
Texas Tech
St Johns

Thanks for coming, that’s all there is and there ain’t no more.

Iowa will not shoot that poorly from three-point range this year.  Out of 348 teams, team #174 shot .337% from trey last year.  That’s dead center average, nationally.  If Iowa had been that average last year, it would have made a whopping 21 more three-point shot attempts, or 63 more points.  Over 38 games, that’s just 1.66 points per game and less than one extra three-point shot per game, however I agree with the authors here to suggest that would have added up to one or two more wins for Iowa given they lost seven Big Ten games by four points or less, or in overtime.   One more win in Big Ten play for Iowa last year would have meant a trip to the NCAA tournament.   Once you’re in it, then you can do some damage, as we saw with Iowa’s run to the NIT final as a three-seed.

As for the guard play…we all saw how Devyn Marble carried this team on his back over much of the final 15 games of the season, but to expect that level of play for an entire season would be a bit much.  Also, Marble will have more options to distribute to this year.  Sure, most of the team consists of the same faces but to a man, most everyone will be better this year.  There will be games where Iowa will rely on Marble’s ability to create his own shot and that will also be needed in shot clock situations, but he’s not alone.

It will be interesting to see Mike Gesell’s role with this year’s team as he will play mostly at the two-guard.  Anthony Clemmons should see the majority of the backup point guard minutes but McCaffery can use Gesell there if he needs a better shooting group on the floor.  Jok’s ability to defend at the Big Ten level may dictate how many minutes he can play, but Iowa could employ more zone this year and get out and run given their impressive depth.  Josh Oglesby can’t shoot worse than his .269 from one year ago; that just won’t happen.

The front court is going to be there.  They will be arguably the best front court group in the Big Ten before all is said and done and one of the top groups in the nation.  The guards will be key for how high this Iowa team can fly.

Are Iowa fans expectations too low for this year’s team?  Possibly, but you can’t blame them; it’s been seven and a half years since Iowa was in the NCAA tournament.  The Big Ten is much better now than it was then, however and Iowa plays Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin twice this year.  They also host a ranked Notre Dame team, could play a Top Ten ranked Kansas team and will be at Iowa State.

It could be a team who makes the NCAA tournament with double-digit losses but really puts it together late in the season.  It could be a team who hits on all cylinders right out of the gate, given the time they’ve spent together since their overseas trip this year and the new NCAA rules which allow teams to begin practicing in September.  This group has really been together a lot over the past three months, perhaps as much or more than any Iowa team has been together on the court before the start of any season in Iowa history.

Think about it…these new rules are….well….new.  Teams from the past didn’t have this many days to work together before a season.  While there isn’t really that much more practice time, it’s spread out which allows for greater familiarity.  While Iowa teams of the past have taken overseas trips (including the 1986-1987) they didn’t have those on top of these increased practice days and they weren’t returning over 90 percent of all their scoring from the previous season.

These numbers, from this Rick Brown item in the Des Moines Register:

Six players have at least 30 career starts, and five have played at least 1,255 minutes. Seniors Devyn Marble, Zach McCabe and Melsahn Basabe all have played more than 100 career games. Seven players have started at least 13 games in their careers. Returnees on scholarship have played 645 combined games, with 319 starts and 12,746 minutes of action.

In years past (read that before the Steve Alford era, when Iowa made th NCAA tournament 16 times in 21 years), Iowa fans would be thinking much more than just an NCAA bid with a team returning as much scoring as this one who was coming off a 20 win regular season in the toughest conference in America.  So too would the rest of the college basketball nation, because once upon a time, the Iowa basketball program was respected and was a Top 25 power.  The preseason respect now given to Wisconsin was somewhat afforded to Iowa back in the day.

I realize those days are well in the rearview mirror now, as Steve Alford was hired nearly 15 years ago and those halcyon days are buried beneath memories of Todd Lickliter, but this Iowa team has a shot to be good.  Real good.  Memorable for being something other than just the team who got Iowa back into the NCAA tournament good.

My hunch is they know it, or soon will, and just making it into the NCAA tournament won’t be ‘the goal’.  For if that is just ‘the goal’ this year, this team is setting their sights too low.

  • jeffbuck

    Absolutely. We can do better than just making the Tournament. We should be in the conference title race right to the end.

    • WIlliam Vonnegut

      I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it. Iowa still doesn’t have a guy who can make his own shot, they still don’t have a shooter who can scare anyone, they don’t have a superstar that can carry the game through a bad night, and they, despite what you said in your article, do not have an inside scorer that will scare anyone.

      This team will be limited offensively all season, and while they will be very good and win a great deal of game, they are not complete and will not be able to compete for a league championship.

      • westsidebill

        I disagree with your points William but they definitely cite possible weaknesses that could negatively impact their win totals. However, I don’t believe they will bite them too often.

  • westsidebill

    I’m with what you said Jon: Anything less than the Elite Eight this year or it’s time to explore new leadership in the basketball program.

    • Dan Brust

      New leadership if we don’t make the elite eight? Are you nuts? I don’t care how could we are, to say that is crazy. It is damn tough to make the elite eight. If Duke took that attitude, they would be terrible cause coach K would have been gone long ago.

      • westsidebill

        Apparently some of you can’t read my sarcasm font…

        • Dan Brust

          I thought that but with some of the crazy comments going on you never know.

          • westsidebill

            That’s why I figured no one could possibly take the comment seriously. But I was wrong…LOL!

    • Bert D

      I think what westsidebill is saying is he’s a Clone fan and would love to see Coach McCaffery go elsewhere.

  • Tom Steele

    There is one aspect about this year’s team that hasn’t been talked about much…their defense. They have improved each year defensively under Fran. This team with it’s length and quickness will be able to match up and shut down anyone–then throw in a variety of presses. I think Iowa’s scoring will go up and opponents scoring will go down.

    • HNStaff

      ^^ Troll ^^

    • GP

      Bingo. Defense is what will get this team 6-12 “easy” points a game. This team will be a matchup nightmare for most of the teams we play. Fran can go big or small and mix and match the lineup through out the game to let the hot hand(s) do their thing. I don’t think who starts will matter a lot. The players playing well will get more time regardless of who the starters are.

  • Grady

    “Iowa didn’t get a great number of uncontested threes.” I think if you review the film you’ll see they had plenty of uncontested threes — they simply missed them. I’m not sure I buy your ‘stronger on the inside’ theme. If McCabe is ‘slimmed down’ as you say, who scares anyone on the inside. Woodbury is…Woodbury. Everyone knows — including Olaseni — that he prefers to play the tall forward role more than the post role. I do agree with you about how to play the Hawks tho — when a team was near dead-last in 3 pt shooting and loses their best 3-pt shooting player, it’s not rocket science. Am I the only person who thinks that Gesell is better at the point rather than the 2-guard?

  • Will

    WATCHOUT FOR JOK AND UTHOFF

  • Will

    Fran knows what he is doing. But, IMHO he really needs to press more. He is got some serious athletes and they can run all day! Somewhere, Dr. Tom would just drool on this team!
    GO HAWKEYES!!!

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