There was plenty of talent in the Iowa backcourt last season. Roy Devyn Marble proved to be one of the Big Ten's top point guards and Mike Gesell was one of the more explosive freshman in the conference. The unit did a great job at protecting the perimeter with opponents shooting just 30 percent from three-point range in 2012-13. The only problem was that the Hawkeyes struggled from the field themselves, ranking eighth in the Big Ten in two-point shooting percentage and dead last in shooting from beyond the arc. With so many returning players, will the Hawkeyes be able to improve their marksmanship?
On one hand, Marble was part of the problem at Iowa last season because he shot just 41 percent from the floor. On the other hand, he was part of the solution because scored 15 points and handed out three assists per game. As the straw that stirs the Hawkeye drink, Marble should look to improve his assist average this season while cutting down on lower percentage shots. There's too much talent around him for the senior point guard to be forcing his three-point shot instead of driving to the lane and creating for his teammates. If Marble can be more efficient with the basketball in 2013-14, he could be considered a First Team All-Conference player.
Starting alongside Marble in the backcourt will be Gesell, who is coming off a very productive freshman season in which he was Iowa's third leading scorer. With 8.7 points per game and 2.6 assists per game, Gesell did a little bit of everything last season, but like all the returning Hawkeye guards, he could stand to shoot the ball better in 2013-14. Gesell shot just 40 percent from the field last year, which is due in part to his 32-percent accuracy from beyond the arc. That figure isn't so bad when compared to the rest of the team, but it's an aspect of Gesell's game that must improve this season if Iowa is to be a force in the Big Ten.
Should head coach Fran McCaffery choose to start three guards, the third will likely be enigmatic junior Josh Oglesby. When it comes to Iowa's struggles from three-point range, Oglesby was the biggest offender last season with 42 out of 156 (27 percent) shots made from that range. However, it's not hard to figure out why Oglesby attempted around five three-pointers per game in 2012-13, because he was good on 37 percent of his shots from that range as a freshman two seasons ago. Instead of progressing into one of the conference's best shooters, though, Oglesby saw his performance drop in his second season. If he can bounce back even a little bit, there's hope that Oglesby could provide a big boost to the Iowa offense this winter.
Anthony Clemmons is a key cog for Iowa this season because of his ability to handle point guard duties and allow Marble to work off the ball. While his minutes weren't steady last season thanks to Iowa's deep rotation, Clemmons managed to hand out nearly three assists per game in just under 17 minutes per game. That kind of production in addition to the sophomore's pass-first mentality could land him in Iowa's starting lineup if Oglesby fails to turn his shooting around or if McCaffery's opts to play Marble as a pure scorer. The big deal here is that Clemmons offers the Hawkeyes an actual backup point guard in a league where many teams just have a backup guard that can maybe play five minutes at the point.
Part of the fun of his Iowa team is that it has plenty of veteran leadership in addition to potential breakout stars. One of the latter is incoming freshman Peter Jok, a sharpshooter from Iowa by way of the Sudan. Jok can be considered a small forward because of his size (6'6", 200 pounds), but his shooting proficiency could make him more of a guard in Iowa's lineup. He connected on 42 percent of his three-point shots as a senior in high school in addition to hitting on 92 percent of his free throws, and those numbers should make Hawkeye fans salivate. Playing for a team that has an obvious need for someone who can stretch the floor, Jok is clearly a freshman to keep an eye on.
Biggest Question: Can Oglesby turn his game around?
The Hawkeyes could perhaps get a boost from Gesell or Jok from three-point range, but the easiest way for the team to improve in that area is to get Oglesby going again. After suffering through huge sophomore slump, Iowa has hooked Oglesby up with a sports psychologist in order to help with his confidence. Meanwhile, McCaffery says that the junior will have a quicker release on his shot this season, and the adjustment could be similar to the one Matt Gatens made between his junior and senior seasons. Gatens shot 33 percent from three-point range as a junior three years ago before improving to a lethal 41-percent as a senior. If the Hawkeyes can just get Oglesby up to what he was doing in his freshman year, the team will be much better for it.
Although the Hawkeyes have a lot of talent in the frountcourt as well, they'll rely on the guards for most of the scoring. That makes it important for someone to step up and become a consistent three-point threat. If Oglesby can't get it done, maybe Gesell or Jok can. No matter the player, Iowa's long range shooting appears to be the last piece needed for this team to complete the NCAA Tournament puzzle. There's also potential for Marble to do more off-the-ball scoring if Clemmons is granted more playing time at point guard. If that happens, Marble can really let loose as a slasher and make his athleticism shine. The senior's penetrating skills could open things up for a team-wide improvement in three-point shooting, but Iowa could even qualify for the big dance without a big shooting improvement if the defense holds strong. The Hawykeyes held opponents to 30-percent three-point shooting last season, which was 11th best in the entire country (per KenPom). However, with opponents three-point percentage being something that's very hard to control, the team would be better served to make more of its own shots.