Iowa hasn't qualified for the NCAA Tournament since the 2005-06 season, but it would be a pretty big shock if the Hawkeyes didn't end the seven-year drought this March. This team was very respectable in conference play last season with a 9-9 record that featured wins over Wisconsin and Minnesota before making a run to the NIT finals. Despite losing to Baylor in Madison Square Garden, Iowa still ended 2013 as KenPom's highest ranking team that did not make the big dance. It was a combination of good ole Midwestern defense and rebounding that helped Fran McCaffery's squad get oh so close last year and all that hustle should finally pay off this season with an abundance of returning talent.
Leading the Hawkeyes in points and assists in 2013 was point guard Roy Devyn Marble. The son of Hawkeye great Roy Marble has great size (6'6") and athleticism for his position and he uses those attributes to put himself in position to score 15 points per game. A lot of those points came from the free throw line, where Marble took five shots per game from last season. While Marble is more of a scoring guard than a pure point guard, he'll get help in the passing department from Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons this season and be able to concentrate more on putting the ball in the hoop. Marble only shot 41 percent from the field in 2013 and could stand to be a little more efficient.
Starting alongside Marble at shooting guard will be the sophomore Gesell, but at this point the two positions could be interchangeable. As a freshman in 2013, Gesell averaged 2.6 assists per game to Marble's 3.0, so there wasn't just one distributor in McCaffery's offense. That trend continued in Iowa's exhibition game on Sunday as Gesell had five assists with Marble only handing out one. The shift makes sense when you think of Marble as a talented scorer and Gesell more of a jack-of-all trades. Last season he shot 46 percent from two-point range, which was best among Hawkeye guards, and his three-point shot is coming along as well.
At small forward, McCaffery could go big with athletic senior Melsahn Basabe or opt to stretch the floor with junior shooting specialist Josh Oglesby. It was Basabe who got the nod in Iowa's one exhibition game, and that should be the case going forward until Oglesby proves that he's over last year's sophomore slump. As we discussed in the backcourt preview, Oglesby went from hitting 40 percent of his three-pointers in 2012 to a dreadful 27 percent last season, and the team is taking steps to get the junior's confidence back. Basabe is also a player who has seen his production shrink since a very promising freshman season, but that has a lot more to do with the presence of Aaron White than with Basabe himself.
Speaking of White, he's Iowa's best player and should continue being excellent in his junior season. He's great at scoring around the basket, rebounding, and getting to the free throw line, so it was interesting to see White continue to expand his game past the three-point arc last season. He's attempted 1.7 shots per game from out there for the past two seasons, but only hit on 28 percent in 2013. Should White keep on stretching the floor to help the Hawkeyes with their shooting woes, or is the team having enough trouble hitting shots without him lumbering in the way? That is a big question heading into 2014 as White should continue to be a very efficient player in the post.
Also present in the post will be seven-foot sophomore Adam Woodbury. If he's able to play 30 minutes per game this season, Woodbury could very well average a double-double, but a lot of that will depend on whether or not he's able to stay out of foul trouble. In 2013, the big man averaged just over six fouls per 40 minutes, and that probably played a role in him logging only 16.5 minutes per game. When he's not on the bench, Woodbury excels at rebounding and shot blocking, but it's his development as a scorer that could make the Iowa offense quite dynamic in 2014.
The Hawkeyes were a horrific shooting team last season, but they made up for it with great rebounding and defense. It also didn't hurt that Iowa knows how to get to the free throw line. In fact, the team was 51st in the nation in 2013 at offensive efficiency despite an effective field goal percentage that ranked 259th. The reason was terrific offensive rebounding as well as free throw rate. White in particular is great at getting to the line, while Woodbury and Basabe are very effective on the glass. As for the defense, opponents shot just 29.5 percent from three-point range against the Hawkeyes last season. That figure is bound to go up, but maybe Iowa can counter by making some shots of its own.
Shooting will continue to be an issue for Iowa in 2014, especially if Oglesby fails to get his act together. The team hit on just 30.5 percent of its three-pointers last season, but there is a chance for improvement. Not only is Oglesby due for a bounce-back campaign, but true freshman Peter Jok could provide a spark from beyond the arc. Jok was a terrific shooter in high school, and he has the height (6'6") to shoot over opposing guards. Redshirt sophomore Jarrod Uthoff could also give this team a little boost from the outside if McCaffery is willing to give his youngsters a chance.
McCaffery's cagers won't be taking anyone by surprise based on the way they competed last season, but it would be unexpected if Jok was able to crack a talented guard rotation in his first season with the program. That will be very tough to do seeing that Iowa is two-deep at both the shooting and point guard positions, but Jok could find himself some playing time if the Oglesby's woes carry over to 2014. Other than that, it's hard to see another star breaking out on this team because of the amount of depth and returning players. However, if 6'10" junior Gabriel Olaseni sees his minutes ramped up, perhaps at the expense of Basabe or senior Zach McCabe, Iowa could be even better at shot blocking than it was last season. That's a pretty scary proposition for opponents trying to score in the paint.
With so much talent and depth, Iowa is poised to take the Big Ten by storm this season. A bid to the NCAA Tournament is the next logical step for this team, but fans shouldn't be shocked if the Hawkeyes are able to challenge Michigan State and Ohio State for the conference crown, at least in the early going. Ultimately, shooting may hold this team back from being truly great, but there is always the chance that Oglesby and Gesell turn into a pair of dependable three-point shooters. If that happens, the sky could be the limit for a squad that already excels in the core Big Ten values of defense and rebounding.