The 2011-12 Iowa frontcourt was known mostly for the excellent play of Aaron White. Then a sophomore, White led the Hawkeyes in rebounding while posting 12.8 points per game, but the rest of the team's forwards and centers left a lot to be desired. With nearly everyone back on board and expectations raised for 2013-14, White should get some help from a more experienced supporting cast this season.
White is the headliner of the Iowa frountcourt, and with good reason. He runs the floor, shoots a high percentage from the field, grabs a ton of rebounds, and, most importantly he is just great at getting to the free throw line. Last season, White was fifth in the nation in free throw rate (free throw attempts divided by field goal attempts) at 86 percent per KenPom, and he actually shot more free throws than two-point field goals. All that charity stripe work would be no good if White didn't convert at the line, but he managed just fine with 75 percent accuracy. One part of his game that White might want to eliminate is his three-point shooting. in 2011-12, he shot 23 percent from downtown compared to 54 percent from inside the arc.
Starting alongside White on opening night should be 7'1" sophomore Adam Woodbury. The towering center lacks the athleticism and scoring touch of the more exciting White, but his size still makes him a great asset for Fran McCaffery's upstart team. Foul trouble and inexperience limited Woodbury to just 16.5 minutes per game in 2012-13, but he still managed to average 4.8 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game. Although his offensive game could use some work, Woodbury won't be counted on to score a lot for Iowa this season. He should be a much bigger factor on the defensive end.
Considering the talented array of guards at McCaffery's disposal, the coach is only likely to feature two big men in his starting lineup. There has been some talk of playing both Woodbury and British junior Gabriel Olaseni at the same time, though. Olaseni was named Iowa's most improved player last season, and he could take an even bigger step in 2013-14. That's saying a lot considering that Iowa is bringing back so much depth, but Olaseni has been getting rave reviews in preseason training. At 6'10", the athletic Olaseni blocked one shot per game despite only averaging 10.7 minutes last year. A lineup featuring both him and Woodbury could make the Hawkeyes even tougher to score on than they were in 2012-13.
As if Iowa needed another shot-blocking threat, senior forward Melsahn Basabe returns for what could be his best season yet. It probably won't be because there are too many players on this team that deserve heavy minutes, but there's still so much unlocked potential for Basabe. As a freshman, he averaged 11 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, but he's turned out to be more of a role player than a star. Basabe commits fewer fouls than he used to, and yet his minutes and production have dipped from his breakout rookie campaign in part due to the presence of White. There are still minutes available for Basabe, but the potential breakout of Olaseni makes you wonder just how big of a factor he'll be in his final season.
Another talented player who may struggle to find quality playing time in Iowa's deep rotation is redshirt sophomore Jarrod Uthoff. Despite being in his third year of college, Uthoff hasn't played a minute of basketball since high school because he was redshirted in his freshman year at Wisconsin before transferring to Iowa and sitting out last season due to NCAA rules. Now that he's finally ready for action, Uthoff has a bevy of more experienced players in front of him on the depth chart, but McCaffery may still call on him for some instant offense. At 6'9" and 208 pounds, Uthoff could stand to add some muscle, but he's said to be able to score from all over the court and was Mr. Basketball in Iowa in 2011. Besides White, Iowa lacks a reliable scorer in the frontcourt, and that need could provide opportunity for Uthoff, especially if he can provide a shooting touch.
The last stop on our journey through the Iowa frontcourt is Zach McCabe, an unexciting senior who was much more productive as a sophomore than as a junior. McCabe has value in Iowa's system because of his ability to knock down shots and stretch the floor out, but that shooting ability was on a bit of a hiatus last season. His effective field goal percentage dropped from 55 in 2011-12 to 45 in 2012-13, and McCabe doesn't do enough on defense or rebounding to warrant being on the floor when his shot isn't falling. The veteran has a chance for significant playing time if he can reclaim his shooting touch, but he's also a candidate to be replaced in the rotation by Uthoff or one of the guards.
Biggest Question: Can Basabe become a great player?
Iowa's senior power forward has always intrigued me because of his athletic ability and his outstanding freshman season, but I'm not sure if there's many minutes for him in Iowa's deep rotation. The problem for Basabe is that the Hawkeyes are not lacking for shot-blocking ability. If Woodbury and Olaseni fulfill even a little of their potentials, Iowa will have plenty of that. What this team needs is someone who can knock down outside shots, and that could give Uthoff and even McCabe an advantage over Basabe in the battle for playing time. On the other hand, Basabe's combination of experience, rebounding, and defense could make him the perfect player to spell White with.
The Hawkeyes were one of the toughest teams to score against in the nation last season, and the emergence of Woodbury and Olaseni could make things even tougher on opponents in 2013-14. The big question is whether or not someone will step up and help White shoulder the scoring load. If that player is not one of the centers or Basabe, look for Uthoff as a potential breakout player. What's more certain is that McCaffery won't have a shortage of talent to turn to this season.