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Iowa - 5 Reasons For Optimism In 2014-2015

Five reasons to be optimistic about Iowa's chances in 2014-15.

Aaron White should be a key piece of Iowa's 2014-15 season.
Aaron White should be a key piece of Iowa's 2014-15 season.
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sport

The Hawkeyes had a successful season in 2013-14.  Granted, the ending was pretty rough as the team lost 7 of their final 8 games and were knocked out of the 1st Round of the NCAA Tournament, but Iowa still made it back to the NCAA Tournament and recorded some pretty solid wins over the season.  For Iowa fans, expectations may not have been met last season, but here are a few reasons to think 2014-15 will be different.

Five Reasons To Be Optimistic About Iowa In 2014-15

#1 - This Is NOT A Rebuilding Project

Last year's Iowa team was easily one of the most volatile teams in the nation.  The funny thing about Iowa's performance last year is that none of the team's first 7 losses were against bad teams and none of the team's first 4 losses came at home.  Even though Iowa was 19-7 following their loss at home to Wisconsin, the team didn't have anything that jumped out as that concerning.  Sure, losing games at home is frustrating, especially when the losses are close, but it's not like you're going to rip on a team for losing to a good Villanova team in OT, at Michigan, or at Wisconsin.  In all honesty, if Iowa had simply closed out the Big Ten slate and the Big Ten Tournament, there's not even a debate about 2013-14 Iowa.  It was the 6 losses in the team's final 7 games that raised all the questions about last year's Hawkeye squad.  If they just win the games they should have won there, Iowa doesn't have to play in the "First Four" and comes in with a pretty solid seed in the NCAA Tournament.  My point here isn't to excuse the losses, but to point out that last year's Iowa team was actually pretty good.  Just look at the KenPom ratings where Iowa finished at #28.  Iowa will have to replace some key players and change their strategy in some areas for next season, but they are not going to have to start from scratch next season.

#2 - Iowa Still Brings Back A Lot

There's no denying that Iowa is losing some key players from last year, but it's important to keep those losses in context.  Obviously, the loss of Devyn Marble is going to be felt the most.  Any team that loses a 1st team All-Big Ten player is going to feel a hit.  Add in the loss of Melsahn Basabe and Iowa will have to find some new contributors.  However, outside of those two guys, Iowa is bringing back pretty much everything from last season.  Arguably, the biggest returners here are Mike Gesell, Jarrod Uttoff, and Aaron White.  If you look at the advanced stats, Iowa will be bringing back their #1, #3, #4, and #5 win share leaders from last season.  Add in younger players like Peter Jok and Adam Woodbury and there is plenty coming back for the Hawkeyes.  Realistically, Iowa will probably only have one or two serious All-Big Ten contenders, but it's not like Marble was a superstar before last season.  If somebody emerges, it's not much of a stretch to think this team is as talented - or more talented - than Iowa was last season.

#3 - Iowa Has The Guard Power To Replace Marble

Last season, one of - if not the biggest - contributors on Iowa's team was Devyn Marble.  Not only did Marble lead the team in win shares during Big Ten play, but he led the team in scoring, steals, Offensive Rating, and Usage Rate.  In terms of raw offensive production, it's hard to argue anybody was better on Iowa's roster than Marble.  Even if you don't think Marble was the most important piece, he certainly was key in the team's offensive production.  The question for Iowa now is how the team plans to replace Marble.  The first thing worth recognizing is that Marble played a unique role in this offense.  Expect the team to have Gesell man the 1 spot and to attempt to replace Marble's contributions at the 2 spot.  Gesell has already proven he's an effective passer and even led the team in assists last season.  The good news for Iowa is that they not only have Gesell in the backcourt, but they also have players like Anthony Clemmons, Peter Jok, Josh Oglesby, and incoming recruits Brady Ellingston and Trey Dickerson to help things in the backcourt.  There isn't necessarily a head and shoulders proven option to go alongside Gesell, but there are plenty of guys to rotate in there to find somebody that can fill that void.  Don't expect all of Marble's production to be replaced, but it's not much of a stretch to think that Iowa can find a quality replacement here and maybe even a pretty good one.  If they can do that, this team could be set for a big step forward.

#4 - The Bad Luck Has To End Eventually

Every season, KenPom does a calculation of "luck."  This has always been a controversial topic among sports fans, but, generally, I think most can agree that there is at least some luck involved in sports and especially during close games.  When you see teams compete with one another that really are about even in quality, it's going to come down to just a shot or two that separate the two teams.  A random call in a game can make all the difference.  Here is how the Hawkeyes have finished in Luck on KenPom the last few years.

Iowa Basketball's 2009-2014 Luck Ratings

Year

KenPom Lucky Team Rating

2009

#303

2010

#267

2011

#338

2012

#145

2013

#255

2014

#347

It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that Iowa has been pretty unlucky over the last few years.  Last season, there were a total of 341 teams on KenPom's ratings.  Iowa has had an average rating of roughly #275 since 2009.  Personally, I have always been a believer that having good coaching, talent, and experience can assist in close game scenarios, but that obviously only goes so far.  There's no debating that Iowa has just gotten the wrong end of the stick in a lot of games in recent years.  Just look at how many close losses they had last season.  Games against Illinois, Indiana, Iowa State, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Villanova, and Wisconsin were all games that Iowa lost close.  Sure, Iowa won some close games as well, but bad luck has been a big time trend over the last 2 seasons.  If Iowa can just get a few bounces or rebounds here or there, we might view the last few years of Iowa basketball in a much different light.  Perhaps this is the year that they finally get those bounces.

#5 - Iowa Can't Repeat That Epic Collapse ... Right?

As has been hinted to throughout this post, when you review Iowa's previous season, you come to the easy conclusion that the thing that hurt the team's season was the performance down the stretch.  The final 7 or 8 games of the season took what was generally perceived as a very good team and turned them into a fringe NCAA Tournament team.  It wasn't just the fact that Iowa lost 7 of its final 8 games that took the excitement out of the fan base, it was the fact that 4 of those losses were against teams that missed the NCAA Tournament and that only 3 of those losses came on the road.  Sure, there were some tough games in there such as games against Michigan State and Wisconsin, but when you loss to Illinois at home on Senior Night and get knocked out of the Big Ten Tournament by Northwestern, it's a pretty rough stretch.  Even if Iowa just beats Illinois, they probably avoid the "First Four" and make it into the Round of 64.  Plus even if you look outside of those games, Iowa had a back-to-back road series against Indiana and Minnesota.  Those are challenging games as beating teams on the road is always tough in the Big Ten, but still, when you're in serious contention for the NCAA Tournament, those are games you need to win or at least split.  It was Iowa's inability to close out games it should have won that took so much out of a successful season.  Maybe a different conference slate will help or maybe some new blood will help, but it's pretty tough to see Iowa collapsing down the stretch like they did last season.  Even if they win games they should win, things could look a whole lot different.

Overall

Iowa will likely have some growing pains with the loss of Devyn Marble and still need some improvement to truly compete at the top level of the Big Ten, but there are many reasons to be optimistic about Iowa in 2014-15.  Of course, these are just 5 reasons to be optimistic.  What do you think are some reasons to be optimistic about Iowa next season?  Let us know in the comments.