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2015-16 Big Ten Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes Backcourt

Going into the 2015 season, Iowa's backcourt is as full of familiar faces as it is question marks. Yet the ultimate riddle for Fran McCaffery remains, can this unit become more consistent and efficient on the offensive end while still contributing mightily to the team's stout defense?

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Before diving into the expectations and predictions on the 2015 Hawkeyes backcourt, I think it's best we take a step back and gander at this units performance last year. For those familiar with the Iowa program and/or have the Big Ten Network always on their televisions, last years Iowa backcourt was a tale of two units.

To start the season, Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons, Peter Jok and Josh Oglesby were extremely underwhelming on the offensive end (which is probably a slight to the word underwhelming). Gesell didn't take the leap anyone in Iowa City anticipated, Clemmons was in his own head, "Jok" and "asthma" were joked about a ton in my group chats and Josh Ogles(THREE) was forever known as Ogles(BRICK). Their offensive output would be best summed up as something in between the second season of True Detective and Miley Cyrus' last album.

But for all they weren't on offense, defensively these guys were steel cages.

Until they (and the team as a whole) did a 180 degree turn.

A couple games into the Big Ten slate, the offensive output amped up. Fran McCaffery's motion offense started looking for the best option instead of the first option; leaning heavily on working the ball around for the most efficient shot. But as the teams eFG% trickled up, so to did their opponents points per possession.

There was little consistency on both ends of the court, something that clearly plagued this unit as a whole.

Now with 2015 on the verge of beginning, this similar cast of characters (minus Oglesby) along with a bunch of fresh faces need to solidify themselves on a nightly basis. Being consistent on a night in and night out basis will surely maximize an exciting and athletic backcourt.

Mike Gesell, Senior:

Outside of Jarrod Uthoff and Adam Woodbury, Mike Gesell is probably the most important player for Fran McCaffery going into 2015. Not only is he familiar with the offense, but towards the end of the 2014-15 season, it looked like he finally was comfortable leading it. He was 60th in the nation in assist rate, and for Iowa to be successful he probably needs to creep into the Top-50. And that will come as long as he does most of his damage attacking the hoop and creating havoc around the forest of big bodies.

Gesell is not a pure shooter, but nobody expects him to be. His mid range jumper isn't horrible when given the space and he can knock down wide open triples. But the best part of this Iowa offense is that Gesell doesn't have to gather points that way. His damage will be done by attacking the rim.

As far as expectations go, I think it's very likely his per game scoring will increase as his usage rate surely spikes without the likes of Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni. While consistency is the word of the season, doing it efficiently is key for Gesell. There's a real Big Ten talent here and I believe that all of the puzzle pieces that have been shuffled in and out will fit nicely during his senior season.

Oh, and lest I forget, be sure to check out how well he defends opposing point guards. He's a grindhouse.

Peter Jok, Junior:

Good Peter. Bad Peter. Dr. Jekyll Peter. Mr. Hyde Peter.

While I realize I'm no Dr. Seuss, it doesn't take away from the fact that last season there were two versions of Peter Jok. The first was a player that got blown by on defense for an easy lay-up and immediately turned the ball over on the offensive end. And the second was a player that would nail down transition three's while stifling his opponent with length and quick feet on the defensive end. There was no middle. It was all or nothing.

In 2015, Iowa needs Jok to be more of the latter. They need Jok to fill up the score board and help take the pressure off of Uthoff. They need the junior to be the long distance threat that prevents defenses from packing the paint; leaving space for Woodbury and Gesell to go to work. He needs to get to his spot on the arch (either dead center or on the left hand side) and nail down triples at a higher/more consistent percentage (40% would be a god send).

Ultimately, Jok needs to take another big (consistent!) jump. He has shown the ability and capacity to shine in big moments. He just needs to put it all together now. Here's to hoping he will.

Anthony Clemmons, Senior:

Anthony Clemmons may be the best overall shooter from outside that we've seen play on this roster (read that sentence carefully). While his usage and attempts aren't on the level of a Jok or Gesell, he converted 37.3 percent of his deep balls last season. When given the look, Clemmons was pretty consistent at knocking down long jumpers. It's no wonder the three ball took up almost half of his overall attempts during the 2014-15 seadon. He's the perfect bench player that comes out and gives McCaffery a spark with his "D and three" type game.

Speaking of "D", Clemmons is a fantastic on-ball defender. During his rotations he's a pest; always riding his opponents hip and digging in. If he can only limit his turnovers, knock down threes at an equal clip and continue to grind the opposition, Clemmons will be a major contributor once again for McCaffery's bench.

Brady Ellingson, RS Freshman

Last year, Ellingson played in seven games for the Hawkeyes before getting a medical hardship redshirt because of a foot problem. While there is little to go off of, one thing is clear: this dude is on the Hawkeyes for one reason... to score from all around the arch.

I'm not sure what to exactly expect from Ellingson this season outside of some DEEP three balls. But he did see some minutes early on last season so it would seem likely that he has a great rapport with McCaffery. The question remains, can the redshirt freshman work his way into McCaffery's likely 10-man rotation? We'll soon see.

Andrew Fleming, Freshman:

Fleming chose Iowa over such programs as Florida, Memphis, Ohio State and UNLV. He comes in as a sharp shooter that ranked in the Top-25 in made three pointers at Oak Hill Academy with 72 total (while shooting 38%). During the past summer, he gave every Iowa fan a fluttering feeling in their bellies that only Jennifer Lawrence can muster by cranking out 25, 27, 37 and 42 point performances during Prime Time play. He's a smooth operator, a player that doesn't have to nail long jumpers to score. He's ultra versatile and can/will probably play every position on the perimeter. So when you take all of that ability, throw in the Oak Hill stamp and consider the available minutes that could be immediately available with the graduation of Oglesby, how could Iowa fans not be excited? Just look at that jumper... so wet:

Isaiah Moss, Freshman:

Mark this as yet another big, prominent program signing. Moss, a graduate of Simeon High School in Chicago, is the perfect Fran McCaffery recruit. Standing at 6'5" and 196 pounds, Moss can play a plethora of positions and impact the game with his athleticism, quickness and scoring ability. I'm not sure how many minutes will be readily available with so many multi-positional guards on the roster, but Moss should see some time as the season goes on. He's another scorer that McCaffery wants to mold into a Roy Devyn Marble type player. And you know what, there's something to that:


Iowa is extremely deep in the backcourt and it's laden with upperclassmen and young, raw talent. Like I mentioned in the opening paragraphs, the key to this group being successful is consistency. They need to play with a common goal, unite as a unit and rally around the seniors. Mike Gesell should take another small step in his game and with the help of Anthony Clemmons, the pair may be the toughest defensive point guards in the Big Ten. Peter Jok needs to find his happy place from start to finish this season, or he may be looking over his shoulder as McCaffery's freshman rise to the occasion. Either way, Iowa looks more loaded on the perimeter and primed to make a splash offensively we have not seen in Iowa City in quite some time.