The ‘2015-16 BTPowerhouse Season Preview' series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2015-16 season with analysis on each program's previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team's starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local "insider" who covers each team.
The Iowa Hawkeyes are amidst one of the program's best periods in recent history. After making just two NCAA Tournaments in 12 years, the Hawkeyes are now coming off the team's second straight trip to the big dance, its third 20 win season in a row, and its first win in the NCAA Tournament since 2001. If Iowa can put together another solid season, this could arguably be the program's best run since at least the 1990s.
In reality, since head coach Fran McCaffery took over for Iowa before the 2010-11 season, things have been different. Iowa's overall record has improved in four of his five seasons and the program's Big Ten record has always been as good or better than the prior season's record. His overall record of 96-75 (.561) may not look incredibly impressive, but he's reshaped expectations in Iowa City and made the program relevant in the Big Ten and nationally.
Of course, Iowa will have some significant challenges this season. To start, the losses of Gabriel Olaseni, Josh Oglesby, and Aaron White will be a big hit to the roster. Though Olaseni and Oglesby didn't play massive minutes, White was the team's do-it-all forward last year. He could score, rebound, pass, shoot from outside, and play quality defense. Finding a player with that kind of skillset is not exactly an easy task.
Luckily, the Hawkeyes will have some key pieces to overcome these losses. Mike Gesell, Jarrod Uthoff, and Adam Woodbury are all significant returners and some key recruiting additions should also help to fill some holes in the lineup. Replacing players like Olaseni and White will not be easy, but there are plenty of options on this roster.
Overall, this Iowa team probably doesn't have the raw talent of some of the program's recent teams, but it still has enough to compete in the Big Ten and for an NCAA Tournament bid. Seeing how the team's newcomers fit into the lineup will be vital, but it should be another exciting season in Iowa City.
With that, let's take a look at the Hawkeyes.
BTPowerhouse Season Preview Podcast
Along with reading BTPowerhouse's season preview post for the Iowa Hawkeyes, make sure to check out the site's podcast preview of the Hawkeyes featuring BTPowerhouse Manager Thomas Beindit and Today's U Managing Editor Andre Kuhla breaking down Iowa's roster, incoming recruits, schedule, and season outlook.
1. 2014-15 Season Performance
- Record: 22-12 (12-6)
- KenPom Team Rating: #19
- RPI Rating: #43
- Postseason Appearance: NCAA Tournament
Although, last season may not be perceived as an outstanding one for Iowa, in reality, it was a great season. Preseason expectations for the Hawkeyes were pretty underwhelming entering the year and though Iowa was unable to get the marquee wins some fans desired, it was still an NCAA Tournament team that finished in the top 20 in advanced stats last season. That shouldn't be overlooked.
The interesting thing for Iowa last year was that outside of losses to Minnesota and Northwestern and a loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament, the team really had no bad losses. Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes still couldn't grab enough wins against the top end teams to really set itself apart from the pack. In fact, the only regular season wins all year that really stood out were wins over Maryland and North Carolina.
In my 2014-15 Big Ten Recapitulation Series, this is what I wrote about Iowa:
Though Iowa suffered some rough losses, were only a #5 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, and a just #7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, it's hard not to like the team's balance and acknowledge that they improved in virtually every raw measure from the preceding season, despite losing what could have been the team's best player in Devyn Marble and already qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in 2014.
Still, even though the team played better than it did in 2013-14 and may have been underrated by many, there is some merit in acknowledging that they did not have some of the achievements that many fans like to hang their hats on such as rivalry wins, deep NCAA Tournament runs, and high conference finishes. If Iowa had simply beaten some of the teams it should have beaten such as Minnesota, Northwestern, and Syracuse, it would have gone a long way toward adding to the team's resume.
The primary theme in my retrospective on last season was that Iowa was one of the most underrated teams in the country. As of now, that still seems accurate. The Hawkeyes were a really good - and borderline great - team that let a few games slip away last season. That may hurt perception, but in reality, it was a very good team.
Highlights of the season included a non-conference road win over North Carolina, a season sweep over Ohio State, wins over Indiana and Maryland, and an NCAA Tournament win over Davidson. Low points of the season included a close loss to Syracuse, back-to-back losses to Minnesota and Northwestern, and an upset loss to Penn State.
Individual statistical leaders were Mike Gesell, Jarod Uthoff, and Aaron White. Gesell led the team in assists. Uthoff led the team in blocks. White led the team in minutes, points, rebounds, steals, usage, and total win shares.
2. Offseason Exits
Since the start of last season, Iowa has lost a total of six players for various reasons. These players were Kyle Denning, Trey Dickerson, Josh Oglesby, Gabriel Olaseni, Charlie Rose, and Aaron White. Four of these players graduated, one transferred, and one left the team. Of these losses, Olaseni and White are easily the biggest losses for the Hawkeyes heading into next year.
By just about any statistical measure, White was the best player on Iowa's team last year. Few will disagree with this as his combination of scoring, rebounding, passing, shooting, and defense made him a dynamic player. Calculating his impact is difficult because he covered up so many issues overall for Iowa last season. Just take a look at his impact in the overall win shares for the Hawkeyes.
The departure of Olaseni will also be a major challenge to overcome. Though he didn't play massive minutes for the Hawkeyes, he was an absolute monster on the boards that finished third in the Big Ten among contributors in block rate. There's no doubt he's not as big of a loss as White, but finding a big man who can have as big of an impact as Olaseni with his minute totals is going to be incredibly difficult next season.
The other notable departures come from Dickerson and Oglesby. Though Dickerson didn't really see the court at all once Big Ten play hit, Oglesby did see some solid minutes off the bench. He averaged 18.9 minutes, 3.2 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game last season. Neither of these are huge departures, but Iowa will have to find some players who can step up to take these minutes.
Finally, the departures of Denning and Rose should have little to no impact on Iowa next season outside of potential leadership hits. Neither player even averaged three minutes per game last season and combined for a total of 10 points. Needless to say, neither of these are red flags.
Though Iowa is not losing many contributors this offseason, the team is losing some good ones in the players who are leaving. Olaseni and White did a ton in the frontcourt last year and both Dickerson and Oglesby did have some impact in the backcourt as well. The good news is that Iowa is only losing one true starter, but unfortunately, it was the team's best player overall last season.
3. New Additions
This season, the Hawkeyes will be adding five new recruits and one transfer. The recruits at Andrew Fleming, Brandon Hutton, Isaiah Moss, Ahmad Wagner, and Christian Williams. All the recruits except Williams are rated as 3-star prospects by 247Sports. Williams is unrated by the site. Fleming is a shooting guard and Hutton, Moss, Wagner, and Williams are small forwards.
Interestingly, none of these prospects seems to have separated themselves out too much from the group. However, one player who is getting a decent amount of hype is Moss. With Aaron White leaving and Jarrod Uthoff potentially moving down to power forward, there should be minutes available on the wing and Moss is a player that could be in line to receive significant playing time. He is the highest rated prospect in Iowa's recruiting class per 247Sports.
Along with Moss, Iowa is adding a lot of versatile depth on the wing. With players like Hutton, Wagner, and Williams, this is a group that has the potential to play multiple positions. Fleming will have his work cut out to see minutes this year given the team's backcourt depth, but he's another player who could likely move around if needed. This flexibility should really help McCaffery get the best players on the court at all times.
Along with the recruiting additions, Iowa will be adding one JUCO transfer in Dale Jones. He is listed as a power forward and is rated as a 2-star prospect by 247Sports. It's hard to imagine Jones being able to step in immediately and fill the void left by White's departure, but he should at least be able to add some minutes there. This should help give Iowa the option of moving Uthoff around at the two forward spots.
Overall, this is a pretty interesting group of newcomers for the Hawkeyes. None of these are elite prospects and there's a decent chance that not one of these players find their way into the starting lineup this year. However, there is a lot of depth and versatility in this group. This is the kind of recruiting class that McCaffery has done exceptionally well with during his time in Iowa City and one that can be developed and molded together over time.
It's hard to project who specifically in this group will make a significant impact this season given the fact that almost all the prospects are viewed pretty similarly. Having said that, the raw size and versatility of this class is going to demand this group makes a significant impact overall. By season's end, it's likely that most of the team's depth options and maybe even a starting spot will come from this group.
4. Team Strengths
With the losses of White and Olaseni this offseason, there isn't much doubt that the Hawkeyes will look differently this year than last. Having said that, there will still be some similarities between this team and last year's Iowa team and some strengths that should show up over the course of this season. A few strengths that stand out are the team's ability to block shots defensively, rebounding, and its ability to convert from the free throw line.
Perhaps the strongest area for Iowa last season was its ability to defend the rim. The Hawkeyes were a significantly improved defensive team last year and perhaps the biggest area that allowed Iowa to be a really good defensive team was in its ability to block shots. This was a physical team that did not allow opponents to get easy looks inside. Just take a look at how Iowa compared to the Big Ten last season.
As mentioned earlier and as seen in the chart above, there isn't much debating Iowa's status as a very good shot blocking team. It's why the Hawkeyes were able to finish at No. 37 in defensive block rate and had two players in the top 10 in the conference in the same category.
The one thing worth noting in this area is that Olaseni was likely the team's best shot blocker. In fact, he led the entire team by a significant margin in block rate. Plus, even though he didn't lead the team in blocks, this had more to do with playing time than anything else. Some regression seems natural in Iowa's shot blocking, but with Uthoff and Woodbury back among others, this should still be a strong area and keep up the overall good interior defense.
Another area where Iowa could do some serious damage this season could be on the boards. That probably sounds like a stretch given the fact that Olaseni and White were both quality rebounders for the Hawkeyes, but there is plenty on this roster to be a good rebounding team. A look at the chart below gives one an idea of Iowa's great offensive rebounding last year. The offensive rebounding is going to take a hit, but it at least provides some perspective.
To start, both Uthoff and Woodbury were some of the team's best defensive rebounders last season and both return. Along with this, Peter Jok and Dom Uhl were decent defensive rebounders and should see increased minutes this year. The recruiting additions could also pay dividends here as well. The wing group is going to be adding a lot of athleticism, length, and size, which should pay dividends on the boards. Iowa might not be an elite rebounding team on either side of the floor this year, but it has the pieces to be a good one.
One other area where the Hawkeyes should also be good is on the free throw line. Last year, the Hawkeyes came in at No. 24 nationally in free throw percentage and were No. 80 in percentage of team points off free throws. This team got to the line often and converted once there. White is a huge loss here as he was a great free throw shooter, but this was a team effort. Even without him, the Hawkeyes should continue to be good here.
Figuring out where Iowa's roster will sit following the losses of Olaseni and White is relatively difficult, but there should be some real strengths to this team. With a continued focus on protecting the rim, rebounding, and on the free throw line, the Hawkeyes could flourish once again.
5. Team Weaknesses
Of course, even with some areas that should be strengths for the Hawkeyes this season, there are also some clear challenges for Iowa as well. Two areas that look like massive concerns for Iowa this year are the team's outside shooting and its ability to create turnovers defensively. Addressing these will be a must.
Last year, the Hawkeyes were a strong team with plenty of balance on both sides of the ball. The team could score, could defend, and didn't make critical errors in transition or commit too many fouls. However, perhaps the biggest weakness for the team was in its outside shooting. In fact, the Hawkeyes ranked just No. 210 nationally in three point percentage and just No. 279 nationally in percentage of team points off three point field goals.
There are plenty of reasons to explain this, but perhaps the most significant was Iowa's backcourt struggles in shooting from long range. Despite Jarrod Uthoff and Aaron White being decent shooters on the wing, the backcourt just didn't have enough to override those struggles. Just take a look at how the backcourt shot last year.
Although Jok attempted a good number of looks out of the backcourt, it's telling to consider that Clemmons and Gesell both attempted less than 60 shots from three point range all year and that Oglesby hit just 29.2 percent of his long-range looks. Again, Uthoff and White weren't bad outside shooters, but it's not as if either were hitting ridiculous numbers from three point range. With such mixed backcourt shooting, Iowa struggled as a team from long range.
Now, with White off to the pros, the Hawkeyes are going to have an even bigger challenge as White was one of the team's better perimeter shooters. Getting Clemmons and Jok more minutes could help, but Jok did attempt a good number of looks last year already. Realistically, Iowa is going to have to hope that one of the newcomers or someone else emerges as a good shooter, or this could be an area where the team struggles yet again.
Along with outside shooting, one area where Iowa was not particularly strong last year was in creating turnovers defensively. The Hawkeyes were a good defense, but it was not a defense that stole the ball that often or got opponents to turn it over that often. Overall, Iowa came in at No. 181 nationally in opponent turnover rate and No. 120 nationally in defensive steal rate. Iowa's top contributors also didn't hold up great in the conference either.
Similar to Iowa's three point shooting, this is also an area where White's absence is a blow to an area where the Hawkeyes already weren't that great. In fact, White led the entire team in steal rate last season and was one of the team's better overall defenders. Perhaps a player like Uthoff can step up, but this is expected to be a weak area.
The Hawkeyes should be able to override some of these concerns with some player development and some strong performances in other categories of the game, but these have to be concerns. Iowa will need to find some shooters and some players who can pressure the ball defensively if the team will be a serious contender this year.
6. Top Player
Heading into last season, projecting Iowa's best player on the roster was relatively easy. With Aaron White back in the lineup, he was almost assuredly going to be one of the Big Ten's best players and perhaps even contend for All-Big Ten consideration. Ultimately, he dominated the numbers and did get the All-Big Ten nod. However, with him gone, the player who appears to be set to take over the lead role is Jarrod Uthoff. He came in at #9 in the BTPowerhouse preseason Big Ten player rankings and for good reason.
Uthoff contributed significantly last year and was arguably the most utilized offensive player on the team. White certainly was the better overall player, but Uthoff played a huge role offensively. He also was a solid rebounder and the team's most productive outside shooter. If he can continue to improve his game and get a little more efficient inside, he could be set for a remarkable senior season.
Though Uthoff is the frontrunner to be Iowa's best player, there are a few others who could make a run in this area. To start, some of the key returners like Peter Jok, Dom Uhl, and Adam Woodbury have plenty of potential and could make some noise. None of these players had numbers even close to Uthoff last year, but all three should be improved this year. Some of the newcomers like Dale Jones and Isaiah Morris also have outside shots as well.
Though there are a few players in position to have breakout seasons this year, the one who will get the most attention is Uthoff. He had an excellent season last year and should be in position to expand it, especially if he can become more productive inside. Getting into the Big Ten Player of the Year discussion might have a little too much wishful thinking, but an All-Big Ten spot is certainly a reasonable projection for Uthoff.
7. 2015-16 Schedule Breakdown
- 10/29 - Sioux Falls (Exhibition)
- 11/6 - Augustana (Exhibition)
- 11/13 - Gardner-Webb
- 11/15 - Coppin State
- 11/19 - at Marquette
- 11/26 - Dayton (Orlando, Florida)
- 11/27 - Notre Dame/Monmouth (Orlando, Florida)
- 11/29 - Alabama/USC/Wichita State/Xavier (Orlando, Florida)
- 12/2 - Florida State
- 12/5 - UMKC
- 12/7 - Western Illinois
- 12/10 - at Iowa State
- 12/19 - Drake (Des Moines, Iowa)
- 12/22 - Tennessee Tech
- 12/29 - Michigan State
- 1/2 - at Purdue
- 1/5 - Nebraska
- 1/14 - at Michigan State
- 1/17 - Michigan
- 1/21 - at Rutgers
- 1/24 - Purdue
- 1/28 - at Maryland
- 1/31 - Northwestern
- 2/3 - Penn State
- 2/7 - at Illinois
- 2/11 - at Indiana
- 2/14 - Minnesota
- 2/17 - at Penn State
- 2/24 - Wisconsin
- 2/(27/28) at Ohio State
- 3/1 - Indiana
- 3/5 - at Michigan
Iowa has set up a challenging, but manageable non-conference slate for itself this season. Although there are a handful of difficult games that could boost Iowa's resume, the only one that appears to be a pretty massive uphill battle will be the road game against Iowa State. Otherwise, there are a good hunk of wins on the table for the taking.
The significant games on the non-conference schedule include the road games at Iowa State and Marquette, the Advocare Invitational matchups, and the home game against Florida State. These will likely include some pretty tough games, but outside of the Iowa State game, nothing is too difficult for the Hawkeyes this year.
Obviously, the Iowa State matchup will be tough on the road, but the rest is manageable. Florida State and Marquette weren't exactly world beaters last year and though teams like Dayton and Notre Dame did well in the NCAA Tournament, the Hawkeyes have plenty of firepower to matchup with both teams. A potential matchup with teams like Xavier or Wichita State could be tough, but obviously there is no guarantee of that even happening.
All told, Iowa is probably looking at a non-conference record around 10-3 or 11-2. The matchup with Iowa State is very likely a loss, but virtually every other game is winnable, especially with games like Florida State at home. In fact, KenPom has the Hawkeyes as a favorite in every matchup except the road games against Iowa State and Marquette. Even then, the Hawkeyes are very slim underdogs on the road against Marquette.
Of course, conference play is a whole different story entirely. The Hawkeyes have some pretty difficult draws with Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue all as double-plays. In total, Iowa will play 14 of its 18 conference games against teams that made last year's NCAA Tournament, are in top 25 consideration, or are on the road.
Even with this difficult slate, there are games for the taking though. To start, Iowa gets Penn State twice, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Northwestern at home, and Illinois and Rutgers on the road. The Hawkeyes should be favored or slim underdogs in all of those games. Even by just winning those games, Iowa can get to seven wins. Along with that, the Hawkeyes get another five home games. Those will be against really tough teams, but even two wins in those games can get Iowa around the 9-9 mark.
Obviously, projecting an entire conference and every giving matchup is always a moving target, but it's hard not to think that Iowa will get around the .500 mark in conference play or better. Interestingly, Iowa's conference schedule is largely a mix between pretty managable games and very difficult ones. With that, look for a performance somewhere in the seven to thirteen range. Realistically, expect a conference record slightly over .500 this season.
Overall, there are going to be a lot of challenging games this season. Still, the Hawkeyes have a lot on the table if the team can take care of business against the lower end teams and play decently on the road. With the talent on this roster, this team should be near the 20 win mark, but it will take a bit of luck to get over that mark.
8. Projected Startling Lineup
PG: Mike Gesell (Sr.) - 90%
SG: Anthony Clemmons (Sr.) - 70%
SF: Peter Jok (Sr.) - 70%
PF: Jarrod Uthoff (Sr.) - 95%
C: Adam Woodbury (Sr.) - 90%
(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)
The backcourt for Iowa this season should start with senior point guard Mike Gesell. There's no denying that he hasn't been the best player in the Big Ten during his career, but he is a really solid player who can facilitate and find open teammates. With his consistency and experience, he should take the reigns at the point guard position. Behind him, expect some combination of fellow senior Anthony Clemmons and Andrew Fleming.
Alongside Gesell, there should be some more competition for the starting role. Clemmons appears to be the most likely candidate given his experience and decent perimeter game, but there are a few other options. Peter Jok played a good hunk of minutes at shooting guard last season, Brady Ellingson is coming off a redshirt season, and some of the freshmen additions like Isaiah Moss and Christian Williams could grab time here as well.
On the wing, expect senior Peter Jok to grab the starting role at small forward. He was one of the team's more productive offensive players last season and should have a good shot at landing a starting role. The question will just be whether the Hawkeyes are better suited to have him start at shooting guard or small forward. This will likely depend on the development of the freshmen and which are ready for significant minutes.
At power forward and center, there isn't a ton of debate as to who will start. Jarrod Uthoff is probably the team's best player and Adam Woodbury is pretty easily the team's best option at center with the departure of Gabriel Olaseni this offseason. Outside of injury, it's almost inconveicable to imagine any other players grabbing starting roles over either of these players. The only way this is mixed up is if Iowa gets enough production at power forward to warrant the option of moving Uthoff back to small forward, but Uthoff will still start.
The most important thing to stress about Iowa's lineup and roster this season is that it is very versatile. The shooting guard, small forward, and power forward positions are all moving targets and that's a good thing. Uthoff will certainly start at one of the forward spots, but this is going to allow McCaffery to find the two players around him that are most effective on the floor at a given time and maximize bench efficiency. In short, at these spots, the starting lineup probably won't mean a ton because there will be so much movement.
Even with the versatility factors noted, this should still be a pretty good lineup for the Hawkeyes. Though the team might lack a star alongside Uthoff like it had last year, this is still a solid lineup. Realistically, Iowa could start five seniors and in today's college basketball, that's a pretty impressive feat. Considering that the Hawkeyes also have plenty of talent and depth to go along with that experience, there's plenty to work with this season.
9. Team Perspective From Patrick Vint of Black Heart Gold Pants
"It's a transition year at Iowa. The players that Fran McCaffery inherited from Todd Lickliter, and the first wave of players that McCaffery himself had landed and played early for lack of options, are gone. What is left is McCaffery's two biggest recruiting classes to date: His returning seniors -- Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury and subsequent transfer Jarrod Uthoff -- and a boatload of incoming freshmen who will be put to work early.
The result should be something that keeps Iowa competitive in the Big Ten. While the Hawkeyes lose Aaron White, one of the most productive players in the history of the program, and Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Gabe Olaseni, four starters return. Woodbury will be counted on to play an extra 8-10 minutes a game, and Gesell will again run the point, but this team will revolve around Uthoff. He's steadily improved throughout his time at Iowa, and if that improvement continues (as it did for White and Marble before him), he could become an all-conference player.
But the interesting part of this season for the long-term health of the program will come from the bench. Iowa added six new players listed between 6'5 and 6'8, and all indications are that it's the new normal at Iowa: Complete versatility across the roster, with pieces that can be plugged into the game where needed. Iowa's future recruiting continues to follow that formula, as well. In the long term, it's an interesting experiment. In the short term, it means Iowa should get back to running as much as it did in McCaffery's early years, with tempo figures in the low 70s and ability to score from anywhere on the court.
McCaffery has kept Iowa on a steady upward trajectory in his five years, from sub-.500 to a surprising NIT bid, to a run to the NIT final, to the First Four, and finally into the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. This year might be a season for consolidating the gains, but a step backward would be surprising." - Patrick Vint.
10. Overall Season Outlook
Iowa is on really solid footing as a program heading into this season. There is plenty of talent and depth and most importantly, there are a lot of known commodities on this year's team. Unfortunately, with so many expected contributions coming from upperclassmen, that also puts pressure on the team to have a successful season once again. After all, there will likely be a lot of questions heading into next season with so many departures.
However, with players like Mike Gesell, Jarrod Uthoff, and Adam Woodbury, there is plenty for McCaffery to work with during the upcoming season. The wing group is certainly a moving target and fans are anxious to see if Anthony Clemmons and Peter Jok can improve, but there is a lot of depth and talent returning. On top of all these returning contributions, Iowa is also adding a pretty large recruiting class that should make an impact this year.
Of course, there are also some questions about this year's team. To start, the losses of Gabriel Olaseni and Aaron White cannot be brushed aside. White was the team's best player last year and Olaseni had a massive impact in the frontcourt as well. In fact, these two actually led Iowa in player efficiency rating last season. Along with this, nobody outside of Uthoff has consistently shown star capability and players like Clemmons and Jok have been far from great so far during their careers. It's going to take more than just Uthoff to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
Nonetheless, with so much depth, experience, and talent returning, this should still be a pretty good team in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid this season. Whether players like Clemmons and Jok can improve will likely define this year, but even with this concerns, it's hard to pick against a team that's this experienced and has a potential All-Big Ten Player in Jarrod Uthoff.