I'll be the first person to admit it, that last second loss to Augustana in the Hawkeyes final exhibition game before the season had me worried. Nah. It was worse than that. I was in a panic. Fran McCaffery's bunch were so lazy, so nonchalant and so lackadaisical it was jaw dropping. Sure it was only a two point loss on a last second heave by what is arguably the best player in Division II, but it wasn't like McCaffery threw in a bunch of freshman and future redshirts who got their first taste of starters minutes while the upperclassmen got a veteran's day off, Lance Briggs style.
Great Caesar's Ghost, look at the minutes distribution for that game: Peter Jok played 31 minutes, Jarrod Uthoff played 33, Woodbury played 32, Mike Gesell played 35 (!!!) and Anthony Clemmons played 23. The same starters that are 3-0 and lighting the early part of their schedule on fire played in 77% of the available minutes that night... and lost.
Early non-con breakouts Ahmad "The Headband Bandit" Wagner and Dom Uhl only played five minutes... combined.
McCaffery wanted this to be a test for his team. And it was. But the rotation that he played wasn't the one he seemingly planned on using at least in the early part of the schedule. Maybe I'm crazy, and hindsight is always 20/20, but doesn't this exhibition loss seem like a wake up call for the veterans? Doesn't it seem like McCaffery saw some potential issues in the practices leading up to the season and used Augustana to send a message to his experienced leaders?
I mean look at the average minutes played in the three REAL games this season for that same crew: Peter Jok is playing 14 (with a game and a half missed due to injury), Uthoff is averaging 23, Woodbury comes in at 17, Gesell at 25 and Clemmons at 24.7. Wagner is playing 12.7 minutes a game and Uhl is playing 19.3 (having been the main benefactor of the Jok injury).
I'm probably projecting -- as I'm without any sort of inside info -- but it's not crazy to think McCaffery knew that game might go in that direction, right? And he let it happen.
Look at this quote from the head coach after the debacle, "You can schedule it or not, OK? We could have found a team that won eight games last year very easily. We scheduled a team that won 31 games. Most teams won't play them, OK? But I felt like we needed a game like this right here. When you look at our schedule, we play next Friday and Sunday. We got Marquette, Iowa State. You look at who we have, Florida State. The tournament in Orlando. We better play somebody good who is going to expose some of our weaknesses as opposed to you win by 25 and don't really know where your weaknesses are yet."
As I said after it happened, mission accomplished. This was the kick in the pants this team needed to get them out of their Prime Time/summer league mentality and into the hyper athletic, tempo pushing, defensive laden frame of mind that McCaffery preaches. Against Augustana they were kind of beat up. They were exposed. They were out rebounded (42-35). They turned the ball over 11 times. They gave up 40 points in the paint. They only scored eight fast break points. Uthoff looked bored. Gesell was probably pushing too hard to score and not letting the offense flow. Jok was Jok. And Woodbury got his first taste of McCaffery's interesting "30-36" minutes approach.
And boom. Adjustments were made. The playing time was spread. Dom Uhl got out of whatever dog house he was in -- while also finding his confidence. Ahmad Wagner and Dale Jones have been two shinning stars off the bench. Gesell has 25 assists on five turnovers. Uthoff is 59.1% shooting inside the arch and 45.5% from three. Jok is every bit the offensive player Hawkeyes fans hoped he'd become. And for their efforts, Iowa is averaging 89.3 points per game and giving up 62.6. Sure they are still giving up 24.6 points in the paint and Tom Izzo isn't salivating over their rebounding ability -- all of which needs to be rectified before the Big Ten slate begins -- but the Hawkeyes are scoring 18.3 points off the fast break and the bench is pouring in 35.3 points per game.
McCaffery has a twelve man rotation right now. I realize it's been three games and two of them were cupcakes, but it's promising. They found their flaws. They identified four to five ultra physical athletes that can come off the bench and help out the four starting seniors and Jok. This is an experienced team who are wiping away last years -- and the Augustana games -- concerns.
It's early, and Dayton (46th ranked team according to KenPom), possibly Notre Dame (22), Florida State (36) and Iowa State (17) are going to be the true measuring stick to give us a clearer picture of what this team is. But right now, I'm chugging their black and yellow Kool Aid. They waxed Marquette from the opening tip. They are going for the jugular instead of letting teams mingle (as McCaffery teams have been known to do during his time in Iowa City). They have a calm and cool persona that is increasingly intriguing. There hasn't been any super highs, or disgusting lows. The youngsters are carrying themselves like their senior leaders. They are the deepest Iowa basketball squad that I can remember -- a roster full of players that can go in and out depending on who's feeling it that night.
I simply don't care that it's only been three games because this could-be-glorified-sugar-water, tastes so good.