The 2015 BTPowerhouse Recapitulation Series will look back at the season of each Big Ten team through a 10 point analysis designed to reveal what went right, what went wrong, and whether the team met expectations in 2014-15. The series will be released during early summer in reverse order of conference standings, meaning the last place team will be reviewed first and the Big Ten champions will be reviewed last.
Confused? See the advanced stats glossary here.
The 2014-15 season was an unusual one for Iowa. In virtually every significant statistical category and in raw output, the Hawkeyes took a step forward in 2014-15. The team won more games, finished almost 10 spots higher in the KenPom ratings and made the Round of 32, but Iowa's inability to win key games diminished what otherwise would have undoubtedly been considered one of the best seasons in recent memory for the Hawkeyes. There's no debate that Iowa was not truly one of the elite teams in the country, but this was a really good team that did not get the appreciation it deserved last season.
Let's look back at the season in its entirety.
1. Preseason Expectations
Entering the season, Iowa had solid, but not great expectations as a team. Though they brought back much of their roster from 2013-14, including star forward Aaron White, the team was losing its biggest contributor in Devyn Marble and had finished the 2013-14 season with an abysmal 1-7 record with their only win coming against Purdue (who finished dead last in the Big Ten) and four straight losses to end the season. Every year is different for a team, but even the optimists had a hard time looking at Iowa's closing stretch and thinking positively about the team's performance. Still, with plenty of firepower coming back on a team that should have finished better than it did in 2013-14, I slotted Iowa in at #8 in my Big Ten preview.
Here was my preseason storyline for Iowa:
The top storylines for Iowa this season revolve around how the Hawkeyes plan to replace All-Big Ten player Devyn Marble and how the team responds to its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2006. Iowa's frontcourt looks prepared for another solid season, but there are certainly doubts about the team's backcourt, which arise largely from Marble's departure to the NBA Draft. Of course, Iowa is going to have to address these concerns while trying to build off its NCAA Tournament appearance last season. Iowa has been relatively successful under coach Fran McCaffery, but has consistently struggled with reaching that "next level" of play. Iowa made it into the Big Dance, but nearly fell out after a horrid finish to Big Ten play. Can Iowa finally not just compete with top teams, but beat them consistently? It's easier said than done, but it will be a major storyline to follow this season.
The Big Ten writers were largely on the same page as they put the Hawkeyes at #7 in their preseason conference standings behind Minnesota and ahead of Illinois. There was enough depth and experience returning to prevent a bottom tier finish in the Big Ten in 2014-15, but the question was where the team would get the firepower to move into the top segment and how good the team actually was considering their awful finish.
2. Non-Conference Play
With middling preseason expectations, Iowa was expected to show some success in non-conference play, but given difficult matchups with teams like Iowa State, North Carolina, and Texas, it was hard to see the team running the table or even getting through with just one loss. This was one of the more difficult non-conference schedules in the Big Ten and it would take some players really stepping up to finish with a great record. Here is how things went.
Iowa 2014-15 Non-Conference:
- Win (1-0): Hampton, 90-56
- Win (2-0): North Dakota State, 87-56
- Loss (2-1): Texas, 71-57
- Loss (2-2): Syracuse, 66-63
- Win (3-2): Pepperdine, 72-61
- Win (4-2): Northern Illinois, 70-49
- Win (5-2): Longwood, 77-44
- Win (6-2): North Carolina, 60-55
- Win (7-2): UMBC, 77-47
- Win (8-2): Alcorn State, 67-44
- Loss (8-3): Iowa State, 90-75
- Loss (8-4): Northern Iowa, 56-44
- Win (9-4): North Florida, 80-70
3. Conference Play
The Hawkeyes had avoided any major upsets in non-conference play and had a marquee win against North Carolina, but the concern would still be about Big Ten play and how the team finished. After all, Iowa had opened the 2013-14 season at 15-3 and finished with an overall record of just 20-13. If the Hawkeyes were going to show progress, they would need to show consistency in Big Ten play and beat the teams they should beat and score some quality wins along the way. Here is how things ended up playing out.
Iowa 2014-15 Big Ten Play:
- Win (1-0): Ohio State, 71-65
- Win (2-0): Nebraska, 70-59
- Loss (2-1): Michigan State, 75-61
- Win (3-1): Minnesota, 77-75
- Win (4-1): Ohio State, 76-67
- Loss (4-2): Wisconsin, 82-50
- Loss (4-3): Purdue, 67-63
- Loss (4-4): Wisconsin, 74-63
- Win (5-4): Michigan, 72-54
- Win (6-4): Maryland, 71-55
- Loss (6-5): Minnesota, 64-59
- Loss (6-6): Northwestern, 66-61 OT
- Win (7-6): Rutgers, 81-47
- Win (8-6): Nebraska, 74-46
- Win (9-6): Illinois, 68-60
- Win (10-6): Penn State, 81-77 OT
- Win (11-6): Indiana, 77-63
- Win (12-6): Northwestern, 69-52
Iowa Regular Season KenPom Odds Performance:
4. Postseason Play
With Iowa going 12-6 in Big Ten play, the Hawkeyes were considered a virtual lock for the NCAA Tournament and a potential contender to move up with a successful Big Ten Tournament. Unfortunately, due to the tiebreaker, Iowa would be seeded #5, though in raw numbers, they had a legitimate argument for the #4 seed in Chicago. In the first game, Iowa would face the winner of Nebraska and Penn State with a potential matchup against Purdue if they were able to take care of business. Here is how things went:
Iowa 2014-15 Postseason Play:
- Loss (2nd Round - Big Ten Tourney), Penn State, 67-58
- Win (Round of 64 - NCAA Tournament), Davidson 83-52
- Loss (Round of 32 - NCAA Tournament), Gonzaga 87-68
Entering their opening game in Chicago, Iowa would have to await the winner of the Nebraska and Penn State game. Ultimately, the Nittany Lions would move on and the Hawkeyes were given 78% to win the game according to KenPom. The tricky thing about Penn State - as stated in my recap on the Nittany Lions - was that although they did not have a great record, they were a pretty dangerous team, even on paper, which is not something you say everyday about a squad that finished 13th in the conference standings.
The game started out relatively slow for both sides, but for much of the opening segment, it was an offensive battle between DJ Newbill and Aaron White. However, the Hawkeyes gradually took control and Jarrod Uthoff was a huge factor late in the 1st Half to push Iowa up by a score of 27-19. Thanks to this play and the solid odds coming into the game, Iowa was sitting north of 90% odds to win the game at the break.
The Hawkeyes maintained control into the 2nd Half, but thanks to some great plays from Julian Moore and Ross Travis, the Nittany Lions were able to close the gap and actually took a slight lead just before the 10 minute mark. As such, Iowa's odds gradually dipped to less than 70%. Of course, Penn State would continue their comeback and actually jump out to a decent lead as the game wrapped up thanks to DJ Newbill. Ultimately, Penn State would upset Iowa by a final score of 67-58. It was a rough loss. Just take a look at the in-game odds.
Iowa-Penn State In-Game KenPom Odds:
It's often tough to separate whether a team "lost" a game or the other team "won" the game, but in Iowa's matchup with Penn State, it's pretty clear that the Hawkeyes should have played better down the stretch. Uthoff and White had nice games for Iowa and Mike Gesell had a decent showing, but the rest of the roster had a combined 11 points. Even against a team like Penn State, that's not going to lead to wins.
Still, even with the loss, Iowa had a strong enough resume to make the NCAA Tournament and entered the field as a #7 seed in the same region as #1 seed Duke and #2 seed Gonzaga with a matchup with #10 seed Davidson in the Round of 64. On paper, it looked like a tight one with Iowa having 54.1% odds before tip. This game often fell in the discussion of potential bracket upset picks and for good reason. Iowa was a good team, but Davidson was not a bad unit and had plenty in their resume.
The good news for the Hawkeyes is that they came out firing and after just 10 to 15 minutes into the game, Iowa had taken firm control. With about 4 minutes left in the 1st Half, the Hawkeyes were given 90% odds to win the game. Of course, they had a similar position against Penn State and ended up losing as well. Iowa did have a little trouble at the beginning of the 2nd Half, but ultimately, took over and won by a final score of 83-52. Thanks to big performances from Gesell, Uthoff, and White accompanied by some additional additions elsewhere, the Hawkeyes put up an impressive 1.3 points per possession in an NCAA Tournament game.
Though Iowa would get a very good Gonzaga team in the Round of 32, expectations were sky high heading into the matchup. The Bulldogs were given 65.7% odds in the pregame by KenPom, but Iowa had shown it could beat quality teams in the past like North Carolina and Ohio State, was coming off a huge win against Davidson, and could pose some matchup problems with their quality frontcourt. Plus, with Iowa State and SMU being upset in the 1st Round, if the Hawkeyes could pull off the upset, they would have an extremely manageable road to the Elite Eight.
Unfortunately for Iowa, the Bulldogs came out firing and never looked back. Not only did they shoot an incredible 61.5% from 3PT range, but they also shot 61.1% from 2PT range and 61.9% from the free throw line. Some of it was certainly Iowa's defense, but those kind of performances don't come along everyday, especially in a Round of 32 game in the NCAA Tournament. It was a disappointing performance for Iowa because they were not only coming off a great performance in the Round of 64, but also had an opening for a deep run in March with a win. Ultimately, Gonzaga would win by a final score of 87-68.
Overall, Iowa had a nice season with an overall record of 22-12, a Big Ten record of 12-6, and a Round of 32 appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes may not have been the best team in the Big Ten, but they exceeded their preseason predictions and were a consistent team that may not have been able to pull off the huge wins some fans hoped for, but did do enough to have a good season for the program.
Iowa may not have been on the level of teams like Wisconsin last season, but the Hawkeyes did have some real strengths and balance to their roster. Particularly, their quality defense led by their ability to block shots and their offensive rebounding were huge assets for the team.
The Hawkeyes took a step forward in 2014-15 and easily the single biggest area of improvement was on the defensive end. In 2013-14, the team had been an average to mediorcre defense, but when they finished in 2013-14, they were not only one of the better defenses in the Big Ten, but the entire country. Just take a look at the comparison:
Iowa Defensive Stats:
Needless to say, that's a pretty big improvement in just one season. They allowed fewer points, made opponents miss a higher percentage of shots, and, what is even more significant is that, they allowed a higher percentage of 3PT shots in 2014-15 than the year before. Statistically, defensively 3PT percentage is a pretty random stat, which implies that Iowa's defense actually got less lucky in 2014-15 than the previous year and still jumped nearly 90 spots in the KenPom rating. That's a huge statement.
The other thing that is particularly interesting about this improvement is that this was not just one area getting better, but was just a defense truly improving across the board. For instance, the Hawkeyes ended up #37 nationally in defensive block rate last season, which is really good, but they were #31 the season before. The team was also #181 nationally in turnovers created and #120 in steals, which were both drop-offs from the season prior. As noted, the interior defensive play was very good for Iowa, but it was simply forcing opponents into bad shots. It was a huge rise and says a lot about the direction of the program.
Still, having pointed out the fact that Iowa was not overly reliant on things such as steals, this was still a very good team inside defensively. Not only did they finish #37 nationally in blocked shots, but also at #34 in defensive 2PT%. Obviously, a lot of this came from players like Gabriel Olaseni, Aaron White, and Adam Woodbury, but even wing players like Jarrod Uthoff did a great job. Just look at this comparison for Iowa to the conference.
2014-15 Big Ten Defensive Block Stats:
The interesting thing about Iowa last season is that despite their massive growth on defense, their offense was actually their strongest unit. They finished at #29 nationally and the Hawkeyes excelled in two areas on that side of the court. These were offensive rebounding and free throw shooting. Both are often underrated offensive statistics, especially in today's game that is so focused on quality shooting.
Similar to the defensive end for Iowa, it was the interior play that made Iowa a dynamic offensive team. They were not a terrible shooting team, but the fact that they ranked #274 in 3PT offense tells a lot. It was just not their style of game. They did the dirty work inside and specifically on the boards. Just look at how their offensive rebounding compared in the conference.
2014-15 Big Ten Offensive Rebounding Stats:
The ability to control the boards, especially on the offensive end pays huge dividends for the performance of the offense. Having this edge made up for a lot of the other areas where the team was not that great, such as the team's underwhelming perimeter shooting.
The final area where Iowa really performed well was on the free throw line. The Hawkeyes finished at #24 nationally in free throw rate and got roughly 22.7% of the team's points from the line. This was led by consistent shooting from players like Peter Jok and Aaron White. Free throw shooting is not going to make a team good, but certainly is a nice boost to a team that was pretty solid at getting to the line.
Despite showing remarkable consistency in 2014-15 and great interior play, Iowa also had their issues as well. Particularly, their underwhelming outside shooting and their inability to bring pressure on defense were areas that left room for improvement with the team. If the Hawkeyes had even been able to get to the Top 100 level in either of these categories, they very likely would have been a Top 25 team and if they had been able to do both, they would have been one of the best teams in the country. Of course, easier said than done.
Iowa was a good offensive team last season and certainly deserve their dues, but it was very reliant on playmakers like Olaseni, White, and Uthoff and depended massively on its interior game. In fact, 22.7% of the team's points last season came from the free throw line alone, which ranked #80 nationally. The only other team in the Big Ten to even crack the Top 100 in that category was Maryland. The Hawkeyes were really good at getting to the line, which is great for an offense and explains this stat, but their limitations outside were also a part of this equation as well.
The wing position was actually pretty good for Iowa last season, but the thing that really limited the Hawkeyes was the shooting from 3PT range was the backcourt. If a team has really good shooting wings, it can certainly be good enough to carry a roster, but to really be a good shooting team, the backcourt needs to contribute and this area was one of the key spots that held the Hawkeyes back from possibly reaching that next level. Just look at the 3PT shooting from Iowa's backcourt last season.
2014-15 Iowa Hawkeyes Backcourt 3PT Shooting:
Iowa's backcourt 3PT shooting was not terrible last season, but there was certainly room for improvement and there's not much denying that it played at least a part in the team coming in at #224 nationally in 3PT makes last season. Even if the backcourt's shooting wasn't that bad, Gesell, Joke, and Oglesby all were in the Top 4 of the team in 3PT attempts last season. Those are a lot of shots from a unit that wasn't great in that area. If they had connected on a few more of those shots, it would have went a long way for the offense.
Another area where there was some room for improvement for the Hawkeyes last season was in bringing pressure on opponents and forcing turnovers defensively. The team finished at #181 nationally in defensive turnover rate and #120 in defensive steal rate. These numbers aren't terrible, especially considering the ability of the team's defense to force bad shots, but it was certainly one of the factors that prevented Iowa from becoming an elite defense. The interesting thing is that Iowa's top guys actually held up pretty well in this area.
2014-15 Big Ten Defensive Steal Stats:
Unlike other teams that struggled in this category, this was not an issue for the top guys, but more of an issue with the team's depth and other options. Iowa was certainly not a bad defensive team, but as mentioned, these are the type of things that separate the truly elite units from the really good units. Iowa had a really good defense, but if they could have gotten more out of guys like Oglesby or Olaseni to improve in this category, it would have made a big impact at giving Iowa that extra little bit on the defensive end of the court.
7. Top Player
Entering the year, Iowa had arguably lost its best player in Devyn Marble over the offseason and were looking for some players to step up and fill the void. The team did return some key contributors like Aaron White and Adam Woodbury, but finding an individual or at least a few players to fill the offensive void left by Marble would be a must. If not, getting back to the NCAA Tournament would be difficult. Luckily for the Hawkeyes, several players did end up emerging and gave the team a few All-Big Ten listings.
Let's take a look at how the players compared.
Iowa 2014-15 Stat Leaders:
- Minutes - Aaron White
- Field Goal Attempts - Jarrod Uthoff
- Points - Aaron White
- Rebounds - Aaron White
- Assists - Mike Gesell
- Blocks - Jarrod Uthoff
- Steals - Aaron White
White also held up very well in the advanced stats.
Of course, advanced numbers may not necessarily be a perfect reflection compared to how a player performs in big games and whether he can push them over the top. To help assist in this, KenPom does an analysis of an MVP in each game and awards it to the best player during the game. Here is how Iowa stacked up.
Though there might be some rumblings, when you take a step back, it's pretty clear that White was Iowa's top player in 2014-15. He may not have dominated in one particular area on the statsheet each and every game, but his diverse skillset was huge for the Hawkeyes. He had an outstanding career at Iowa and was a key piece in the team once again getting back to the NCAA Tournament.
8. Sixth Man
The Hawkeyes might not have had the depth and talent on their bench that they had in the 2013-14 season, but they still had a really solid bench and one of the better ones in the country. Over the course of the season, Iowa came in at #76 nationally in bench minutes.
Last season, Iowa's most started lineup was Mike Gesell, Peter Jok, Jarrod Uthoff, Aaron White, and Adam Woodbury. This was certainly not the lineup for the entire season, but these were the most started players, which is the measure for this comparison. This left the top bench contributors as Anthony Clemmons, Trey Dickerson, Josh Oglesby, Gabriel Olaseni, and Dom Uhl.
Iowa 2014-15 Bench Leaders
- Minutes - Anthony Clemmons
- Field Goal Attempts - Gabriel Olaseni
- Points - Gabriel Olaseni
- Rebounds - Gabriel Olaseni
- Assists - Anthony Clemmons
- Blocks - Gabriel Olaseni
- Steals - Anthony Clemmons
Here is how they held up in the advanced stats comparison.
This pretty easily goes to Gabriel Olaseni. He had a fantastic 2014-15 season off the bench, which was good enough for him to win the Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year. There were certainly bigger contributors for the team than Olaseni, but he was a huge part in the team's success last season.
9. Top Storylines
The storyline of Iowa's 2014-15 season was an interesting one. By virtually any measure, the Hawkeyes were a very good team. In fact, they were a borderline Top 25 team for the majority of the season and were generally in the Big Ten discussion - behind Wisconsin of course. However, the team never really had the big games, performance in rivalry games, or even the performance in the postseason to convert on that level of play. Even the fact that they were the #5 seed to the Big Ten Tournament despite being the #19 team nationally on KenPom overall speaks volumes.
Preseason expectations were mixed for Iowa, but most viewed the team as a good, but not great roster that would likely have to fight for an NCAA Tournament appearance. If they could find a quality replacement for Devyn Marble, they might even be able to move into the upper segment of the Big Ten. Most had confidence in White and some respect for contributors like Olaseni and Woodbury, but few really bought into this as a Top 25 roster.
The Hawkeyes actually had a pretty up and down start to the season, but overall were able to put together a 9-4 record with a road win over North Carolina in non-conference play with three of their losses coming to really good teams. Iowa was able to build off success that early in conference play by scoring a road win over Ohio State. Eventually, the team put together enough quality wins to get into really good position at the end of the regular season, despite a few rough losses to teams like Minnesota and Northwestern. Though they did suffer a rough loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament, the Hawkeyes qualified for the NCAA Tournament where they were able to score a huge win over Davidson before going down to Gonzaga in the Round of 32.
The season may not have "felt" as successful as it was on paper, but if Hawkeye fans had been asked if another NCAA Tournament appearance, a 22-12 overall record, and some big road wins over teams like North Carolina and Ohio State would have been a successful season, they likely would have unanimously approved of the performance. Overall, this was a really good team that was balanced across the board and though they did not have the raw achievements to turn heads, this was a really good season for a program that continues to trend up.
(Photo Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)
10. Final Verdict
Iowa's performance during the 2014-15 season easily exceeded preseason expectations. Though they were unable to show huge success in the NCAA Tournament or finish that highly in the Big Ten, they still put together a really nice season that included another bid to the Big Dance and some major wins in non-conference and Big Ten play.
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 limits on raw success limit Iowa's grade, but this was still a really good team that became one of the most underrated teams in the country in 2014-15.
Season Grade: B+