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Which 3 Players Are Most Important For The Iowa Hawkeyes To Get Back To The NCAA Tournament?

Can the following players keep Iowa among the upper-tiered Big Ten programs and help them return to the NCAA tournament?

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I touched on the three major questions facing the Iowa program as well as some other, well, off-based questions that needed to be answered. Today, I want to touch more on the three key players headed into the 2015-16 season. These aren't necessarily the best players on the roster. Instead, they are the players that need to have the greatest impact night in and night out for Fran McCaffery and his lengthy roster to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

The opportunist: Dom Uhl

Opportunity often breeds success and that's exactly what I'm anticipating with Uhl.

Early last season, Uhl really only saw decent minutes in blowouts (both in wins and losses). As the non-con schedule trickled into the Big Ten slate, McCaffery seemingly began to trust the freshman slightly more, until he didn't in the February and March months.

His overall game-by-game outlook resembled a seismograph more than a Midwestern plain and for any player in a situation like that, it's hard to get anything going.

Luckily for the sophomore, that's all about to change.

Aaron White, who played in 78.1% of the teams total minutes was the guy that was (rightfully so) keeping Uhl on the bench. And it was probably the best case scenario for Uhl. Instead of being forced into extended minutes (like he will be this year), he was able to take his time, develop and learn from one of the Top-10 Hawkeye basketball players of all time. He got the opportunity to play against White day in and day out. He saw what it takes to be a Power Forward in the McCaffery program.

Don't underestimate the importance of this.

When looking at his peripherals, Uhl had a very "freshman" like season. He took 45 shots inside the arc and 27 more from three. He was hiding on the perimeter, often trying to decide when he should force his will and get to the hoop (something Uhl should excel at this season) and when to differ to his older, veteran teammates. More times than not, he differed. He was also pushed around when he drifted closer to the hoop. He didn't assert himself as a presence, instead filling in the gaps trying to not make mistakes instead of just playing basketball.

Those days are over.

By all accounts, Uhl spent his summer in the weight room and at the Hillcrest and Burge dining halls. He's added 15 pounds of much needed muscle. He's also spent his time playing in the Prime Time League, having had the opportunity to partner up with his running mate in Jarrod Uthoff (something I'm sure McCaffery loved). Of course, it's the Prime Time League which of course is like every other Summer League in the world, but Uhl averaged 21.1 points and 9.7 rebounds while hanging with Woodbury down in the post.

That's huge! But Uhl needs to do that during the season. He needs to show a consistency to play in the post (especially with the perimeter oriented players around him). A consistency to shrug off Big Ten blows and to be able to stick with opposing fours. He needs to be a positive on the offensive end. He needs to realize that he is an important cog to the success of this season and not some ancillary True Detective character.

It's time to step up and step out. Time to seize the opportunity.

The 5-Tool Player: Jarrod Uthoff

Lets break this down like my Creating the Hype pieces:

  • Before we get started... I know #SummerLeague.
  • That's just Jarrod Uthoff, leading the break, with a behind the back dribble to defer a darting defender. He's 6'9". Oh, and just for good measure, a pull up jumper, nothing but net. THESE ARE BOYS PLAYING AGAINST A MAN.
  • (:14 mark): An out of bounds play that is literally just Uthoff breaking off from the opposite elbow, rubs his defender off another defender, catches the ball off his left foot and pulls the Dirk-ish jumper. Nobody is contesting that and lord knows it's pretty.
  • Isolating Uthoff on under the basket, out of bounds plays seems to be the easiest way to two points... at least in the Prime Time League.
  • (:40 mark): When you look at Uthoff, you don't think he could be THIS athletic. And then he catches a pass on a baseline cut, takes a quick twitch pivot, and throws down a one handed dunk like the one here. This shouldn't be possible.
  • Ok real basketball thing here: Uthoff as the screener in P&R and Pick-and-Pop sets could be really lethal. Any time Anthony Clemmons is on the floor with Uthoff, all offensive sets need to start with this. As the two defenders, do you bite on Uthoff rolling or popping out for those deep two's he's drilled his entire career, leaving Clemmons WIDE OPEN to gut through the lane or to take the wide open three pointer (something I am VERY confident he can make)? Or do you just let Uthoff get his and sell out and blitz the ball? Either way, I like the odds that the Hawkeyes come away with points there.
  • (1:07 mark): Classic "Hand Down, Man Down" moment. You gotta step up young man.
  • Uthoff is sooooooooooooooo long and because of that he's a great shot blocker. He's also pretty good at digging in on his man when they are lazy with their dribble.
Again, I know it's Summer League highlights, but we've seen Uthoff evolve in real games. And that was with White on the team. He's going to have to continue to make these type of plays against the Big Ten and I have no problem betting he does it.

The Emotional Leader: Adam Woodbury

I went on a bit of a rant last week in my Three Questions piece about how I think Woodbury is the most important player to the 2015-16 Hawkeyes:

To me, Iowa's most important player this season is Woodbury. You can make the case for Uthoff, and I understand it. But If Woody can limit the "shuffle your feet instead of reach" fouls while harboring a 10% uptick in total minutes, Iowa is going to be very hard to beat night in and night out. He is 100% the leader of this team going into the season and to remain as that he needs to have improved his entire game. Points. Rebounds. Blocks. It's all there for the taking...and here's to hoping he grabs it and holds on and doesn't just poke it in the eye

I stick by all of this. Woody is the Joakim Noah of this team. If he's up, I'll bet the farm the rest of the team is up. If he's flying around, moving his feet and playing with that smug, smart aleck look on his face, nobody is going to want to play Iowa.

So for all of the Woody haters and non-believers, I leave you with this: