Will the Iowa Hawkeyes Complete Their Comeback Story?Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 8th, 2013
It’s been almost a decade since the Hawkeyes have had any preseason expectations. In those 10 years, Iowa chased away Steve Alford, a coach who enjoyed moderate success while at Iowa City, only to see him move on and have a successful run at New Mexico and subsequently take the head job at UCLA. Afterwards, they had to endure Todd Lickliter, who ushered in an era of hopelessness. Lickliter compiled the worst three-year record in Iowa history at 38-58. Aside from the losses, Iowa’s brand took a hit from dwindling attendance and rumors of player dissatisfaction with the coach. In 2010, they fired Lickliter and hired Fran McCaffery from Siena. Since then, McCaffery has steadily returned the program back to relevance. In his first season he won 11 games and has improved his record by seven wins the past two seasons. Now, coming off a year where the Hawkeyes went 25-13 and were NIT runners-up, the media and fans expect this squad in the NCAA Tournament come March. Anything less will be considered a disappointment and will ruin this comeback story.
The Hawkeyes were extremely effective on defense, especially away from the basket. Last season, they held opponents to 91.2 points per 100 possessions (22nd in the country) and only allowed opponents to shoot 29.5 percent from both the three-point line and jumpers inside the arc. If there is an area in which they can improve, it would be their interior defense where opponents shot 62.2 percent at the rim. While the Hawkeyes gave up a high percentage of buckets from down low, they managed to prevent opponents from getting in the paint. Less than three out of every 10 of their opponents’ shots came at the rim. McCaffery has always been more of an offensive-minded coach, but with virtually every player coming back, there is no reason to think the defense will slip.
While their defense is strong, more improvement is needed on the offensive end. The Hawkeyes will rely on senior wing Roy Devyn Marble and junior forward Aaron White to lead their offense. A fellow RTC columnist already discussed how important Aaron White is to the Hawkeyes this year. But Marble, the do-it-all wing, will be the focal point of the offense. Last season, Marble lead the team in points (15.0 PPG) and assists (3.0 APG) and scored from everywhere on the court. However, the Hawkeyes will have to address two issues for their offense to improve this season: point guard play and three-point shooting. Sophomore guard Mike Gesell started at the point last season but only averaged 2.6 APG. Marble and White are most effective when shooting at the rim (64.8% and 66.7%, respectively), but need to be set up in order to get their shots down low. Last season, 42.4 percent and 73.0 percent of Marble’s and White’s shots at the rim came off assists. Gesell is going to have to get better at setting up both players down low in order to improve last year’s team field goal percentage of 41.9 percent (247th in the country). The Hawkeyes can also clear up space in the paint by improving on their 30.5 percent three-point shooting from last season (305th in the country). For them to improve, Josh Oglesby, who led the team in three point attempts with 156, is going to have to vastly improve on his 26.9 percent clip. If McCaffery addresses these issues, the Hawkeyes can be as effective on offense as they were on defense.
Although it may be unfair, the outcome of this season may change the perception of McCaffery around the league. The Iowa coach is not known for his recruiting prowess. Therefore, he needs to show that he can win with four-year players who fit his system, like his roster now. Missing the NCAA Tournament with all of this returning talent will bring up questions about what is possible long-term with him at the helm. We should know relatively early the trajectory of the Hawkeyes’ season thanks to a challenging non-conference schedule. Iowa will play Xavier, Notre Dame and at Iowa State before New Year’s. Come conference play, we should know if after a long down period if Iowa basketball is really back.