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.

Roy Devyn Marble leads an Iowa team that has expectations for the first time in almost a decade.

Roy Devyn Marble leads an Iowa team that has expectations for the first time in almost a decade.

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.

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Big Ten Coaches on the Not-So-Hot Seat, Part I

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on October 29th, 2013

It’s that time of the year when fans get their usual dose of preseason predictions. One of the usual mechanisms in this onslaught is the “Coaches on the Hot Seat” list where writers identify those coaches whose job status relies on the success of their upcoming season. Each preseason in the Big Ten, previously successful coaches routinely find themselves on this list and almost never escape it. The conference is widely considered to have the best head coaches of any league which makes wins tough to come by. This competition leads to very good coaches experiencing disappointing seasons, finding themselves on the hot seat, and then eventually being fired. Last year, it was Tubby Smith at Minnesota who found himself without a job in April.  A national championship-winning coach at Kentucky, Smith led the Golden Gophers to their first NCAA Tournament win in 16 years (and, actually, longer since the NCAA vacated the 1996-97 season after charging Minnesota with academic fraud). The year before that, it was Bruce Weber at Illinois standing in the unemployment line. A former National Coach of the Year and NCAA Tournament runner-up, Weber won 100 more games than he lost over a nine-year stint. And there are others. All this goes to show that in this league, being a talented head coach might get you in the door, but it won’t save you from the hot seat.

Relax, Coach Crean.  You many have lost two NBA lottery picks.  But you're not going anywhere.

Relax, Coach Crean. You may have lost two NBA lottery picks. But you’re not going anywhere.

This year is a little different.  Barring any unforeseen scandals, there seems to be no Big Ten coaches who are in immediate danger of losing their jobs. So here at the RTC Big Ten microsite, we have instead decided to look at the coaches around the league and examine their current situations: Why are they not in danger of having to endure a sad and uncomfortable final press conference at the end of the year? In the interest of brevity, we will not review the likes of Tom Izzo, John Beilein, Thad Matta or Bo Ryan. Their current situations can be summed up in these words: They are awesome at coaching college basketball and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  For the rest of the Big Ten’s eight coaches, things are a little more nuanced. Here’s why:

John Groce (Illinois): I listed in a previous post Groce’s accomplishments from last year. Those include a trip to the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament from a roster that had all but given up the year before. But more importantly, Groce has secured quite a bit of outstanding talent for the future of his program. A bevy of promising transfers and recruits are set to join the Illini this year and next. His program is in a position to start challenging for Big Ten titles as early as 2014-15, and if Groce can land a commitment from Top 10 recruit Cliff Alexander next month, Illini fans can start dreaming even bigger. He’s in good shape.

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Big Ten M5: 12.10.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 10th, 2012

  1. Indiana sophomore guard Austin Etherington is out for the remainder of the season due to a fractured patella. Etherington went down during the Hoosiers’ 100-69 win over the weekend against Central Connecticut State when he was carried off the court in front of a packed house at Assembly Hall. The sophomore has averaged 1.9 PPG during 6.7 MPG so far this season, but the loss is unlikely to hurt Tom Crean’s team because he probably would have seen fewer minutes once Hanner-Parea and Peter Jurkin come back from their suspensions. Nonetheless, getting some playing time during his sophomore season would have helped Etherington to build for next season, but his recovery will be the main focus over the next few months.
  2. The Minnesota Gophers’ win against USC on the road Saturday night, 71-57, was Tubby Smith’s 500th career victory. He becomes the 19th active head coach in Division I basketball to reach 500 wins, joining Bo Ryan and John Beilein as one of the three B1G coaches to be included in this exclusive list. Smith cited “longevity” as the main reason behind his milestone and said that he was “fortunate” to have coached at good programs such as Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky and Minnesota. The Gophers have been very impressive so far this season (10-1) and it is very likely that Smith could add another 15 or more Ws this season to his career wins total.
  3. Ohio State sophomore wing Laquinton Ross is learning to be patient and efficiently use his playing time to impress head coach Thad Matta. Ross only played 11 minutes in the Buckeyes’ loss to Duke over a week ago but he scored nine points and pulled down three boards. Since then, he has seen more playing time and is proving his worth to Matta during his time on the court. Ross played 22 minutes in the Buckeyes’ rout against Long Beach State, 89-55, and scored 16 points along with nine rebounds. He will continue to come off the bench until he improves his on-ball defense and understands his assignments on the defensive end. Matta told Ross “not to take it for granted,” and the 6’8″ sophomore is utilizing any chance he gets to provide the offensive spark to the Buckeyes.
  4. The Michigan freshman class is more than Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. Freshman guard Spike Albrecht has provided valuable minutes off the bench and his play allowed Trey Burke to get some much-needed rest against Arkansas over the weekend. Albrecht has been playing about seven minutes per game but gives Burke a breather as he handles the ball in the half court. Michigan is unbeaten and has plenty of talent on their roster, but John Beilein needs to make sure he rotates his players efficiently so that Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. stay healthy and fresh for a run in March. With Albrecht playing eight minutes against Arkansas and not turning the ball over during his time in the game, Beilein can afford to give Burke some rest and save him for crunch time.
  5. The Iowa Hawkeyes snapped their three-game losing skid to in-state rival Iowa State and head coach Fran McCaffery thinks it was their best game so far this season. The Hawkeyes won 80-71 with sophomore forward Aaron White scoring 18 points at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. McCaffery was very impressed with his team’s defensive effort as they held the Cyclones to 34% shooting during the second half. The Hawkeyes’ depth allowed him to rotate the players efficiently throughout the game which helped to maintain a very high defensive intensity. Freshman point guard Mike Gesell also impressed his head coach by turning his game around during the second half after a shooting slump during the first half. Gesell drove the lane more because his jumpers were not falling and he finished 6-6 at the free throw line for a total of 11 points in the win.
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