By Jon Rothstein
» More Columns
Before he became the head coach of Iowa, Fran McCaffery took Siena to three straight NCAA Tournaments from 2008-2010.
McCaffery’s Saints had the same cast of characters for those few seasons, providing a familiar core to the die hard college basketball fan. When you watched those Siena teams, you knew their starters and key players. There was no questioning who would have what roles because they were so clearly defined.
That’s not the case entering this season at Iowa.
McCaffery likely has the most talented roster he’s ever assembled as a head coach. The Hawkeyes are deep, have size, and can play a multitude of ways.
But one thing they don’t have entering the season is defined role allocation — at least not yet.
“I’m tweaking things in my head constantly” McCaffery said when asked about the Hawkeyes. “We’ve got so many more options. We can go with a big or small lineup. We can go huge and play zone. I’d also like to do more things with pressure and we’ll be able to do that because we have fresh legs now. It will all work itself over time.”
The one thing that appears to be set is who will start for Iowa at point guard and center — and they’re both freshman. Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury changed the future of the Hawkeyes program when they decided to play for McCaffery. Woodbury, a 7-1 center received heavy interest from North Carolina.
“The thing that’s going to allow Adam (Woodbury) to be able to play for us right away is the fact that he’s relentless,” McCaffery said of Woodbury. “He’s tough as nails and Mike Gesell is mentally tough enough to start for us as a freshman. He’s a special player.”
Sophomore Josh Oglesby will have a bigger role after Iowa lost their top perimeter shooter from last season in Matt Gatens.
“He’s a critical component,” McCaffery said of the 6-5 Oglesby, who made 45 three-point shots last season. “He’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever been around.”
Devyn Marble figures to emerge as one of the better players in the Big Ten as a junior. The super skilled wing has an NBA build at 6-6 but like the rest of the Hawkeyes, needs to get more consistent at the defensive end of the floor.
“I’ve challenged him to defend,” McCaffery said of Marble, who averaged 11.5 points and 3.6 assists per game last season. “I’ve told him if he proves to people that he can guard, he’s going to be playing for money someday. He’s got to prove it on both ends of the floor.”
This team’s greatest strength may be their vast array of forwards. Melsahn Basabe, Aaron White, and Zach McCabe have all proven they’re capable of having big moments — and it will be interesting to see how Basabe responds after he regressed a bit last year as a sophomore.
“He rested on his laurels on a bit,” McCaffery said of Basabe, who went down in all offensive statistical categories last season. “He’s got to understand that you have to put the time in. He’s got to be a more consistent player but the great thing is we now have guys that we can always put in the game. Aaron White has an incredible skill set for a guy who’s 6-9 and Zach McCabe is our rock. Most of the time, he’s our most consistent performer.”
McCaffery also said sophomore center Gabe Olaseni has made “as much strides as anyone” over the off season and senior guard Eric May could excel in a defensive stalwart type of role.
Iowa won’t have the veteran back court leadership it possessed last season with Gatens and Bryce Cartwright but the talent level in this program is noticeably improved. If Gesell and Woodbury can hold down the two most important positions on the floor and Basabe and Marble have big junior seasons, the Hawkeyes should have a chance to build on last year’s 18 win season, one that included two wins each over Wisconsin and Minnesota along with victories over Michigan and Indiana. White too, should be one of the better sophomores in the Big Ten and maybe even the country.
“I feel really good about a lot of things,” McCaffery said. “But we’re not making any steps if don’t defend. We’ve got to get better as a team defensively. We shot 80% in the second half last year at Assembly Hall when we played Indiana and we didn’t win the game. That’s unacceptable. We’ve got to start stopping people.”
What’s your prediction for Iowa? Be heard in the comments below!