Up next on our preview list is the Iowa Hawkeyes, one of the cellar-dwellers of the Big Ten in the last several seasons.
To see the Hawkeyes scratching the bottom of the barrel the last several years is pretty depressing. Iowa was once a proud, quality team in the Big Ten conference. To have them sink so low really makes you long for the halcyon days of Big Ten basketball.
But new coach Fran McCaffery has a plan, and it’s going to be exciting to see him work to try to turn this program around. He has certainly got the philosophy and resume to be able to do it, he merely needs to get the players to buy in.
Under first year head coach Fran McCaffery the Iowa Hawkeyes took a step forward on the road to recovery. Despite not drastically improving their season record from Lickliter’s last year with the program, the team seemed far more upbeat and excited about playing the game. It’s obvious that McCaffery has effected a big change in the mentality of the Hawkeye’s players, and it’s spreading to the fans too.
Despite the poor 11-20 record, the Hawkeyes did have some true quality games. They nearly caught the Buckeyes off guard in Iowa, losing by only 5 points early in the Big Ten regular season. They also took Michigan to overtime, and pulled off upsets against #6 Purdue and Michigan State. Those are quality performances to build a program on, and there’s no reason to believe that McCaffery won’t have them moving up in the world in the near future.
Iowa’s senior Guard Matt Gatens is one of the two top player’s on this Hawkeyes team, along with Bryce Cartwright. He led the team in scoring last season with 366 points and is a significant scoring threat whenever he touches the ball. While his three point shooting has dropped a bit since his freshman year, he’s still a solid shooter from the outside and has found other ways to contribute.
Not surprisingly, his assist numbers tumbled substantially between his Sophomore and Junior seasons, mostly due to his focus on being a shooter rather than a distributor – Cartwright’s current job. Iowa is likely going to need him to distribute the ball better to make best use of what talent they have right now. He will also be looked on as a senior to be a vocal and visible leader both on and off the court, something Gatens should have no difficulty with.
Stats courtesy of the Daily Hawkeye.
New Player to Keep an Eye on:
Josh Oglesby is very likely the next excellent Hawkeye point guard. Oglesby is scouted to be a great passer who rarely turns the ball over. He’s also got a good basketball IQ and a super smooth three-point shooting stroke that will make him a dangerous scorer, which is something that the Hawkeyes are in desperate need of right now.
Oglesby won’t likely start for the Hawkeyes this season, but he will in the future. He’s still certain to receive plenty of playing time this year and you can be certain that he will make the most of it.
Big Games this Season:
In terms of matchups of note, outside of the Big Ten season, the Iowa Hawkeyes play only Clemson at home, and Iowa State on the road. Fran McCaffery is clearly trying to build confidence in his young team by scheduling some relatively soft opponents before they have to struggle through the meat-grinder that is the Big Ten conference.
Keep in mind, though, that “relatively soft” only means so much. Iowa also plays Northern Iowa, the team that upset top-seeded Kansas in the second round of the 2010 NCAA tournament. McCaffery is certainly not sleeping on these other teams, but is simply trying to not overload his team too much in the early in the season. He’d rather go into the Big Ten with a fresh team, rather than one that has played top-notch opponents.
Outlook for this Year:
The Hawkeyes have a lot to look forward to this season, as long as they keep their expectations low. The cupboard is pretty bare in Iowa, and it’s going to take time before McCaffery can start getting his kind of players into the program. Those players have already begun responding to McCaffery’s methods and philosophies, as evidenced by some of their late-season upsets last year. Expect the Hawkeyes to pull off a couple shocking upsets, but lose a few games they have no business dropping this season – typical for a team trying to rebuild itself into a new identity.
Where They’ll Finish:
Iowa should be favored in the majority of their preseason games, and more than a few by a fair margin. Given the structure of their team it’s not likely that they’ll win all of those games, but they will certainly come out with a winning record.
The Big Ten season might be a bit more difficult for the Hawkeyes. Last season was not kind to them, and it’s likely that they will get worse before they get better. I don’t see Iowa picking up more than about three conference wins this year, and will very likely be the bottom ranked team in the standings when March rolls around.
For a good example of what McCaffery is facing you need only look at what has happened to Tom Crean at Indiana. He is going into his fourth season with the Hoosiers and they have yet to net a winning season, or even collect more than a handful of wins in the Big Ten. McCaffery is likely going to be climbing the same mountain for the next few seasons.
Iowa fans should take heart that it looks like McCaffery will right the ship eventually, it’s merely going to take him time to sort it all out.