Tickel your Fancy: Hawkeyes among Big Ten elite
The wait for hoops season is over. With it, Iowa could see its seven-year hiatus from the Big Dance come to an end, if the Hawkeyes play up to their potential.
The Hawkeyes went 9-9 in the regular season last year and won one Big Ten tournament game. It then lost to No. 3 seed Michigan State by three points after leading by 13 in the closing half.
That win would have been enough to punch Iowa’s ticket for the NCAA tourney.
Instead it settled for the NIT, where it advanced all the way to the Championship game on its way to winning 25 games last season.
Returning are all five starts from last year and nine of the 10 contributors on the team.
Head coach Fran McCaffery said at the media day that he has not had a team that is this deep.
Senior Roy Devyn Marble was Iowa’s top scorer last year with 15 points per game. He led his team in assists with three per game, in free-throw shooting with 81 percent, and was the third-best 3-point shooter at 32.7 percent.
“He got back in the gym, McCaffery said. “He came early. He got extra shots up. Really studied film, and he’s a student of the game. And I think at this point he’s feeling really good about himself.
The other senior starter, Melsahn Basabe, was fourth in scoring with 6.8 points, and second in rebounding with 5.1. His 48.1 percent shooting from the floor was a team-best.
The other upperclassman starter is junior Aaron White, who was the only other starter in double-digits with 12.8 points per contest. He collected the most boards with 6.2 a game.
Sophomore Mike Gesell — who was a starter as a freshman — will look to replicate his first year. He was the third-leading scorer with 8.7 points per game. He had a team-high 1.2 average in steals.
“I think you’ll see Gesell and Marble in particular,” McCaffery said. “Mike’s a sophomore now, and Marble’s numbers went up from his sophomore year, so those guys will be solid. I think the addition of sophomore Jarrod Uthoff and freshman Peter Jok, both excellent shooters.”
This should give the team plenty of fire power to match the defense, which has become a staple of this team.
In the offseason, Iowa took a European tour and went 5-1. Jok netted 62 points in five of those games.
This team has a collection of pundits picking this team to be dancing in March. Big Ten Network analyst Stephen Bardo has the Hawkeyes finishing fifth.
Iowa will have a higher finish — I have it surprising the league, finishing in third place. White was the only player picked by Bardo to garner all-conference honors on the third team. I expect at least two Hawkeyes to make this list, when the teams are selected at the end of the year. Any combination of White, Marble or Basabe will appear on the second and third team.
Iowa has the talent, now it just needs to take the games it is expected to win.
Iowa opens the season Friday, vs. UNC-Wilmington at 8:32 p.m.