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Pat Harty: Nothing came easy for this year’s Hawkeye men

[ 0 ] March 24, 2014 |

There is no way to sugarcoat or spin what happened to the 2013-14 Iowa men’s basketball team.

It folded down the stretch, losing seven of its last eight games for reasons that were obvious in some cases — poor shooting, being a sieve on defense and being pounded on the boards, just to name a few. Those deficiencies you could see on a game-by-game basis or just by reading the statistics.

What you couldn’t see is whether the team had problems festering beneath the surface. Some fans want to believe that theory because it’s the only way they can rationalize why such a dramatic shift occurred three-fourths of the way through the season and without warning.

Iowa achieved its goal of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006, but just barely despite being ranked as high as 10th during the regular season.

Injuries often are the cause of a team’s sudden demise, but not in this case.

Shooting guard Josh Oglesby missed the first 11 games with a broken foot, and senior forward Melsahn Basabe was sidelined for two games in late February with a stomach ailment. But that was the extent of it, besides the usual wear and tear that occurs during the Big Ten grind.

It almost defies logic how Iowa could go from thumping Northwestern by 26 points in both regular-season games to losing to the lowly Wildcats 67-62 in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

The same Iowa team that dismantled Big Ten regular-season champion Michigan 85-67 on Feb. 8 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena lost 66-63 on March 8 at home to an a Illinois squad that entered the game 6-11 in conference play.

You kept thinking that Fran McCaffery would right the ship because the program had been on a steady climb since he took over in 2010. Unfortunately for McCaffery, he didn’t have an answer this time for his team’s inability to shoot from the perimeter or to defend from there.

It’s hard to know what to think about Iowa’s chances for next season. The challenge will be to avoid taking a step backwards, meaning anything less than another NCAA Tournament appearance would be considered a disappointment in McCaffery’s fifth season as coach.

The Hawkeyes return three starters, but McCaffery also has to replace all-Big Ten senior guard Devyn Marble, who was the team’s go-to player on offense throughout the season. The 6-foot-6 Marble was the only player on this year’s team who could create his own shot on a consistent basis. He also played both guard positions and small forward at times.

You don’t just replace Marble’s versatility. You learn to live without it, hopefully, without suffering too much.

Basabe and fellow senior forward Zach McCabe also have to be replaced. All three of the departing seniors played extensively throughout their careers, combining for 3,684 points and 244 career starts.

Oglesby, a 6-5 senior-to-be, and sophomore Peter Jok will compete for Marble’s vacated spot at shooting guard. Oglesby improved as a 3-point shooter this season, but he hasn’t shown the ability to create his own shot.

Jok, who also stands 6-5, was a liability on defense, and that kept him on the bench until late in the season. He might be the best 3-point shooter on the team, but there just isn’t enough evidence to support that yet, nor is that saying a lot.

It would help immensely if senior-to-be forward Aaron White could add a consistent jump shot to his offensive arsenal. It’s no secret anymore that White struggles to score in a half-court set. He is more comfortable scoring in transition, especially on dunks, but opponents now realize that and guard against it.

White has to adjust to how teams have adjusted to him. He has to become a presence down low as a true power forward, somebody Iowa can rely on to score points in the paint when the perimeter shots aren’t falling.

Junior-to-be point guard Mike Gesell also has to improve as a shooter, as a decision maker and as a defender. He struggled down the stretch to make shots, including missing all 10 of his field-goal attempts in the loss to Northwestern. Gesell showed a willingness to attack the basket this season, but at 6-1 he struggled to finish.

Fellow point guard Anthony Clemmons, who started 13 games as a freshman last season, was mostly a non-factor this season. McCaffery, obviously, lost confidence in Clemmons. So now the challenge for Clemmons is to gain back that confidence.

The addition of 6-1 junior college point guard Trey Dickerson should make Iowa quicker in the back court next season. It also should serve notice to Gesell and Clemmons that playing time will be harder to earn next season.

“I think I could help by being another ball handler who can create off the dribble and set guys up,” Dickerson said. “I can pressure with on-ball defense full-court and I can score when they need me to score.”

The center position should be in good hands with 7-1 junior-to-be Adam Woodbury and 6-10 senior-to-be Gabe Olaseni providing a nice one-two punch. The thought of them playing together as twin towers is intriguing, but it hasn’t happened yet and probably never will unless Olaseni develops more forward skills on offense.

Jarrod Uthoff is the logical choice to replace Basabe on the frontline. The 6-9 Uthoff might have the most upside of any player on the team, but he seemed passive at times this past season, often deferring to teammates despite having open looks at the basket.

Uthoff hadn’t played in a real game for two years after being redshirted at Wisconsin as a freshman in 2011-12, then transferring to Iowa. So it made sense that he would struggle in his first season playing against Big Ten competition.

But it wouldn’t make sense if he struggled again next season.

As for Dickerson, he is expected to sign his letter of intent in May and will have three seasons of eligibility. He is joined in the 2014 recruiting class by 6-8 high school senior forward Dominique Uhl and 6-3 high school senior shooting guard Brady Ellingson. They both signed letters of intent with Iowa in November.

McCaffery still has one scholarship available in the 2014 class and his top target appears to be 6-8 junior college forward Willie Atwood, who is expected to visit Iowa this weekend and Florida State in April. Atwood and Dickerson have talked about playing together in college, but Atwood’s offer list continues to grow with Virginia Tech and new coach Buzz Williams the latest school to offer him a scholarship.

Atwood appears to be just what Iowa needs as an athletic power forward. Other schools feel the same way, though, so landing him won’t be easy.

Nothing has come easy for Iowa lately.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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