Nov. 13, 2011
- 2011 Game Day Central
- 2011 Fall Camp Central
- America Needs Farmers
- 24 Hawkeyes to Watch
- Iowa Football Wallpaper
IOWA CITY, Iowa — There is good reason to be optimistic about an Iowa basketball team that has just opened its season. The Hawkeyes return seven players, including four starters, who played a major role a year ago.
That was Fran McCaffery’s first season as Iowa’s head coach. He was installing a new system and he was giving three freshmen a lot of playing time. The results weren’t so pretty – 11 wins overall, only 4 in the Big Ten – but the team was entertaining and generally competitive and there is good reason to believe those numbers will improve this winter.
Fans like McCaffery’s up-tempo style of play, as evidenced by an attendance increase of 23 percent last season. And the coach plans to keep his foot on the accelerator. “I want to play faster, and do more things defensively,” he says.
McCaffery has proven himself as a recruiter. On short notice last year he brought in Melsahn Basabe, who started all 31 games and made the all-Big Ten freshman team, and Bryce Cartwright, who led the Big Ten in assists. Imagine where the Hawkeyes would have been without those two newcomers.
Matt Gatens, who has already crossed the 1,000-point threshold, is back for his senior season. Add Eric May, Zach McCabe, Devyn Marble, Andrew Brommer and Devon Archie and you’ve got a strong group of veterans who will give McCaffery a deep bench. Three freshmen – Aaron White, Josh Oglesby and Gabe Olaseni – will be there if needed, but unlike last season, the current Hawkeyes won’t have to rely heavily on newcomers.
In my opinion Iowa has a good chance to be in a post-season tournament if two things happen. First the shooting, especially on the perimeter, must improve. Gatens, Cartwright, McCabe and Marble all shot below 40 percent last season. Iowa was especially inaccurate from the 3-point arc, where it ranked 10th in the Big Ten. No doubt some of that was because the team often faced a deficit and threw up shots it normally wouldn’t. Whatever the reason, better accuracy from the field is essential for this team to improve its record of a year ago.
Second, and maybe more important, is the play of junior Eric May. Basketball is the most athletic of all team sports, and May is perhaps Iowa’s best athlete and all-around player. He turned in strong performances the first half of last season, but fell off the second half. McCaffery blames the downturn on an injury early in the Big Ten campaign.
When May played well — as he did against Michigan State and Indiana (twice) — the Hawkeyes generally won. But in the last seven games of the season he never scored more than seven points. He lost his starting role in the last five games. The first 12 contests of last season May shot 48 percent from the field, including 45 percent on three-pointers, and averaged 11.2 points. If he does that for a full season, this Iowa team will be much harder to beat.
The Hawkeyes play at Purdue Saturday, looking for their first victory on the road, a winning season and a better spot in the bowl pecking order. This shapes up as an even game. The team that best protects the football is likely to win.
TURNING TO FOOTBALL . . . Going into its game with Michigan State, Iowa had the second-fewest number of turnovers (9) in the Big Ten. That’s why it’s surprising that turnovers pretty much killed any chance the Hawkeyes had of winning.
The Spartans turned a pass interception and a fumble into two quick touchdowns that gave them a comfortable 31-7 halftime lead. Iowa was moving in for a score in the fourth quarter when a fumble inside the 10-yard line killed the threat. That’s a 21-point swing in a 16-point game (the final score was 37-21).
Michigan State played a superb game and might have won anyway but Iowa turnovers were enabling factors. A week earlier two Michigan turnovers helped Iowa beat the Wolverines, so it works both ways.
After losing its first home game of the season, the Hawkeyes play at Purdue Saturday, looking for their first victory on the road, a winning season and a better spot in the bowl pecking order. This shapes up as an even game. The team that best protects the football is likely to win.