Iowa’s eight-year NCAA Tournament drought finally ended last spring, but it hardly was cause for celebration. The Hawkeyes climbed to as high as 10th in the national rankings only to mysteriously unravel down the stretch. Iowa made the NCAAs for the first time since 2006 despite losing six of its seven games heading into Selection Sunday, including a deflating 67–62 setback against Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
March Madness was a one-and-done experience as Tennessee defeated Iowa 78–65 in the “play-in” game in Dayton. The season-ending collapse left Hawkeye fans wondering what went wrong with a team that just a month earlier had shown so much promise.
Making matters much worse was the personal crisis facing Iowa coach Fran McCaffery at the time. His 14-year old son, Patrick, had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor on his thyroid in the days leading up to Iowa’s NCAA Tournament game.
Patrick is now well on his way to recovery, his latest tests showing no signs of cancer.
As for his father’s team, it’s more of a mystery heading into this season. Four of the five starters return from last season, including All-Big Ten forward Aaron White. But the one missing piece is All-Big Ten guard Roy Devyn Marble, who led Iowa in scoring last season and was clearly the go-to player for a team that struggled to shoot from the perimeter.
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White is the first Hawkeye to have at least 1,300 points, 650 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 assists by his junior season. He is still considered a suspect shooter but hopes to change that after spending the offseason working on his medium-range jump shot.
Joining White on the frontline is 7-1 junior center Adam Woodbury, who has started all 71 games in his college career. Woodbury hasn’t been much of an offensive threat, though, scoring in double figures only 10 times in two years. But he had his best performance in the final game of the season, scoring a career-high 16 points and grabbing eight rebounds in the loss to Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament.
Junior Jarrod Uthoff is expected to start at small forward, giving Iowa another 6-9 presence on the frontline. Throw 6-10 Gabe Olaseni and 6-9 freshman Dominique Uhl into the mix and the Hawkeyes are well-equipped with size and experience.
Iowa Hawkeyes Facts & Figures
Last season: 20-13, 9-9 Big Ten
Postseason: NCAA First Four
Consecutive NCAA Tournaments: 1
Coach: Fran McCaffery (74-63 at Iowa, 30-42 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: Sixth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32
This season will mark the first time that McCaffery hasn’t had Marble in his backcourt. They spent the last four seasons helping to rebuild the Iowa program, which had fallen on hard times when they both arrived in 2010.
Marble gave McCaffery a reliable scorer who at 6-6 could play both guard positions. Iowa doesn’t have that dimension this season. Junior Mike Gesell returns as the starting point guard, and he also has played shooting guard. But Gesell stands only 6-1 and has struggled to make perimeter shots and to finish at the basket. Junior college import Trey Dickerson will add some athleticism to the position.
Senior Josh Oglesby is considered the favorite to replace Marble at shooting guard. Oglesby can catch fire from 3-point range, but he lacks Marble’s size and versatility.
Sophomore sharpshooter Peter Jok has Marble’s size at 6-6, but Jok also has some personal issues holding him back. He pleaded guilty to OWI after being arrested on his moped in late April. Less than two months later, Jok was stopped again on his moped and cited for driving with a suspended license, prompting McCaffery to suspend him indefinitely.
Junior point guard Anthony Clemmons returns after a rocky sophomore season in which he fell out of the rotation and played sparingly down the stretch. Clemmons blamed himself and is determined to regain his form as a freshman, when he started 13 games.
The collapse at the end of last season marks the only time under McCaffery in which Iowa hasn’t progressed as a team. Iowa did end its NCAA Tournament drought last season, but now the challenge is to keep climbing without Marble leading the way. The Hawkeyes have a proven commodity in the post in White and quality depth along the front line. They have quality pieces on the perimeter but lack consistent outside shooting. Anything less than another NCAA Tournament bid would be considered a disappointment.
Fran McCaffery had several near-misses in this class, the biggest setback coming when point guard Tyler Ulis signed with Kentucky over Iowa last November. McCaffery rebounded by landing point guard Trey Dickerson, who averaged nearly 20 points per game as a freshman in junior college. Brady Ellingson enters college with a reputation for being a great 3-point shooter. Dominique Uhl will bring athleticism to the front line.