If Iowa continues the current pattern of success under Fran McCaffery, a trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999 awaits this season.
The Hawkeyes have improved in each of McCaffery’s first five seasons as head coach. A losing season in Year 1 was followed by a winning season that included a victory in the NIT in Year 2. The Hawkeyes advanced to the NIT title game in McCaffery’s third season and to the NCAA Tournament a year later, where it lost in the First Four.
Iowa continued its ascent last season by finishing in a tied for third place in the Big Ten and by winning an NCAA game for the first time since 2001.
“That was the whole goal,” says 7'1" senior center Adam Woodbury. “The year before I got here they made the NIT and won a game. And then we were able to go a little further and a little further, and we’re trying to improve on things.
“I think that’s what everybody does except for a team like Duke. They can’t really improve on what they did last season. It’s a key to get better as a program and to sustain our success.”
Four starters return from last season, but All-Big Ten power forward Aaron White isn’t among them after using up his eligibility. His absence will create more scoring opportunities for senior forward Jarrod Uthoff, who was a third-team All-Big Ten selection last season, and for Woodbury, who has started 104 games as a Hawkeye.
All Big Ten predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, available online and on newsstands everywhere.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
It’ll take some getting used to not having White on the roster, but the team he left behind is loaded with size, experience and depth on the frontline. Uthoff is a star in the making, while Woodbury is an underrated and underappreciated presence in the post.
Uthoff can score facing the rim or with his back to the basket. His only shortcoming is that he’s too unselfish and passive at times.
Woodbury wasn’t asked to score much during his first three seasons, but that should change without White in the lineup. Woodbury runs the floor extremely well for somebody his size, and he worked hard during the offseason to improve his jump shot. He needs to attack the rim more often, but he passes well for a big man and brings toughness.
Sophomore Dom Uhl showed flashes last season while playing limited minutes. He is expected to get the first shot at replacing White in the starting lineup.
Junior college transfer Dale Jones also will be in the mix, along with 6'6" junior Peter Jok when McCaffery uses a smaller lineup. Jok started 21 games at shooting guard last season but is expected to play more at small forward this season.
Iowa Hawkeyes Facts & Figures
Last season: 22-12 (12-6 Big Ten)
Postseason: NCAA second round
Consecutive NCAAs: 2
Big Ten projection: 7
Postseason projection: NCAA first round
When it comes to experience, Iowa’s backcourt compares favorably with every team in the Big Ten, and the country for that matter. Seniors Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons, along with Jok, have combined to start 122 games for the Hawkeyes, including 97 by Gesell, who plays mostly point guard. Gesell is probably the best all-around player in terms of offense and defense among the three, while Clemmons is the best defender and Jok the best shooter.
Redshirt freshman Brady Ellingson was a prolific 3-point shooter in high school, and that outside production is just what Iowa needs to complement the returning players. Clemmons said in June that he expected Iowa to use a three-guard lineup on many occasions this season.
Key Losses: G Gabriel Olaseni, F Aaron White
Top Players: G Mike Gesell, G Anthony Clemmons, G/F Peter Jok, F Jarrod Uthoff, C Adam Woodbury
This class will improve Iowa’s athleticism but has nobody of elite status. Shooting guard Andrew Fleming should provide a much-needed perimeter shooting threat, while Illinois natives Brandon Hutton, Isaiah Moss and Christian Williams will add quickness on the wing. Dale Jones averaged 16.9 points last season at Tyler Junior College in Texas and is a threat from long range.
McCaffery has brought stability, enthusiasm and expectations back to a program that was in shambles when he took over in 2010. Iowa will try to make the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season, which hasn’t happened since 1990-93. At this stage, and with four starters returning, anything less than another trip to the NCAAs would be considered a disappointment and a step backward. This could be McCaffery’s best shooting team at Iowa. With Uthoff, Jok, Gesell, Clemmons, Ellingson and newcomers Andrew Fleming and Jones, Iowa has a stable of capable shooters. That should create better floor spacing and more room for Uthoff and Woodbury to perform near the basket.