If you ask any of the members of the Iowa men’s basketball team if they feel like this year’s squad can advance to the NCAA Tournament, you get a resounding yes.
In fact, junior guard Roy Devyn Marble thought the Hawkeyes should have been a tournament team last year.
“We had the talent last year, and I think we have even more talent this season,” said Marble during Iowa’s annual basketball media day Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “It’s good that people have high expectations for us this year. We have those same expectations.”
The Hawkeyes won 18 games and went two rounds deep in the National Invitational Tournament last year in Fran McCaffery’s second season at the helm. The now third-year coach thinks this year’s Hawkeyes can advance to the Big Dance but knows it won’t be easy.
“If you are looking at 18 wins and an NIT bid than the next logical step is the NCAA Tournament,” McCaffery said. “It’s the same goal every year. But as everyone knows, this league in particular, is difficult. It’s doable because I think without question we have the best conference in the country. I don’t think that’s arguable anymore.”
If the Hawkeyes are to improve upon the 18 wins and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the keys will be playing better defense and recording fewer turnovers.
That is something McCaffery mentioned to the media Thursday on more than one occasion.
“I am expecting a much more consistent effort on the defensive end of the floor,” McCaffery said. “We also had a number of individuals that have more turnovers than assists. That has to get reversed. We are going to play fast, but we don’t want to play nuts.”
One thing that may help the turnover issue this year is putting guys back in their natural positions on the floor. Marble is expected to play the off guard, Aaron White should be able to play most of his minutes at the 3 or 4 and Melsahn Basabe also shouldn’t have to play the 5 much this year.
Those changes are due to an impressive freshmen class that comes in with high expectations.
Mike Gesell will be the starting point guard from Day 1 and fellow freshman Anthony Clemmons will provide depth at the position. Freshman Adam Woodbury and sophomore Gabe Olaseni will each rotate in and out at center, which hopefully gives White, Basabe and Zach McCabe more freedom to use their versatility.
“The issue we had last year was depth, and we couldn’t get a ton in practices because we didn’t have enough good depth,” McCaffery said. “The practices will be much more competitive than they’ve been in the previous two years because everyone of these guys are going after playing time, they are going after starting spots.”
The Hawkeyes lost four-year starter Matt Gatens to graduation last year. Marble is expected to be the team’s new go-to guy offensively. And he welcomes that role.
“I think everyone wants to be the guy,” Marble said. “I am stronger, more explosive and in better shape. I am glad Coach McCaffery has that confidence in me. I have that confidence, too. I feel like I am ready. But with this team, I don’t necessarily have to do it all.”
Besides Marble, Iowa will need big years from Basabe and White if an NCAA Tournament hope is to become reality.
White was one of the best freshmen in the nation last year. Basabe had a dynamic freshman season as well but then dropped off immensely last season after maybe reading too much of the press clippings.
“Last year wasn’t all his fault,” McCaffery said. “We felt like he needed to put on weight, and he did. Turned out he wasn’t as good a player at 235 as he was at 222. So he’s back down physically where he needs to be. We hope to see more of the good this year with him.”
White was asked Thursday if he is worried at all about a sophomore slump happening to him like it happened to Basabe. He shrugged it off.
“It’s a mental game to be honest,” White said. “That doesn’t concern me at all. I appreciate all that has been written about me, but I have more to prove. I am going to just do what I do and not worry about stuff going to my head.”
McCaffery expects his squad to be much deeper this year, which will play more into his style of playing fast on offense and pressing more on defense.
His rotations in the past have been about seven or eight deep, but McCaffery said he has 12 guys on this year’s roster who will expect to see minutes this year. And it will be tough to find time for all 12 guys.
“I don’t know that I have ever had a team, and I mean this sincerely, where we’ve got 12 guys that can play the game,” he said. “They all expect to be put in the game and it won’t be easy to get them in there. So we’ll see how it goes.”
Even though the Big Ten Conference is expected to be the toughest league in the nation, veterans like White, Basabe, Eric May and McCabe are confident the Hawkeyes can be one of those dominant teams in the league. And a big part of their success this year will involve staying healthy and getting off to a good start.
“We can’t take the early games lightly,” McCabe said. “We can’t drop games to Campbell anymore. We can’t come out sluggish. We have a lot more depth this year, and I can’t wait to get things started.”