IOWA CITY, Ia. – The Iowa men’s basketball program has shown signs of progress in Fran McCaffery’s second season as coach.
The Hawkeyes won a total of 21 games over the previous two seasons, including eight Big Ten victories and just two of them on the road. There was just one victory over a Top 25 foe.
McCaffery’s second team, which hosts Nebraska in a 6 p.m. Big Ten game Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, won its 11th game Jan. 14. The Hawkeyes are 3-4 in conference play, including two road wins and two victories over Top 25 foes. Why the improved numbers?
“We’ve got some more pieces,” McCaffery said. “Last year, if we didn’t get (Matt) Gatens, (Bryce) Cartwright) and (Melsahn) Basabe scoring, we were in a lot of trouble. This year, it’s much more than that. And quite frankly, you’re not going to win consistently in this league without that. Because these teams scout too well, they watch too much tape, and they take away your strengths.”
Gatens, Cartwright and Basabe were the team’s top three scorers and accounted for 50.2 percent of Iowa’s scoring last season. They account for just 37.5 percent of the offense this season. Gatens is again the scoring leader, but Basabe is fourth and Cartwright seventh.
Sophomore guard Devyn Marble has made the biggest jump. He’s the team’s second-leading scorer at 11.2 points, compared to 5.7 as a freshman. He’s scored in double figures in 12 games this season. He did it in five games last season.
“Marble, toward the end of last year, was a guy you looked at and said, “OK, there’s a guy who is really going to be good,’ ” McCaffery said. “But he was inconsistent, and just learning. Now he’s clearly one of our most consistent players and one of the better players in our league.”
Freshman Aaron White has also given the team a boost offensively as the third-leading scorer and Zach McCabe is coming off a career-high 20 points at Purdue in Iowa’s last game Jan. 17.
Purdue’s Matt Painter, the only coach to face Iowa twice this season, said he was concerned with Iowa’s balance. And that went beyond the scouting report basics of keeping Marble in front defensively, not letting Basabe get the ball deep, denying Gatens the ball, keeping Eric May from using his athleticism and not letting Cartwright hurt you in transition.
“McCabe is a guy who can make an open shot, even though he’s been selective, and now he’s driving the ball and making things happen,” Painter said. “White is dangerous. He’s 6-9 and he can drive it, shoot it and he’s around the basket. Just a scorer. ‘’
Painter said freshman guard Josh Oglesby “is going to be a really good player for them. So they have a lot of weapons. And when they’re clicking and everyone is going at the same time, there’s going to be tough to beat no matter where they play.”
WHO: Nebraska (10-9, 2-6 Big Ten) at Iowa (11-9, 3-4)
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City.
TIPOFF: 6 p.m.
TICKETS:$20, $10 youth/UI students.
RADIO: WHO-AM (1040), Des Moines and Hawkeye Radio Network.
STAT LEADERS: For Nebraska – Bo Spencer 14.8 ppg, Brandon Ubel 5.4 rpg, Spencer 3.6 apg; for Iowa – Matt Gatens 13.3 ppg, Melsahn Basabe 5.4 rpg, Bryce Cartwright 3.9 apg.
ABOUT THE CORNHUSKERS: This is Nebraska’s first game ever at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
ABOUT THE HAWKEYES: Iowa leads the series, 12-7, and hasn’t lost to Nebraska since 1943. The most recent meeting was in Lincoln in 1976, when Iowa won in the first game ever played at the Devaney Center, 71-57.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Spencer is the Big Ten’s second-best free-throw shooter at 86.8 percent. Gatens ranks third at 86.1 percent.
RICK BROWN: LIVE CHATS AND TWITTER
Rick Brown — who covers the Iowa men’s basketball team for The Des Moines Register — hosts a live chat on most Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m.
Rick also tweets during the games he covers. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RickBrownDMR
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball