IOWA CITY, Ia. — Sophomores Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe paint a portrait of the 2011-12 Iowa men’s basketball season. One was up. The other was down.
Marble, a guard, took his game to another level. He doubled his scoring average, from 5.7 points a game to 11.5, including a career-high 31 in Iowa’s season-ending loss Sunday at Oregon.
Basabe’s numbers went in the opposite direction. He averaged 11 points and 6.8 rebounds as a freshman, just 8.2 points and 4.8 rebounds as a sophomore. And that was the Hawkeyes: signs of significant improvement, with an occasional step back.
“Our team can look at it and say, ‘Oh, wow, we did this this year, we should automatically be better (next season),’ ” said Basabe, who did finish strong by averaging 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in Iowa’s two National Invitation Tournament games.
“But you can go in reverse. I know that personally. Every year is different. You just have to be consistent in your approach.”
Despite stretches of inconsistent play, Iowa was 18-17 and snapped a streak of four straight losing seasons.
The Hawkeyes also went 4-3 against Top 25 foes; won eight conference games, three on the road, for the first time since 2006-07; won the most games since the 2005-06 season; went to postseason play for the first time in six seasons; and won a postseason game for the first time since 2003.
Fran McCaffery’s rebuilding job seems to be gaining some traction heading into year three, with five of the top six scorers freshmen or sophomores, a five-member incoming recruiting class ranked in the Top 25 nationally and a fan base engaged again.
“I’m very encouraged,” McCaffery said. “We’ve made some strides.”
McCaffery said that the practices and two games that came with the NIT bid were invaluable to that rebuilding process.
“It was a chance to get out there and play more games, and practice, with an opportunity to grow and develop,” McCaffery said. “When you look at the guys that were playing and what they did and how they produced, it was all with an eye toward next year.”
The most significant loss will be Matt Gatens, Iowa’s leading scorer, who leaves as the program’s sixth-leading career scorer with 1,635 points. Point guard Bryce Cartwright, who led the Big Ten in assists as a junior but had an injury-plagued, inconsistent senior season, will also leave a void.
“The future is really bright,” Gatens said. “There were a lot of guys playing big minutes, against big teams in big-time moments. That’s great for the program. Experience is something you can’t teach. It’s going to be fun to follow the program in the years ahead.”
Marble, Basabe and Zach McCabe, who had three 20-point games and was much improved when foul trouble didn’t have him on the bench, will be Iowa’s base next season. Eric May, plagued with back issues most of the 2011-12 season, will be the only senior.
May, Marble, McCabe and freshmen Aaron White and Josh Oglesby all scored at least 20 points in a game this season, and Basabe did it as a freshman.
White became the 11th true freshman at Iowa to average double figures since freshman eligibility was restored in 1972-73. He also became a fan favorite, and has created expectations for himself in the years ahead.
“When you have a good freshman year, fans expect even more your sophomore year,” said White, who averaged 23.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in the two NIT games.
“That’s no added pressure to me, though, because I have the same expectations for myself.
“I expect to have a good offseason, working on my deficiencies, and coming back even better next year.”
IOWA’S 2011-12 SEASON
WHO’S GONE: Matt Gatens (15.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg); Bryce Cartwright (6.0 ppg, 4.8 apg), Andrew Brommer (1.4 ppg, 1.5 rpg), Devon Archie (1.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg).
WHO’S BACK: Devyn Marble (11.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg), Aaron White (11.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Melsahn Basabe (8.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg), Zach McCabe (7.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Josh Oglesby (6.4 ppg, 1.7 rpg), Eric May (4.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg), Gabe Olaseni (1.4 ppg, 1.2 rpg).
WHO’S NEW: Adam Woodbury, 7-1 center, Sioux City; Mike Gesell, 6-1 guard, South Sioux City, Neb.; Anthony Clemmons, 6-1 guard, Lansing, Mich.; Patrick Ingram, 6-2 guard, Indianapolis, Ind.; Kyle Meyer, 6-10 forward, Alpharetta, Ga.
HIGH POINT: Iowa finished with a 4-3 record against Top 25 foes, beating Wisconsin twice and Indiana and Michigan once. The Hawkeyes beat No. 18 Indiana and No. 16 Wisconsin in back-to-back home games as Gatens averaged 31.5 points.
LOW POINT: Home losses to Campbell, 71-66, and Nebraska, 79-73. There were also back-to-back crushing league losses by 29 points to Ohio State at home and 34 at Michigan State.
COULD HAVE USED: A consistent inside game and more athleticism. Iowa was undersized in the paint, with the 6-7 McCabe often guarding the opponents’ center. A lack of athleticism let opponents to take advantage with dribble penetration, exposing the weakness of the Hawkeyes’ defense.
MVP: Matt Gatens started all 128 games of his Iowa career. He finished as the Hawkeyes’ sixth all-time leading scorer (1,635 points) and the Big Ten’s fourth-best career free-throw shooter (.863). He led Iowa in scoring in each of his last three seasons, was the top free-throw shooter all four seasons and turned himself into a solid defender. He also made more career 3-pointers (237) than anyone but Jeff Horner (262).
OPTIMISM FOR 2012-13: Five of the top six scorers return, joined by a highly anticipated recruiting class. And fans are coming back. Average scanned attendance for Big Ten games was 9,817, a spike of 2,000 from the previous season.
BY THE NUMBERS: WHAT’S RETURNING, LOST
Seniors: 22.6 ppg
Returning: 50.4 ppg
Seniors: 7.7 rpg
Returning: 23.9 rpg
Seniors: 6.6 apg
Returning: 8.2 apg
Seniors: 2.7 spg
Returning: 4.8 spg
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball