Iowa guard Devyn Marble had just finished playing in what he hopes is his last game in the National Invitation Tournament when he was asked to look ahead to next season.
“I think we have a bright future and coming into next year the goal is to be in the NCAA Tournament,” Marble said on the Learfield post-game radio show after scoring a career-high 31 points in Sunday’s 108-97 loss to Oregon in the second-round of NIT. “And if we didn’t accomplish that, we would look back and probably regret a few things. But that’s the goal coming into next year.
“It was fun to play in the NIT this year. We appreciated the opportunity. But the ultimate goal is to play in the NCAA Tournament. And I think this team is going to do what it takes in this offseason and prepare this summer and come next fall, I think we should be ready.”
The 6-foot-6 Marble, who will be a junior next season, represents part of the optimism surrounding the Iowa program, which overcame a shaky start to the season to finish 18-17 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten in Fran McCaffery’s second season as coach.
Iowa won seven more games this season compared to last season and finished with a winning record for the first time since the 2006-07 squad finished 17-14 under former coach Steve Alford. Four of Iowa’s victories this season came against top-25 teams, including a regular-season sweep over Wisconsin, which still is alive in the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes also won a game in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2006.
Attendance also is on the rise as evidenced by the 84-75 victory over Dayton on Tuesday in the first round of the NIT when more than 13,000 fans packed Carver-Hawkeye Arena despite only having two days notice.
“To see our team get 18 wins, get a win in the conference tournament, finished tied for seventh (in the Big), and get an NIT bid, win a game, play in front of packed houses and to see the Hawkeye fans come back and relate to this team and to this program and what we’re doing is a phenomenal feeling,” McCaffery said after Sunday’s loss. “And we won’t stop. We’ll keep working the recruiting trail. We’ll keep working with skill development. And we’ll hit the I-Club circuit and talk about these kids, and I know that the Hawk fans are just as proud of them as I am.”
It’ll be a daunting task replacing all-Big Ten guard Matt Gatens, who ended his career as Iowa’s sixth all-time leading scorer with 1,635 points and started every game in which he played as a Hawkeye over four seasons.
Point guard Bryce Cartwright also leaves a void to be filled after leading the team in assists in each of the past two seasons. Cartwright had 10 assists in the loss to Oregon on Sunday.
But the cupboard hardly is bare with players like Marble and forwards Aaron White, Zach McCabe and Melsahn Basabe returning next season, along with shooting guards Josh Oglesby and Eric May and center Gabe Olaseni.
The 6-8 White developed into one of the top freshmen in the Big Ten this season, if not the country. He, Marble and Basabe combined to score 70 of Iowa’s points in the loss to Oregon.
White also led Iowa in rebounding this season at nearly six per game. He and Basabe both made the Big Ten all-Freshmen team, with Basabe being honored last season.
Combine the returning players with a five-player recruiting class that includes 7-1 center Adam Woodbury from Sioux City East and 6-1 point Mike Gesell from South Sioux City, Neb., and there should be plenty of competition for playing time next season.
Woodbury and Gesell are ranked among the top 100 players in the 2012 senior class. Woodbury picked Iowa over North Carolina and a host of other Division I offers.
The other three recruits coming in are 6-10 forward Kyle Meyer from Alpharetta, Ga., 6-2 shooting guard Patrick Ingram from Indianapolis and 6-1 point guard Anthony Clemmons from Lansing, Mich. Ingram and Clemmons could help right away on defense with their quickness. Defense was an issue for Iowa this season, especially Sunday when Oregon shot 72 percent in the second half.
McCaffery said he also might sign another player during in the spring.
“We’ve got some great guys coming in with all those guys,” said Marble, who can play both guard positions. “So I’m excited for them to get here. I know they’re going to bring that toughness and grit that we need at the defensive end. And with Woodbury being a seven-footer he brings that height and instant ability to defend the rim that we also need.
“They’re going to challenge us in practice. They want to come in and play. So I think them being such good players in high school and coming from all winning programs, they’re going to want to come in a contribute right away. And I think that’s always a good thing when you have a recruiting class that wants to come in and play because then they push the older guys and everybody else to get better in practice.”
The Big Ten had six teams make the NCAA Tournament this season and four (Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Indiana) have advanced to the Sweet 16. Those four teams have key players returning next season, as does Michigan, which shared the Big Ten regular-season title with Michigan State and Ohio State.
Iowa was among three Big Ten teams that made the NIT this season, along with Minnesota and Northwestern.
It’s not where Marble wants to be at the end of next season. But making any postseason tournament is a major improvement compared to when McCaffery was hired in March 2010.
Iowa was coming off a 10-22 season when McCaffery replaced Todd Lickliter, who was fired after just three seasons on the job. The 22 losses are the most in school history for a single season.
Player defections were also a problem during Lickliter’s brief reign.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys and I mean that from the bottom of my heart,” McCaffery said. “I mean how hard they’ve worked and how they’ve continued to believe. We had our stumbles and you sort of expect that a little bit with where we were two years ago.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball