IOWA CITY, Ia. — Eric May was a bright spot on a struggling 10-win Iowa basketball team in 2009-10.
He made the all-Big Ten Conference freshman team after averaging 9.0 points and 4.6 rebounds. In one memorable game against Ohio State, May scored 18 points against future NBA first-round draft pick Evan Turner. He also blocked three shots, one of them a dunk attempt by William Buford.
May is now a senior, and a forgotten man of sorts for a program that has a bounce in its step again.
“Yeah, people may have forgotten about me,” May said Thursday during the Hawkeyes’ annual media day. “I had a tough go of it last season. I just have to move forward.”
May’s scoring and rebounding averages have declined annually since his freshman season. A groin injury two seasons ago and a back injury last season helped push him out of the spotlight.
“His lack of minutes were really a function of his injuries,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “He wasn’t as effective when he was playing, so he couldn’t do what he wanted to. His minutes declined, and that affected his confidence. It all sort of snowballed on the kid.”
May, a 6-foot-5 guard-forward from Dubuque, was one of three freshmen brought in by coach Todd Lickliter. Brennan Cougill is now at Wisconsin-Green Bay. Cully Payne is at Loyola of Chicago. Lickliter is at Marian University.
May is the only senior on a Hawkeyes team that had a 18-17 record last season, its first winning mark since 2006-07. His is the bridge between a program in despair and a program on the rise. A program that boldly mentioned four letters often Thursday: NCAA. Iowa hasn’t been to the Big Dance since 2006.
“That’s the goal,” May said. “And it’s exciting. That’s what’s on our mind. We’re not settling for going .500. We want nothing to do with that.”
McCaffery has genuine depth on this team. He said Thursday that there are a dozen players on the roster who could play.
“They all expect to be put in the game,” McCaffery said. “It’s not easy to put 12 in. So we’ll see how that goes.”
But McCaffery looks for May to be right in the middle of it all.
“He’s in great shape, and he feels terrific,” McCaffery said. “I would be really surprised if he wasn’t a major factor on this team. I think a lot of people are way too quick to write him off. That’s not our plan at all.”
Devyn Marble and Aaron White, two double-figure scorers, have received a lion’s share of preseason attention. They both know May’s value to the team.
“He keeps us with that eye of the tiger,” Marble said. “It’s his last go-around. He makes sure we’re focused.”
White, like May an all-Big Ten freshman pick last season, thinks dancing would be a great way to send May out.
“He’s seen it all at this level,” White said. “He’s been on not-so-good teams and a team on the rise last year. We need to put it all together, really pick it up on the defensive end and get to the NCAA Tournament for him.”
That won’t happen unless Iowa, the Big Ten’s worst team defensively last season, improves on that end of the floor. May figures that’s where he’s most valuable.
“I want to be the guy locked in on their best player,” May said. “I’m excited about it.”
Instead of trying to outscore teams, the Hawkeyes need to defend if they want to move north in the Big Ten standings.
“We can’t accept getting beat, or giving up on plays,” May said. “It all transfers over to games, and Big Ten games. It has to be consistent every single day.”
COACH: Fran McCaffery (29-37 in two seasons)
LAST SEASON: 18-17, 8-10 in the Big Ten (tied for seventh)
WHO’S BACK: Devyn Marble, Aaron White, Melsahn Basabe, Zach McCabe, Josh Oglesby, Eric May, Gabe Olaseni.
WHO’S GONE: Matt Gatens, Bryce Cartwright, Devon Archie.
WHO’S NEW: Anthony Clemmons, Mike Gesell, Pat Ingram, Kyle Meyer, Adam Woodbury.
KEY STAT: 71.6 — The number of points Iowa allowed in Big Ten games, worst in the league. Content to try and outscore teams last season, McCaffery said improvement on defense is mandatory if the Hawkeyes are to climb the league standings. Iowa was 9-2 against Big Ten foes last season when holding them under 70 points.
OUTLOOK: The Hawkeyes were 4-3 against top 25 teams last season, and they’ll get plenty of opportunities to match that mark this season. The Big Ten is regarded as one of the best, if not the best, conference in the nation this season. Iowa could be a better team than 2011-12 , despite the loss of leading scorer Matt Gatens, and not improve on last season’s seventh-place finish. This will be the deepest Hawkeye team in years. And freshmen Ingram and Clemmons give Iowa a pair of defensive stoppers absent from recent teams. Iowa returns 50.4 points (Marble 11.5 ppg, White 11.1 ppg) and 23.9 rebounds (White 5.7 rpg) from last season.
KEY GAMES FOR IOWA
VS. NORTHERN IOWA, DEC. 15: Kickoff game in the inaugural Hy-Vee Big Four Classic. Panthers have won six of the last 11 meetings in the series.
VS. INDIANA, DEC. 31: Highly anticipated Big Ten opener in Iowa City could have the Hawkeyes facing the nation’s top-ranked team. Hoosiers’ Cody Zeller rated No. 1 player in the nation by cbssports.com.
VS. WISCONSIN, JAN. 19: Iowa swept the Badgers last season and also added Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff to the roster in the off-season. Fran vs. Bo always fun to watch.
RATING THE BIG TEN
THE BEST: Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State. All could land in the top 10 of the Associated Press preseason poll. Hoosiers area back among nation’s elite, Tom Izzo has another strong bunch of Spartans, the Wolverines have Trey Burke back and the Buckeyes will prove they were more than just Jared Sullinger.
THE MIDDLE: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Purdue. The Badgers lost Jordan Taylor but it’s always a mistake to kick a Bo Ryan team to the curb. The Gophers have a tremendous front line in Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams plus good, young guards.
THE BOTTOM: Illinois, Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska. Illinois center Meyers Leonard went to the NBA and coach Bruce Weber was fired and landed at Kansas State. Northwestern needs someone to fill in for departed John Shurna. Freshman Kale Abrahamson from West Des Moines Valley could be the man.
BIG FOUR TICKETS ON SALE FRIDAY
Tickets to the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic men’s basketball doubleheader Dec. 15 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines go on sale starting Friday. Fans can make ticket orders on-line starting at 8 a.m. Friday at hawkeyesports.com or over the phone at 1-800-IA-HAWKS starting at 9 a.m.
Tickets will also be available starting at 9 a.m. at the UI Athletics Ticket Office at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Ticket prices range from $25 to $70. Iowa plays Northern Iowa in the first game at 1:30 p.m. Iowa State and Drake meet at 4 p.m.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball