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Iowa Basketball: 12 questions heading into Big Ten play

[ 0 ] December 29, 2012 |

Iowa bench reacts to a Gabe Olaseni dunk vs. Coppin State

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Iowa’s 11-2 basketball team opens Big Ten play by hosting No. 5 Indiana Monday in sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Big Ten, considered the nation’s No. 1 basketball conference this season, will put Coach Fran McCaffery’s rebuilding efforts to the test. Here are 12 looming questions heading into conference play.

Who will win the Big Ten title?

I look for a three-team race between Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota. The Wolverines are young, deep and talented. Indiana is heavy on experience with a potential national player of the year manning the post in Cody Zeller. And the Gophers are my sleeper pick. Tubby Smith’s team is deep in guards and has an inside presence in Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe.

Does Iowa have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament?

Standing at 11-2, a 9-9 league mark would get it to 20 wins for the first time since 2005-06. That’s also the last time the NCAA Tournament was contested with Iowa in the field. The Hawkeyes won four games against Top 25 teams last season, and this year’s team needs a few resume builders like that. Iowa will get its chances, with eight games against teams currently rated. But the Hawkeyes play four of their rated foes just once – at Michigan and Ohio State and against Michigan State and Illinois at home. So they won’t get a secondary RPI bump from those four teams. A 20-win season would have them on the bubble, and a Big Ten Tournament win might be required. A 10-8 league record would probably get them in for sure.

Will the 11-man rotation remain in Big Ten play?

In talking visiting with McCaffery before the Coppin State game Dec. 22, he talked about how difficult it is to play 11 guys. So I asked him about next year, when he adds Jarrod Uthoff, Kyle Meyer and Peter Jok and loses only Eric May. He laughed. Translation: I don’t even want to think about that right now. I’d expect to see the rotation stay at a minimum of 10 in Big Ten games this season, and who sits will depend on game-to-game matchups. McCaffery has used 10 players or more in 12 of 13 non-conference games.

What’s up with the 3-point shooting?

After getting off to a slow start from that distance this season, Iowa came to life by making 12 against Northern Iowa and 11 against South Carolina State. The Hawkeyes promptly went zero-for-17 in their final Big Ten tuneup, against Coppin State.

“I’m not worried about it,” said McCaffery, whose team is shooting just 29.1 percent from 3 at home this season.

Coppin State played a zone against Iowa. The Hawkeyes will get a heavy dose of similar defenses until they drain some shots from the perimeter.

Is Devyn Marble a pro?

The junior guard has made big strides each year. There was talk before the start of this season about Marble entering the NBA Draft after his junior campaign. If he averages 17 or 18 points a game in Big Ten play, that would have to be considered. But he would likely put himself in a much better draft position after his senior year if his improvement continues. His stop-and-pop jumper, a thing of beauty, is significantly improved. His 3-point shooting is inconsistent. He’s better off the dr

ibble than he was last year. But he could be the focal point of a breakthrough Iowa season, and play his way into first-round status, in 2013-14.

How will Adam Woodbury handle Big Ten play?

He’ll have good moments and bad. But the 7-foot-1 freshman continues to do a lot of impressive things. He’s got a nice shooting touch and uses the glass well. He’s a tremendous passer and runs the floor extremely well. He’ll stand up to the physical nature of the Big Ten much better with a season under his belt. He’ll continue to develop throughout the conference campaign.

Is Iowa’s defense Big Ten ready?

It’s definitely improved from a season ago, when it was the worst in the Big Ten. But it has a ways to go.

“We have clearly gotten better defensively,” McCaffery said. “We’ve got to continue to work on that.”

Iowa is just 10th in the Big Ten in scoring defense at 61.2, but is third in field-goal percentage defense (.367) and first in 3-point percentage defense (.278).

One area where Iowa has made strides defensively is shot blocking. The Hawkeyes are No. 2 in the Big Ten with 69 blocks this season – 18 each by Basabe and Olaseni. Iowa blocked 42 shots in non-conference play a season ago.

Is Aaron White the most underrated player in the Big Ten?

If he’s not, he’s on the first page. White reminds close observers of Chris Street at the front of the press – McCaffery uses full-court pressure more than any Iowa coach since Tom Davis, who Street played for. White’s mid-range game still needs work, though he is much better off the bounce. White’s effectiveness on the drive is reflected in the fact that he’s attempted 87 free throws this season, more than anyone else in the Big Ten. He’s improved his free-throw shooting, too, from 69.9 last season to 77 percent this season. White’s rebounding is always there. He’s had at least five rebounds in nine games this season.

Will Anthony Clemmons start at point the rest of the season?

The freshman had a career-best nine assists against Coppin State. He also had a career-high four turnovers. The job is his unless his ballhandling unravels against crafty Big Ten foes. If that happens, Mike Gesell might end up back at the point. But Clemmons’ 49 assists to 17 turnovers this season is a ratio any head coach would take from a freshman point guard.

What role does Eric May play on this team?

The lone senior had been a rock so far off the bench. He’s had 10 assists to one turnover over the last three games, and has filled in at every position but point guard and center.

“He's been a terrific captain,” McCaffery said.

What’s up with Melsahn Basabe?

The junior forward played just 4 first-half minutes against Coppin State after tweaking a sore ankle for the third time. McCaffery didn’t think Basabe would be able to play against Northern Iowa on Dec. 15, but he answered the bell and played 13 minutes. He also saw 14 minutes of action against South Carolina State Dec. 19 before banging the ankle again Dec. 22. McCaffery said Friday that Basabe has practiced hard and will be ready to go against the Hoosiers.

Basabe, who followed a very good freshman season with a very mediocre sophomore season, has played a valuable role off the bench as a junior, giving the team an energy boost and helping the defense with his shotblocking skills.

What do you make of Gabe Olaseni?

Another amazing stat line for the sophomore center against Coppin State: 18 minutes, 14 points, seven rebounds, two blocked shots. His potential excites McCaffery and his staff. But how will that translate to the Big Ten, where Olaseni might get muscled up? It will be interesting to see how many minutes he plays. Remember, he didn’t leave the bench against Iowa State.


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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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