Eric May is now gone from the Iowa men’s basketball team, but he won’t be forgotten.
His team is gone, too, but it’ll never be forgotten because of what it accomplished — winning 25 games and advancing to the NIT title game — but also because every player on scholarship except May has eligibility remaining.
Fran McCaffery has rescued the Iowa program from one of the darkest periods in school history and the pieces are in place for his fourth season on the job to be even better.
McCaffery already has led Iowa to back-to-back winning seasons and to consecutive NIT appearances. The next step in the rebuilding process is so obvious it almost goes without saying.
Anything less than an upper-division finish in the Big Ten followed by an NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time since 2006 would be considered a disappointment.
“The last thing we want to be is satisfied,” McCaffery said to reporters after Thursday’s 74-54 loss to Baylor in the NIT title game. “The challenge for next season has to be better than this.
“What we have to do is remain incredibly hungry, individually and collectively.”
May is hard to replace in lots of ways, mostly as a leader and as an athletic lock-down defender. The players gravitated toward May and fed off his energy and determination.
But he was somewhat limited offensively and the two players replacing him on the roster for next season — 6-foot-8 Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff and 6-6 incoming freshman guard Peter Jok — are both expected to help in that area.
Devyn Marble struggled during the loss to Baylor in the NIT title game on Thursday, scoring just six points, but that was the only time the 6-6 senior-to-be struggled in the postseason. Marble is poised to be one of the Big Ten’s top players next season, assuming he returns for his senior season as he recently said he would.
Marble has to become a more consistent perimeter shooter, but that can be said for every returning player on the team. Iowa’s inability to makes shots was perhaps its biggest weakness throughout the season. That was especially true against Baylor, with Iowa shooting only 26.1 percent from the field.
It’s hard to predict the 2013-14 Big Ten race right now because rosters for next season are still works in progress.
Ohio State suffered a hit Friday when conference scoring champion Deshan Thomas announced that he would skip his senior season to enter the NBA draft. But the Buckeyes under head coach Thad Matta reload as well or better than any team in the conference, so the cupboard won’t be bare.
Michigan could suffer two major blows if sophomore point guard Trey Burke and junior swing man Tim Hardaway Jr. both bolt for the NBA after leading the Wolverines to the Final Four this season.
Indiana is at risk of losing junior-to-be center Cody Zeller and senior-to-be shooting guard Victor Oladipo to the NBA.
One or two players don’t make a basketball team, but they can make a huge difference. It’s hard to imagine any player picking up where college player of the year Burke will leave off this season.
Getting whipped by Baylor in the NIT title game could be just what the Iowa players need heading into the offseason. The players gained confidence by winning 11 of their last 15 games, but the loss to Baylor served as a reminder that the rebuilding process isn’t over. The Bears were quicker at virtually every position and were just the better team, according to retired coach Bob Knight, who helped call the game for ESPN.
Iowa’s three freshmen had their ups and downs this season, but McCaffery said as early as February that they weren’t freshmen anymore. Center Adam Woodbury and guards Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons each made significant contributions as first-year players and will be counted on to take their games to another level next season.
Perhaps the best thing about the season finally ending after a school-record 38 games is that Gesell now has time to let the stress reaction in his right foot fully recover.
Another reason for optimism is that the previous four NIT runner-ups all made the NCAA Tournament the next season.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball