IOWA CITY, Ia. – Iowa’s basketball team was preparing for its overseas trip to Europe in August when assistant coach Kirk Speraw challenged Devyn Marble.
“He said, ‘You should be practicing as if you want to be an all-Big Ten first-team performer this season,’” Marble recalled. “I thought about what he said. And he was correct. I just took it up another notch.”
On Sunday, Marble looked everything like the Big Ten’s best player. The senior guard scored 21 points, added five assists against no turnovers with four steals in No. 20 Iowa’s must-have 83-76 victory over Purdue at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It’s been a pleasure to watch Marble’s growth from a bright-eyed freshman on an 11-20 squad to the leader of a 20-9 team with an NCAA Tournament future. Marble has never lacked confidence. And now he’s got the game to back it up.
Iowa hasn’t had a Big Ten player of the year since Sam Williams in 1968. Marble deserves to be in that discussion. He’s the only Big Ten player to score in double figures in every conference game. His defense has been equally impressive. The way he locked down Michigan State’s Gary Harris and Michigan’s Nik Stauskas in games this season at Carver-Hawkeye is ample proof.
I’m also a realist. If I had to guess, Stauskas will be voted the league’s top player because the Wolverines are the champions. Harris will get serious consideration, too. But Marble and Terran Petteway of Nebraska are deserving sleepers. Guys such as Aaron Craft of Ohio State, Caris LeVert of Michigan, Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin and D.J. Newbill of Penn State will have their support, too. Injuries probably keep the Spartans’ Adreian Payne off that list.
When Purdue’s Matt Painter prepared for Sunday’s game, Marble was a big emphasis. His improved shooting, especially from 3, his ability to hit both mid-range and step-back jumpers, with the size (6-foot-6) to post up a guard, were all concerns.
“He’s so versatile,” Painter said. “I wouldn’t say he’s at the level of (former Ohio State star) Evan Turner, but he’s the closest thing to compare since Evan Turner was in our league.”
Turner was the Big Ten’s player of the year in 2010. But Marble hasn’t done enough, to Painter’s way of thinking, to join him.
“His team hasn’t won enough, in my opinion,” Painter said. “I’m a big believer on that guy being on a championship team or damn close.”
But Marble’s got one solid vote.
“I would argue this,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “I would say that nobody has been asked to do more. There’s a lot of guys who are close, OK? We all know who they are. But I play him at the two (off-guard). I play him at the one (point guard). I play him at the three (small forward). He guards bigger guys, smaller guys. I isolate him. I post him up. I set him up on ball screen action, I set him up on staggers. He plays a ton of minutes. He’s going to have the ball late. I think he’s the guy right now.”
Marble also has teammate Aaron White’s vote as the top player in the league.
“But I’m a little biased,” White said.
Marble’s ability to do a multitude of things, White added, is what makes him so valuable.
“We’ve seen games where he’s locked Gary Harris down, locked Nik Stauskas down,” White said. “And his versatility. That’s the beauty of his game. He’ll get 11 assists one game, four steals in another. He’ll go get you 20 points, or five or six boards. (Sunday), five assists and no turnovers. He affects the game at multiple levels. That’s what makes him a great player.”
That, and a lot of self-confidence.
“I feel like I am the best player in this conference,” Marble said. “I’m sure there are a couple of other guys who feel the same way. When we go out on the court, we just battle it out. We’re competitive. It will be decided between the lines.”
Marble reached the 20-point mark for the fourth consecutive game, and 11th time this season while passing Jess Settles to move to No. 7 on Iowa’s career scoring list.
“Maybe they’ll give you a seventh year of eligibility,” Marble told Settles afterward.
Marble’s career may not have a player of the year award attached to the resume. But he should become the Hawkeyes’ first all-Big Ten first team selection since Adam Haluska in 2007. Marble’s father, Roy, Iowa’s career scoring leader, was never a first-team pick.
But just as important is Devyn’s role in Iowa’s return to basketball relevancy. An NCAA bid for the first time since 2006.
“That,” Devyn said, “would mean a whole bunch.”
Rick Brown, a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year, covers Hawkeye basketball and football for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.