Big Ten basketball previews: Iowa Hawkeyes

Football season is still in full swing and is captivating everyone's attention, but basketball season is right around the corner, so we'll continue to take a look at the rest of the Big Ten. Today's victim: the Iowa Hawkeyes.

All previous Big Ten previews

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Black Heart Gold Pants

Last season

Picked by pretty much everyone to finish last in the Big Ten before the season began, third year head coach Todd Lickliter was beginning to feel the heat, and he didn't do himself any favors by opening the season with home losses to Texas-San Antonio and Duquense. The Hawkeyes did manage 6 home wins over soft mid-majors, but suffered losses to in-state rivals Northern Iowa and Iowa State and limped into Big Ten play at just 6-7. Things didn't get much better in conference, as Iowa finished just 4-14, and Lickliter was fired shortly after his team's season ended in the first round of the Big Ten tournament at the hands of Michigan. Iowa's best win of the season was probably an upset of Northwestern that knocked the 'Cats off the bubble (either that or a win at Indiana that snapped a 18 game losing streak away from Carver-Hawkeye).

So Lickliter is out and former Siena head coach Fran McCaffery is in. McCaffery took Siena to the NCAA tournament the past three seasons, and his up-tempo style (39th quickest in the nation per KenPom last year and 17th the year before) will be a welcome change from Lickliter's slowdown, boring teams that often struggled to reach 50 points in Big Ten games.

Players not returning

The biggest loss for Iowa is sophomore forward Aaron Fuller, who transferred to USC (apparently he enjoys boring, losing basketball as he now gets the pleasure of playing for Kevin O'Neill aka the worst coach in Big Ten history). Fuller averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds per game and came on strong during Big Ten play, establishing himself as one of the better rebounders in the conference, and he will certainly be missed.

Iowa also loses freshman big man and former Iowa Mr. Basketball Brennan Cougill and his beer gut, as he was unable to stay academically eligible. He was a solid outside shooter for a big man, but I don't think he would have fit too well into McCaffery's run and gun system, so it may be a good thing that Iowa won't be rolling him out there this year (and by rolling out, I mean literally rolling his fat ass out there).

Iowa also loses three point specialist Devan Bawinkel (a Northwestern killer) to graduation and reserve point guard John Lickliter (Todd's son) to transfer; neither of them will really be missed as Bawinkel was completely useless outside of his outside shooting skills and Lickliter was a walk-on without any upside.

Backcourt

Iowa returns all three starting guards from last season, led by junior and leading scorer Matt Gatens. He averaged 12 points a game last year, but shot just 37% from the field and 32% from three, a drop-off from his freshman year. The problem for Gatens was that he was forced to play 37 minutes a night and be the go-to guy on offense, and he wore down as the season went on. If McCaffery can get him some rest from time to time, and Iowa can find some other options on offense, Gatens should be able to return to form and be one of the better outside shooters in the conference. {edit: it was just reported that Gatens tore a tendon in his non-shooting hand. Terrible news for Iowa] Freshman shooting guard Roy Devyn Marble, son of Iowa's all-time leading scorer Roy Marble, figures to be his backup and a solid rotation guy.

Gatens will be joined in the starting lineup by sophomores Eric May and Cully Payne. May is an athletic 6'5" slasher who showed some potential as a freshman but was not a good fit for Lickliter's half-court perimeter shooting oriented offense, but he's a perfect fit in McCaffery's and could have a breakout season. As for Payne, he was nowhere near ready to start at point guard in the Big Ten as a freshman, but there were no other options and he took his lumps, averaging more than 3 turnovers per game, and shooting just 36% from the field and 64% from the line. He did finish the season strong, scoring a career-high 25 in the Big Ten tournament loss to Michigan, but he needs to do a lot better job handling the ball.

The good news is that Iowa now has a legitimate back-up in Bryce Cartwright, a junior straight outta Compton, California. Cartwright has D1 experience, as he was a rotation guy for Fresno State as a freshman before spending last year at a junior college, and he should be able to contribute. Throw in another juco transfer, three-point specialist Jordan Stoermer, and the Hawkeyes would figure to have a solid backcourt, especially if May and Payne can develop.

Frontcourt

With Fuller and Cougill gone, the Hawkeyes have very little talent returning up front. Jarryd Cole, the only senior on the roster, figures to be a starter. Cole is a big body at 6'7", 250 pounds, and averaged 8 points and 5 rebounds on 56% shooting last season, but he plays like a bull in a china shop at times, as he's prone to foul trouble and doesn't have much finesse in the low post. Junior Andrew Brommer is the only other returning big man, and his career thus far can be summed up by one stat: in two seasons he has more fouls committed (67) than points scored (61). So don't look for Brommer to do anything other than look completely lost on the court.

The rest of the frontcourt is a collection of newcomers, led by Melsahn Basabe, an athletic 6'7" wing who was initially recruited to Siena and followed McCaffery to Iowa. He's joined by freshman Zach McCabe, a local product who was a teammate of Cougill's in high school, and 6'9" juco transfer Devon Archie, who sat out last season with an injury.

Expectations

Iowa basketball has been going downhill for years, as the disappointing Steve Alford era was followed by the disastrous Todd Lickliter era. Attendance hit an all-time low last year, and Carver-Hawkeye was no longer a tough place to play (except for Northwestern, what a disaster that game was). Fran McCaffery hasn't even coached a game yet, but he's already returned some excitement to the program, mostly with the promise of an up-tempo style of play that hasn't been seen in Iowa City since the days of Dr. Tom Davis. The thing is, it's going to take a while before Iowa is any good again, as this year's team is very young and the frontcourt is basically nothing but question marks. McCaffery will take his lumps this season, especially away from home, where Iowa has lost 24 of their last 25 dating back to 2008. Still, I'd expect this team to improve as the season goes on and pull off a couple of upsets at home (I'm already worried about Northwestern's trip there in mid-January).

SoP Prediction: 10th in the Big Ten, no postseason.

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