Suddenly, Iowa has a lot of Big Ten-caliber men's basketball players
Optimism over the future of Hawkeye hoops may be built on more than hype
NORTH LIBERTY -- The math removed all mystery. For the last five years, Iowa simply hasn't enough Big Ten men's basketball players.
It does now. And what that means for the 2012-13 season and beyond is pretty simple to deduce. This will be a program that now has a chance to reside in the upper division of the conference and begin a new era of going to NCAA Tournaments.
I don't consider myself a hype-meister. But I think I've seen enough college basketball to recognize the necessary talent is getting put in place to put an end to Iowa's streak of five consecutive losing records in the Big Ten.
I also disagree with those who say you can't learn much from watching the Prime Time League. Last summer, you could see guard Devyn Marble had added much to his offensive aresenal between his freshman and sophomore seasons, and he showed as much in the season that followed. Last summer, you could see incoming freshman forward Aaron White was a very interesting prospect. By season's end, he was a lot more than that.
Here's what I think I saw in Night One of Prime Time League 2012 Tuesday:
White: Well, he had 40 points and 18 rebounds. More than that, he contested a lot of things at both ends of the floor. He was smooth in transition on offense. He didn't hesitate to shoot 3-pointers. He has an edge, and I say that in a good way.
Melsahn Basabe: He had an edge Tuesday, too. I'm just reading into things when I say this, but I think he has a chip on his shoulder after going from go-to guy to a bit of an afterthought during his sophomore season. There was a time or two when I thought he was trying to show new Hawkeye forward Jarrod Uthoff that Uthoff was playing in Basabe's backyard. Basabe, who has virtually the same height-and-weight as White, will have to play with ferocity and focus to play significant minutes, but if his role is clearly defined and fits his strengths, I think he can have a nice bounce-back season. He's got the talent, as we saw in his freshman year. A lot was put on his plate at the beginning of last season and he didn't handle it well. This season may set up a lot better for him.
Zach McCabe: His name doesn't quickly roll off the tongue when people talk about Iowa's newfound frontline depth, but don't discount him. He played with quiet confidence Tuesday, sinking three 3-pointers in the first three minutes, and adding four more on his way to 29 points. But he mixed it up in the paint, too.
Kyle Meyer: The 6-9 freshman from Georgia begins in the back of the depth chart. Like Gabe Olaseni last season, he'll probably be brought along slowly.
Uthoff: He can't play this season. But he'll play the next three years. He'll definitely play. After a slow start Tuesday with two first-half points, he scored 13 in the second-half and looked like someone who had a spent a year in a Big Ten program, which he had. He put a head-fake on Basabe that got the veteran up in the air and landing hard from his fall. Uthoff likes to rebound. You can't say that about every 6-8 player.
Adam Woodbury: Much is expected of this 7-foot freshman. I'll have a column about him later today discussing what should be expected, and it shouldn't be the moon and stars in Year One. But let's say this here and now: He can only help this season.
Gabriel Olaseni: Just how much the 6-10 Olaseni will play as a sophomore remains to be seen, but I'll be surprised if he doesn't make an impact before his career is done. He reminds me of players who always seem to turn up at good Big East programs like Connecticut and Syracuse, tall and long guys who block and alter shots, with anything they give you offensively a bonus. Olaseni blocked three shots in a 2-minute stretch on Tuesday. He played with spirit.
Marble: With Mike Gesell aboard to handle the load of the point-guard play, Marble could be freed to primarily play the 2, which is where he belongs. Marble is a junior, but he doesn't turn 20 until September. His improvement has been almost constant during his college career. He wants the ball, and knows what to do with it. If his defense continues on the upward curve it was on last season, he could be special.
Gesell: It's a lot to ask for a freshman to come in and play 25-30 minutes at the point. But that's what Gesell may have to do if Iowa is to make another considerable forward step this season. I've seen him play a grand total of twice, but he sure seems smart, skilled, and unafraid. He is aggressive on offense, which is what Fran McCaffery likes from his point guards. It's a long season, and it's a lot to ask a freshman to lead your offense. But college basketball history is filled with hundreds of rookie point guards who did just that, including Ronnie Lester, Dean Oliver and Jeff Horner.
Josh Oglesby: He couldn't attend Tuesday's PTL opener because of a class. (The rest of the games will be played on Sundays until the championship contest.) But you've seen him. He's 6-foot-5 and he can shoot. He made 37 percent of his 3-pointers last season and topped 20 points twice. Now he goes from freshman to sophomore. He should be an asset.
Eric May: He is the team's lone senior. His role was diminished last season compared to his first two. If he regains some of the confidence he brought to Iowa City and hits some 15- and 18-foot shots, he'll have a role. There's something to be said for players in their senior seasons, as Matt Gatens can attest.
Anthony Clemmons: It will be interesting to see if freshman Clemmons can make a bid for the backup point guard job, or if Marble will handle the point when Gesell sits out. The 6-1 Clemmons, from Lansing, Mich., seemed tough on Tuesday. He's more of a slasher than Gesell, though Gesell will take it to the basket. But Gesell, who scored 27 points Tuesday, is far more apt to back up and pop the jumper than Clemmons.
Patrick Ingram: I've never seen him play. He's playing his summer ball in Indiana. He's 6-2.
That's a lot of glowing comments. But this is college basketball, where some players do take backward steps, and where not every group of players mesh. It's also a team that probably won't have a senior starter. However, there ought to be a fairly decent 8-man, 9-man, 10-man rotation in there somewhere, don't you think?And, there definitely should not be future losses to the likes of Campbell.