This is how we want it to be in Iowa City. This is the way it’s supposed to be in Iowa City. This is the way it was in Iowa City. Well, except for that whole decade of incompetence. See, most of you are probably too young to remember Tom Davis. I’m no grey beard myself but I remember during the 1990’s that Iowa Basketball was expected to make the NCAA Tournament. And I remember that for the most part Dr. Tom had Iowa accomplishing that feat. In his thirteen seasons at Iowa, Dr. Tom took the Hawkeyes to the NCAA Tournament nine times. His final season ended with a run to the Sweet Sixteen. But apparently that wasn’t good enough…
So Bob Bowlsby (LOL BOWLSBY) didn’t renew Dr. Tom’s contract and they hired [REDACTED], a man who to put it lightly…was kind of a dick. His teams underperformed, he handled a sex scandal in arguably the worst way possible (by committing witness tampering) and these factors, among multiple others, resulted in many fans giving up on the program. His reign ended mercifully in 2007. Yet, miraculously, this same man has somehow ended up coaching a college basketball blue blood. The sun always shines on the Alford family.
What was next for Iowa? Oh…
In 2010 Iowa hired Fran McCaffery and under his guidance the Hawkeyes have improved every. single. season. From an 11-20 record to an NIT appearance to an NIT Finals appearance to the NCAA First Four to coaching Iowa to their first NCAA Tournament victory since 2001. So I’ll say it: Iowa back.
Unbeleivably, despite zero Off Tackle Empire "writers" actually watching any Big Ten basketball games their preason predictions were nearly spot-on. Iowa was predicted to finish fifth in the conference and go 23-8 (12-6). In reality, the Hawkeyes finished in a three way tie for third and went 21-10 (12-6). To finish off the preview I wrote:
This year, expect Aaron White to become Iowa's leading scorer and captain of the offense. I think he'll be the man taking the final shots when it matters. If the Hawkeyes can rely on White, settle on a lineup that works, play some defense (man, they were bad at defense) and figure out a way to close out the close games, they'll be just fine and another NCAA Tournament appearance will be in store.
Hot takes, right?
Act I: Non-Conference Play
When Iowa started off the season by rolling Hampton and North Dakota State most fans shrugged and said "business as usual." Little did they know, Hampton and NDSU would only be a couple of the future NCAA Tournament teams that Iowa squared off against in the non-con. Following those wins the Hawkeyes travelled to Madison Square Garden (it isn’t a square BTW) and promptly pulled a 2013-2014 Iowa basketball move by blowing a six point halftime lead against Texas and ended up losing by 14. Things didn’t get much better the next day as Rakeem Christmas abused Iowa on the inside and along with Chris McCullough the Syracuse Orange handed the Hawkeyes a 66-63 loss. Iowa left New York empty handed.
Back home they played three tune up games before travelling to Chapel Hill to take on #12 UNC in the Big Ten v. ACC Challenge. North Carolina. The Tar Heels. Chapel Hill. Marcus Paige. Roy Williams. Dean Smith Center. Iowa didn’t have a chance, right? Wrong. Thanks to some tenacious defense the Hawkeyes forced UNC to take jump shots for majority of the contest and held them to a 27.9 shooting percentage. On offense Mike Gesell led the charge and solidified the victory down the stretch. Iowa held on to win 60-55 and won their next two games, moving them to 8-2.
And then Iowa State came to town. And Iowa State shot lights out. It wasn’t even close. The Cyclones shot 53% from the field and made 12 3-pointers. 12. Twelve. They were 12-27 from three. Naz Long was 5 of 9 from three. Nader was 4 of 6. Niang was 2 of 4. Iowa’s inability to pressure a 3-point shooter was exposed on a dramatic scale that night and they never came close to matching the Cyclones in the second half. Fortunately, the Hawkeyes had a chance to make up for it eight days later by defeating in-state rival UNI at the Big Four Classic in Des Moines. I was in attendance. I partied too much. Iowa lost. I remember Iowa being terrible. There’s my recap.
Iowa finished off the non-con by defeating the North Florida Ospreys 80-70 at Carver Hawkeye Arena. What made bigger news than the final score were the comments made by head coach Matt Driscoll. Per Scott Dochterman, who was kind enough to transcribe the video, Driscoll had this to say about Iowa:
Here’s your problem with your guys: Your guys, they get down when they miss a shot. Coach doesn’t get on them, coach doesn’t sub them, Coach doesn’t do anything. Your guys have to get a little bit thicker skin and understand I’m going to miss some shots but I can’t let it affect the next one. Just from watching your games on tape and preparing for this game, that’s the one thing I saw is maybe a head drop or some things like that where guys, you could just see. It’s not a confidence thing, because obviously they’ve got guys who can shoot the ball. It’s not a confidence that they can’t make them. It’s a confidence thing where if they miss like one they’re like, ‘Man.’ So I think that’s something that they’ve got to fix, and I think it’s personal. I think they need to fix it.
To Driscoll’s evaluation Iowa fans said: Well that’s 100% accurate. Iowa did have a confidence problem. It was evident in their collapse the year prior and it showed in their non-conference losses in 2014. Hell, it was evident in the North Florida game, which wasn't an easy victory. He saw it. We saw it. Did the team see it?
Act II: Conference Play Part I
Iowa kicked off conference play with a bang, defeating Ohio State in Columbus 71-65. After beating a floundering Nebraska team, Iowa once again ran into the buzzsaw that is Michigan State. There's something about Michigan State that Fran McCaffery can't seem to figure out. And it wasn't like a Big Ten Tournament game (REFS). It was a lot like the Iowa State game. The Hawkeyes simply could not defend the 3-point shot. Travis Trice went 7 of 8 from deep. Valentine went 4 of 7. No matter what Iowa did the Spartans would come down the floor, drain a three and take away all the momentum. Typical Sparty.
Iowa followed up the loss by taking down Minnesota on the road thanks to a clutch last second shot by Jarrod Uthoff, who had established himself as Iowa's second option to Aaron White. See the amazingness here:
(Minnesota ran down the floor and scored but they were out of time so LOL)
Next came the Wisconsin weeks. I say "weeks" because Iowa played Wisconsin twice in two weeks. 11 days to be exact. The first score was uh...NSFW. The second was a little more respectable but still was never that close. It's not worth talking about that much because Wisconsin was undoubtedly the best team in the Big Ten. Apparently, as we'd figure out later, they were the second best team in the nation. They were better than Iowa in every facet.
Act III: Conference Play Part II
The second half of Iowa's conference schedule was less than exciting due to its strength...or lack thereof. Iowa started off strong by trolling #17 Maryland, a team with known road woes, 71-55 and moved to 15-8 (6-4). Adam Woodbury poked Melo Trimble in the eye that game. Talk about it if you like. Dan Dakich still does. Aaron Craft. Aaron Craft. Gutless. Aaron Craft. Dan Dakich is incredibly bald BTW.
Then Iowa lost to Minnesota and Northwestern...for some reason. The Northwestern game was so perplexing because, well, it was Northwestern and they hadn't won a game in 2015 and well...it just made no sense. Other things that made no sense was the shot Jarrod Uthoff made to force OT:
Iowa followed up the two game losing streak by winning out. Then again, when your opponents are Rutgers, Nebraska, Illinois, Penn State, Indiana and Northwestern, you probably shouldn't lose too many games. Or any at all. (NOTE: Todd Lickliter would've lost all those games)
Part IV: The B1G Tournament & Postseason
I'd love to talk about that certain game against Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament but I wasn't around to watch it and it seems like an unpleasant experience. So on to the Tournament.
WOOOO NCAA TOURNAMENT.
Iowa entered that NCAA Tournament as a 7 seed and faced 10 seed A-10 Champion Davidson. Despite the seeding, you would've thought Davidson was the favorite. All week Hawkeye fans had to hear about how the Wildcats would pull the upset. How Iowa wasn't for real. How they couldn't win a game of significance. Well...
Iowa's 31-point win over Davidson is the largest margin of victory ever in the NCAA tournament in a 7 vs. 10 game.— Ryan Krasnoo (@RyanKras) March 21, 2015
Aaron White's scored 26, Peter Jok scored 15 and Mike Gesell scored 12. Iowa shot better than 50% in their 83-52 rout of the Wildcats. They beat Davidson the same way they beat UNC: They forced them into being a permitter shooting team and Davidson couldn't hit. It was Iowa's first NCAA Tournament victory since the early days of [REDACTED]. It was a glorious time.
Until Gonzaga happened. And lets be fair, Gonzaga was a two seed. A two seed that just opened up on Iowa. The Zags shot 61.5% from the field. It was unbelievable. They would've beaten Kentucky that day. Even when Iowa played good defense the Zags made their shots. And you wouldn't believe it but they also went 10 for 16 from deep. They were firing on all cylinders. And they routed Iowa. Enjoy it while it lasts, I suppose. (We did)
Part V: The Seniors
It would be a disservice to do a post-mortem without talking about the seniors (who got serious playing time) for Iowa in 2014-15. First off, forward Aaron White was Iowa's leading scorer and earned First-team All-Big Ten for his play. At 16 PPG, he was the heart and soul of the offense. As he went, the team went. Arguably, his greatest impact was at the free throw line. White averaged 7 free throws a game and shot a stellar .819 from the charity stripe. When it came to closing out games, White could always be relied upon.
Forward Gabe Olaseni was Iowa's spark off the bench and was good for either a thunderous dunk or an embarrassing block at least once a game. Olaseni won the Big Ten's Sixth Man of the Year Award for good reason. In 19 minutes of play he averaged 8 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks. He challenged Adam Woodbury throughout the year and was a fan favorite.
Josh Oglesby's career ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. Iowa's one-time 3-point specialist was clearly afraid to shoot this season and statistically had the worst year of his career. His contributions were invaluable for his first three seasons as a Hawkeye but I don't think we'll ever know what happened with Josh in 2014.
Part VI: The Future
Once again, Iowa loses its leading scorer. Last year they had to replace Devyn Marble. Now they have to replace Aaron White. Enter Jarrod Uthoff. The senior forward averaged 12 points per game in 2014-15 and should be the focal point of Iowa's offense next season. Aside from Uthoff the Hawkeyes return senior point guards Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons and center Adam Woodbury. Iowa frequently went with two point guards on the floor last year, so having two seniors is a definite plus. Oh, and Woodbury should want have a good year because he doesn't want to be labeled a bust. I'll just come out and say it.
The Hawkeyes also return Peter Jok, who is the type of player who can go from 0 to 100 and back to 0 within a five minute period. Now in his third season, Jok should develop into a consistent player and average double digits in 2015. Dom Uhl, a sophomore who received significant playing time as a true freshman, seems to be a project that Fran McCaffery wants to mold into a starting wing. This is of course, saying nothing of the recruiting class that is bringing in a whopping SIX recruits.
With three senior starters returning (four if you count Clemmons) and Peter Jok being a junior, Iowa shouldn't have too much dropoff in 2015. Replacing someone as important as Aaron White is never easy but from what we've seen of Jarrod Uthoff, it isn't unrealistic to believe that he'll transition smoothly into the role of Iowa's leading scorer and have the Hawkeyes dancing again in 2016.