Thursday, February 6, 2014

The 11 Most Valuable Iowa Hawkeyes

The B1G season is over halfway done, and it is pretty clear what kind of team the Hawkeyes are this year. They're really good. They aren't great, but they have the talent to play with anybody. All of their losses (outside of Ohio State) can easily be explained away with free throws, as I show here:

Villanova - Didn't make free throws down the stretch.
Iowa State - Didn't make free throws down the stretch.
Wisconsin - Gave up four free throws when McCaffery got the boot.
Michigan - Refs didn't call fouls, so Iowa didn't get to the free throw line enough.
Michigan State - Could only make free throws down the stretch but didn't make enough of them.
Ohio State - Only shot 62% from the stripe, but 15% from three is what really killed them.

I honestly have an easier time seeing the basketball team win a National Championship than the wrestling team (Quick summary: Penn State has freakishly good wrestlers, and most of Iowa's team squeaks by in their matches), and I never thought I would be able to say that. Iowa may have the deepest team in the NCAA. That is positive in that lots of good players is a good thing, but also bad, because it means that very few Hawkeyes stand out above the rest. Since Iowa rolls 11 deep, I thought that this would be a good time to look at these 11 players to see who are the most important pieces for Iowa to make a significant run in the NCAA Tournament.

11. Peter Jok - Basically, everything that he provides is provided better by Josh Oglesby. So, he's probably not going to see many meaningful minutes down the stretch. Still, he is only a Freshman, so his role will increase as time goes on.

10. Zach McCabe - If McCabe is on, that's great. He plays gritty defense and can knock down open threes when he is open. But, Iowa doesn't need a big contribution from McCabe. If he is off and can only contribute four tough fouls, they will still be fine. With the other depth they have in the front court, they will be okay if McCabe is not on fire.

9. Anthony Clemmons - Clemmons has not played well for the most part this season, but if he can play well, it will really help out the team. If he is working well as a point guard, it gives them a chance to rest both Gesell and Marble so that they can be at full-strength during crunch time. He doesn't need to be a scorer, but if he can play solid defense and make the right decisions with the ball in his hands, then Iowa will be putting even more pressure on opposing teams.

8. Adam Woodbury - Yes, Woodbury is a starter, but I think most Iowa fans would agree that he is not the center that has been playing the best basketball for this team. Still, he is very useful. Any time you can put a legit 7 footer out there to play defense and get in the post, that has incredible value. Even if he just puts his arms straight up, he adds a lot of challenges to anybody coming into the paint. He always knows where he is supposed to be, and that reliability adds to his impact, but the ceiling of his impact is fairly low.

7. Josh Oglesby - Oglesby is finally living up to that "shooter" label that was bestowed upon him after last year's disastrous season. It was disastrous on offense, but his defense took a leap forward which is something that has carried over to this season. He's not athletic enough to be a shutdown defender, but he is always in the right spot, and he plays his man tough. If he can add to that the three point threat, the Hawkeyes offense becomes incredibly difficult to stop. He's not going to get starters minutes, but he can make a huge impact in just 15 minutes if he is hot.

6. Jarrod Uthoff - The other reliable shooter, although Uthoff brings a little bit more to the table as an inside presence who shows some nifty moves every now and then. Uthoff doesn't have the power to be dunking on people, but he plays fairly smart basketball, and if he is on, he can make impact plays on both sides of the court. Also, bonus points for Wisconsin hating him so much.

5. Melsahn Basabe - Melsahn is a pure energy guy, but he causes some serious issues when he is running the court. I honestly think that Melsahn is better than the next guy on the list, but Iowa has the option of spreading the floor with Uthoff at the four, so Melsahn is not as necessary. Still, the defense and energy he can provide is huge. He also can dominate the offensive glass, and he has some nifty moves to get good looks near the basket. He really fits in with this team well.

4. Gabe Olaseni - When Olaseni knows where to be on the floor, Iowa is really tough. He doesn't always know where to be, but he has gotten better and better each year. When I first saw him, I never expected much beyond some garbage time minutes, but he has improved exponentially over the years. He is a beast, and he sprints down the floor for the opportunity to get an easy look. He has springs in his legs, as he can jump and rejump better than most big guys. He doesn't need to be a big scorer, but if he can get a few putbacks and protect the rim, Iowa will be tough to beat.

3. Mike Gesell - This is the guy that I had the most trouble ranking. He could be five spots lower if you are fine with Marble running the point, where Marble has been shown to be pretty good. You could make the argument of making him a spot higher, because Marble is best when he can come off screens to drive to the hole or get an open jumper. Overall, I'm closer to the latter. If he can make this offense go, then everything else falls into place. He does a great job of taking care of the ball and even though he is barely leading in assists, his assists seem more valuable as he puts his teammates in an easy position to score. If he can hit the three when he gets the opportunity, that's all gravy.

2. Aaron White - White can disappear for an entire half, but that doesn't mean I want that to happen. He is the most efficient player on the team, by far, and it is just a matter of getting him the ball. White is nonstop energy, so he will find open windows, but Iowa needs to be aware of those windows and get him the ball when he gets to those areas. If they are getting him the ball, he is going to score, and he will probably draw some fouls as well. He also is one of the better players at the full-court press and trap that Iowa likes to play which can lead to a couple turnovers if done properly.

1. Roy Devyn Marble - Maybe it's just me, but I don't think people are talking nearly enough about the leap that Marble has made this season. He has become such a smarter player and just better in every facet of the game. His defense is a ton better as he is in the right spots on the zone but does a good job of picking his spots when going for steals. His shot is much improved, but the big thing is that he is even better at getting to the rim. This has been huge, as even if his shot is off, he can still make an impact on offense. The other game, he looked terrible as his shots were way off, so he just started driving to the hole. After starting 0-3, he repeatedly drove to the hole to get his shot, and then felt comfortable enough to fire another three which he made. Last year, he was going to keep throwing up bricks, but he was able to reset his rhythm and get into a good groove and be a positive impact on offense. I know Iowa fans love Aaron White, and I love him too, but Roy Devyn Mamba is the most valuable player on this team.

I wrote most of this before Tuesday's letdown against Ohio State, so I took some time off to give myself perspective. I'm not a big believer in teams not being clutch or not knowing how to win close games. Honestly, the bounces just haven't gone Iowa's way. But the talent is there, and that is what matters. They could definitely make a "shocking" run in the tournament, and it wouldn't really surprise me at all. Go Hawks.

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