Not that long ago, the Iowa Hawkeyes were a consistently competitive Big Ten team, only missing out on the NCAA Tournament twice between 1991-2006. The past four years, the Hawkeyes have been consistent in a different way; finishing no higher than eighth in the conference. That is unlikely to change this season.
Fran McCaffery's first year as Iowa head coach was expected to be a difficult one; and that was certainly the case. Even though they return seven of their top eight contributors from a year ago, Iowa is again going to finish in the lower tier of the Big Ten.
The most encouraging part of last season was the play of All-Big Ten Freshman Melsahn Basabe. Despite being undersized at 6-7, he provided the Hawkeyes with a legit post scorer, averaging 11 points per game in just 24.5 minutes. Andrew Brommer, Zach McCabe and Devon Archie will try to fill the void left behind by starter Jarryd Cole while freshmen Gabe Olaseni and Aaron White also try to earn minutes. Once again though, Iowa will be at a disadvantage since they do not have a true big man on their roster.
The emergence of Bryce Cartwright at the point was critical since Cully Payne was missed almost all of last season due to injury. With Payne deciding to transfer, Cartwright is the only true point guard on the roster and will shoulder the load in running the offense.
Leading scorer Matt Gatens and Eric May return to their starting spots on the wing. Both guys are capable shooters but lack a great deal of athleticism. Roy Marble helps make up for that off the bench and will once again be a key reserve. Freshman Josh Oglesby adds more shooting off the bench while Aaron White could earn playing time due to his scrappy play.
Twenty-six-year-old former convicted felon and JUCO transfer Anthony Hubbard was supposed to add more depth on the wing, but decided not to come to Iowa in hopes of landing somewhere closer to his home state of Virginia.
Since they are certainly one of the least skilled teams in the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes will have to rely on their system and defensive effort to keep them in games. Until McCaffery is able to land some higher-rated recruits, Iowa will continue to struggle against their conference counterparts.
Player to Watch: Melsahn Basabe, PF
Basabe gained some valuable experience this summer by trying out for the U.S. U-19 team. Even though he did not make the final roster, he should benefit from practicing against talented players. Iowa will need him to build off his solid freshman campaign if it hopes to win more than six Big Ten games, something it has not accomplished since the 2006-2007 season.