Matt Gatens' Career-Defining Senior Season for the Iowa Hawkeyes

Geoff EstesCorrespondent IFebruary 23, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10:  Mike Kebler #20 of the Michigan State Spartans looks to pass against Matt Gatens #5 of the Iowa Hawkeyes during the first round of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 10, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

This season has been a roller coaster ride for the Iowa basketball team. 

After losing some ugly non-conference games, the Hawkeyes have been a pleasant surprise in the Big Ten, beating such teams as Wisconsin (in Madison), Michigan, Minnesota twice and just last weekend, knocking off the Indiana Hoosiers.

Devyn Marble has solidified his spot as a star.  Aaron White has become a fan favorite and has Iowa fans drooling for three more years of the crafty redhead.  But, few would contest that Matt Gatens has been the calming presence for the Hawkeyes on the court and is having, by far, the best season of his career.

I have been critical of Gatens over the past three years.  He couldn't create his own shot.  He disappeared during crunch time.  His defense was not anything close to "lockdown."

All three of those criticisms have been put out to pasture this year.

Gatens has transformed into a great defensive player.  With the regression of Eric May and the departure of Jarryd Cole weakening Iowa's interior defense, Gatens has stepped up. He has become a great on-ball defender and has forced many timely turnovers.

On the offensive end, Gatens has become a intelligent veteran presence who picks his spots and can create off the dribble.  This is a facet of his game that was not nearly as strong in the past.  Threes were forced up, and Gatens was too reliant on someone else to hit him in rhythm for his shot. 

Last season, late in games, it was all Bryce Cartwright.  Two years ago, that situation went to Eric May, Aaron Fuller or even—gulp—Cully Payne.

This season, although Marble has been equally clutch as a late-game playmaker, Matt Gatens has turned into a closer.  He has been making sound decisions and has been hitting shots during "winning time," which has resulted in wins.

Gatens had a career-high 30 points against Indiana on Sunday in one of his last home games as a Hawkeye.  He moved into third on Iowa's all-time three-point list, and will soon be second. 

Gatens came into the year as one of the losingest Hawkeyes of all-time.  While this year's version of the Hawkeyes likely won't be playing in the Big Dance, or even the NIT, Gatens has helped revitalize the program this year and has solidified his legacy as one of the best to ever wear an Iowa uniform.

I would have never said those words last season.  Gatens has redefined his career.  Three months ago, he would have been remembered as a good shooter who played during some of the darkest days in Iowa basketball history. 

Now? Gatens will go down as a shooter, scorer and defender on one of the teams that helped get Iowa basketball back to where it wants to be.

Perhaps most importantly, Gatens will be remembered as a leader of the new generation of Hawkeyes.