After the release of the 2012-13 men's college basketball schedules and the Iowa football team's tedious and laborious win over the Northern Illinois Huskies on Saturday, what better time to think ahead to college basketball season?
In 2011-2012, the Iowa Hawkeyes basketball team started to turn a few heads after putting together their first winning season in five years, with an 18-17 overall record (including their B1G Tournament win and loss as well as the NIT win and loss).
Students are excited again, season tickets are being sold at record pace and Iowa City is beginning to look like a top spot for basketball recruits—admittedly, a weird sentence to write.
Oh what a gasket-blowing, up-tempo offensive coach can do for a program.
Now, Coach Fran McCaffery will enter his third year with the highest expectations he's ever endured in his short tenure at the helms of the Hawkeyes. With an incoming recruiting class that ranks among the top in the B1G as well as a relatively young but veteran returning lineup, the Hawkeyes are slated to take yet another step in McCaffery's rebuilding plan.
How high can the Hawkeyes go?
Let's take a look at seven bold predictions for the Hawkeyes' 2012-2013 season.
Ok, I know this isn't the boldest statement in the world, but I'm building up momentum.
While you wait in anticipation, here's a little food for thought: during the 2011-2012 season, Iowa started the 6'7'', hypothetical "Larry Bird All-Hustle Award Winner" Zach McCabe as their center (more on him later).
Let me repeat that again just to make sure it sticks. IOWA STARTED A 6'7'', 232 POUND SOPHOMORE AT CENTER.
Got it? Good.
Enter Adam Woodbury.
The incoming freshman was an All-State center at East High School in Sioux City, Iowa. He is an athletic seven-footer who touted the No. 39 spot in ESPN's 2012 National prospect rankings, No. 10 at the center position and No. 2 within the state of Iowa.
He featured an impressive offer sheet from schools such as California, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio State, Stanford and Wisconsin before signing with Fran and his new look Iowa Hawkeyes. Woodbury is the first seven-footer on Iowa's roster since the grumbling, yoga-performing Seth Gorney donned No. 53 for the Hawkeyes.
With Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, Derrick Nix, Adreian Payne, Trevor Mbakwe, Deshaun Thomas and Jared Berggren among the most dominating bigs returning to their respective B1G teams, the importance of Woodbury becomes sevenfold.
Look for Woodbury along with sophomore Aaron White, junior Melsahn Basabe and McCabe to make for an extremely proficient and deep front court for the Hawkeyes.
If you watched the first video of Woodbury, as well as the one above, you should have noticed a couple of things that makes him special.
For starters, Woodbury can score with both his right and his left hands. He has tremendous foot work that will only help him as he develops college-level post moves.
It's also nice to see a big man has the ability to put the ball on the floor and score. Woodbury is also able to get out in transition, which is a crucial aspect of Fran McCaffery's offensive game plan.
And of course, you should have noticed his flowing locks and soon to be deemed "Woodbury Face."
It's not often a freshman can come into any situation and average a double-double. With tough B1G hard nosed, body-banging competition night in and night out, accomplishing such a feat takes extreme talent.
Talent Woodbury has.
But if you need a more concrete basis for this argument, try this on for size:
Last year Aaron White averaged 11.1 points per game while grabbing 5.7 rebounds. White is arguably the best returning starter for Coach McCaffery, who said after Iowa's NIT win over Dayton, "He's really special. We knew we had something in Aaron White when we signed him...".
Iowa will look to feed the 6'8'' power forward on offense, while opposing team's are going to be focusing on him defensively as well.
That will leave plenty of room for Woodbury to clean up under the rim.
If White is getting too much attention on the offensive attack, Woodbury has shown a knack and ability to score from the elbow, high-post, low-post and everywhere in between—which will only give McCaffery more options to score.
There are also 18.5 shots per game as well as 9.1 rebounds up for grabs after the graduation of Matt Gatens, Bryce Cartwright, Andrew Brommer and Devon Archie.
Can Fran McCaffery become the 2012-2013 COY?
I'm going to take a step back here and let Fran McCaffery's bio from HawkeyeSports.com do some talking:
McCaffery orchestrated the fourth best improvement after his second season in Iowa history after coaching the Hawkeyes to 18 wins and an NIT bid. Iowa improved by seven wins from 2011 to 2012, which was the third best turnaround by a Big Ten team this season. Additionally, McCaffery guided Iowa to four more Big Ten victories in 2012 than a year ago, which is the best improvement for an Iowa squad since 1994 to 1995.
Now how can McCaffery top that this season?
I'm glad you asked.
Let's just say the third-year Iowa coach leads the Hawkeyes to a six-game turnaround this season (which is not completely far-fetched considering Iowa lost six games by 10 points or less in 11-12). That would give Iowa an overall record of 24-11 which would have been better than NCAA Tournament teams such as Virginia, Notre Dame, Texas, Iowa State, UCONN and Purdue a year ago.
That would surely get Iowa their first bid in the NCAA Tournament since 2005-06.
Then there is also this little nugget from Fran's bio:
McCaffery was one of only four Big Ten coaches to record four wins over ranked opponents in 2012, and the only one to accomplish the feat with an unranked team.
If McCaffery can get Iowa to 24 wins, the semifinal B1G Tournament game and a slot in the NCAA Tournament all the while beating four or five ranked opponents, the B1G COY should be a lock.
In a loaded B1G conference, that is definitely hardware worthy.
Let's take a look at the last three B1G Sixth Man of the Year winners and the numbers they put up during their campaigns:
2009-2010: Draymond Green, SO.- 25.5 MPG, 9.9 PTS, 7.7 REB, .9 BLK, 3.0 AST, 1.2 STL
2010-2011: Aaron Craft, FR.- 29.6 MPG, 6.9 PTS, 2.9 REB, .1 BLK, 4.8 AST, 2.0 STL
2011-2012: D.J. Byrd, JR.- 19.5 MPG, 8.9 PTS, 2.3 REB, .2 BLK, .9 AST, .4 STL
Now for comparison, lets take a look at Zach McCabe's sophomore stats:
21.5 MPG, 7.8 PTS, 4.6 REB, .3 BLK, 1.0 AST, .8 STL
Does it seem that unlikely for McCabe to up that line in his third year under McCaffery's system?
Does 24.5 MIN, 9 PTS, 6.0 REB, 1.0 BLK, 1.5 AST and 1.0 STL seem that far out of the picture?
Personally, I don't think so. If McCabe can put up comparable numbers to the ones I mentioned above, he would be ranked third in minutes, second in points, second in rebounds, first in blocks, third in assists and third in steals among the last three winners.
I'm personally expecting McCabe to jump out this season, both in the box score and out. He has been a staple for McCaffery, especially last season which is why I joked and called him the "Larry Bird All-Hustle Award Winner" because that's exactly what he is. He plays bigger than his body, hustles constantly and has a great basketball IQ.
If McCabe limits the fouls (3.4 a game last season), many of which were extremely questionable at that (which comes while playing undersized in the post), he can absolutely be named the B1G Sixth Man of the Year.
In fact, just book it.
Am I getting bolder yet?
Last year Matt Gatens (34.6 MIN, 15.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.0 APG, 41.0 3P percentage) was the only member of the Hawkeyes named to one of the three All-Big Ten Teams.
This was almost a slap in the face to the senior guard and the number of us who watched him gracefully will Iowa into big, late season wins (did the voters forget his 33-point performance against Wisconsin at home on February 23rd?).
This year, don't expect the same.
First, Aaron White (23.8 MIN, 11.1 PPG, 5.7 APG, 50.4 FG%), who was named the 15th-best freshman in the country by ESPN.com, will go from the All-Freshman team to the First Team. He came on well in his first year of college basketball and was absolutely dominating his matchups towards the end of the season. His post moves have been deemed NBA worthy, and it looks like he will avoid all signs of a sophomore slump after his dominating summer in Iowa's Prime Time League (28.2 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 2.3 APG).
White has First Team written all over him.
Then we have the junior point guard/shooting guard/small forward/brain surgeon/rocket scientist/team bus driver/Top Chef/America's Next Top Model/possible NBA draft pick—Roy Devyn Marble.
Marble did EVERYTHING McCaffery could ask for last season and then some. When Iowa needed a guy to penetrate the lane to make the defense collapse? They had Devyn.
When McCaffery needed a guy to hit a clutch runner late in the game while Matt Gatens got harassed physically at half court? He had Devyn.
When Windstar needed someone to drive the team bus through a snow storm up to Minnesota? They called Devyn.
In all seriousness, Marble was a man with many hats last season. But what was most encouraging for the young utility player was that he came on strong late. Marble scored in double figures 23 times in 2011-12; 15 of them came in the Hawkeyes' last 18 games. That includes the best performance he has had as a Hawkeye—31 points on 7-of-8 shooting from three-point range, five rebounds and five assists—during Iowa's loss in the second round NIT game at Oregon.
Welcome to the Second Team Roy-Dev.
Last but not least we have future third teamer, Eric May.
By most accounts, Melsahn Basabe had a down year in 2011-2012. He put on muscle mass before the start of the season and looked out of shape running the court. Once he dropped the extra poundage, Basabe lost minutes to White and McCabe. Basabe was extremely erratic offensively and had every reason to sit in the corner and sulk.
But the "King Slime" made the most of his situation and time on the court, seemingly finding his role as a defensive stopper and energy booster—blocking 36 shots on the season, including 15 in the last seven games.
My hope is Basabe took this offseason to sure up his offensive capabilities rather than strictly getting stronger. He is athletic enough to compete with the best post players in the B1G and can surely become the best player on McCaffery's roster not named White.
Let's just hope 2011-12 was strictly an outlier and 2012-13 brings the real Slime back to light.
Can Iowa get to the NCAA Tournament once again in 2012-13?
As I explained earlier, the natural progression of the last two seasons would all but lock Iowa into the NCAA Tournament this year.
If the Hawkeyes can get between 22-24 wins, reach the semifinals of the B1G Tournament (which will be held in Chicago this year, aka Iowa City East) and split the season series against Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan and either Wisconsin or Ohio State, they're in.
Though the Iowa roster only bolsters two seniors, this team is extremely seasoned. They know what it takes to win both at home and on the road.
The only question that remains to be asked of McCaffery's team is, do they know how to win in the biggest tournament in college athletics?
"If you build it, they will come."
I'm almost positive this is what Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta heard whispering about the walls of his multi-million dollar Iowa City home at night during the Todd Lickliter Era.
"If you build it, they will come."
Sure, I don't think ghosts of Iowa Basketball past are going to start appearing among the bleachers at Carver Hawkeye Arena, but that doesn't mean the fans aren't.
Iowa's new up-tempo style mixed with the likability of McCaffery and the players he's recruiting have really attracted both students and alumni as of late. Boy has that been a site for sore eyes.
There once was a time in Iowa men's basketball lore that a ticket to a prime time B1G matchup was as hard to get as the latest Adam Sandler movie.
Bums were starting to use tickets as toilet paper.
But not anymore, my friend. With the help of the student fan organization, Hawks Nest, as well as the athletic department's willingness to accept their sometimes "out of the typical Iowa-box" ideas, fans are flocking back to Carver Hawkeye Arena in support of their basketball team, giving them a loud environment to call home.
Towards the end of last year, Iowa touted one of the loudest, most energetic and funniest fan sections in the B1G (I dare you to watch the man they call Randy Miller run around the stadium with a giant Fran-Head and not laugh either in shock or hilarity). With the alumni and Iowa City residents following suit, Iowa will once again be home to one of the hardest places to play in the B1G.
With a cupcake out-of-conference schedule, an ESPN Top 25 recruiting class, a veteran lineup, one of the best coaches in the B1G and the revival of Iowa's student section, the Hawks Nest, how could I not think the Hawkeyes have the potential to go undefeated at home?
Bring it on B1G. The Hawks are back.