There is a winter chill in the air. Can you feel it?
Though it will more than likely disappear in random two-day spurts for the next month or so, it's coming nonetheless.
Winter is a bully for those of us who don't have the luxury of living in warmer climates. But with that season comes the sport of the gods, a finesse game mixed with a dash of power and speed.
Basketball season, particularly college basketball season, is almost upon us and for that I welcome winter.
Just ask Iowa's Roy Devyn Marble: "It's almost that time."
With only 22 days until college basketball teams officially begin practice, it's time to assess the Hawkeyes and their NCAA Tournament chances.
The players are grouped in three tiers, with the third tier composed of developmental prospects, the second tier potential contributors and the first tier the top eight players in the rotation.
Third Tier: There isn't much out there when it comes to Christopher Rickert. The attached video is about all there is, along with a few cellphone videos from the same shirts vs. skins game.
But let me tell you, the kid can throw a one-handed pass with the best of them (see the five-second mark).
Rickert is a walk-on, non-scholarshipped practice player, which is fine. He is on the roster for depth and as a warm body in times of need.
It's not really about his potential in his last year on campus, but more about his journey. Rickert went from being a member of the men's team that scrimmaged the Iowa women's team to a men's basketball walk-on.
Not a bad transition.
In his senior year, the 6'3" forward will more than likely see limited time during the non-conference schedule. Forgive me for being brutally honest, but that will be about it.
With that said, Rickert is in the running to be a lifetime member of Club Trillion and for that I thank him.
Third Tier: I can't make this up, "...member of his high school's choir..."
Really, Iowa? That was the only information readily available to add to this young man's official bio?
I would be lying if I were to tell you I spent more time YouTube-ing and Google-ing "Okey Ukah basketball" over "Okey Ukah choir." Unfortunately, the Internet is not nearly as wide as it needs to be and my search ended to no avail.
Here's to hoping the lovely folks in the public relations and marketing departments at Iowa get the basketball team to do a parody of "Gangnam Style" during timeouts this season. It would be a sin for Ukah, a former choir member, not have some sort of role in the vocals.
With his chant-y name (Okey Ukah! Okey Ukah! OH-KEY U-KAHHHHHHHH!) and conceivable golden pipes, I put him as my No. 16 Most Important Player.
Ukah is a junior college transfer and currently a non-scholarship athlete. He has good size at 6'5" and actually seems to have basketball skills. He averaged 6.8 points and 2.3 rebounds in this summer's Prime Time League.
Third Tier: Anytime an undersized kid has a highlight video featuring a Lupe Fiasco song, you have to give him props.
And props I shall give.
The biggest compliment I can give Kyle Denning is that we've all seen his "type" of player before. He is that All-State/All-Conference high school guard who averaged 15 to 20 points per game by running to his favorite spot on the wing during the fast break and banging in open three-pointers until you threw a gimmick defense at him like a box-and-one.
He always had perfect form on all of his shots, no matter the difficulty, starting with the ball in the pocket and ending with that slightly elongated follow through.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Kyle Denning.
Denning is a sophomore and actually saw a little more "tick" than his walk-on brethren during the 2011-2012 season. Like the other two, he is also a non-scholarship athlete.
Here's to you, Denning, for keeping your high school glory days alive.
I almost want to just leave it at that and go to the next slide; a writer's version of the "mic drop".
But that would be unprofessional.
Out of all of the returning non-scholarship athletes, Stokes got the most floor time last year, even during crucial points of big games.
... had one rebound in his first collegiate game vs. Chicago State... scored first career points on an offensive rebound put-back and rejected a shot vs. Creighton... tallied a steal, block and rebound in three minutes of action against Clemson... grabbed a career-high four rebounds and had an assist in win over Central Arkansas... scored on a tip-in during a crucial stretch in Iowa's home win over #18 Indiana...
That's how you make a name for yourself on a deep roster.
Stokes will continue to see his minutes go up if he continues to do quality work with the time he gets.
Third Tier-Future First Tier: Jarrod Uthoff is paying his own way at Iowa after deciding to transfer from Wisconsin. Per NCAA transer rules, the 6'8" forward will also have to sit the entirety of the 2012-2013 season.
A native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Uthoff is finally home and will be a major part of this team for the next few years.
But how is he ranked above walk-ons who are able to, at the very least, go through the layup lines?
Let's take a quick look to the past.
Uthoff was an ESPN Top 100 recruit in the 2011 class. He was the No. 14 power forward.
From his ESPN Scouting Report,
Long athletic forward with solid bounce and instincts. He runs the court pretty well for his size. Attacks the glass well, can finish in the paint and has the ability to knock down the perimeter shot with range that extends beyond the arc on occasion.
Sounds just like a Bo Ryan guy if you ask me. But luckily, things didn't pan out and now the redshirt freshman is a Hawkeye.
Though Uthoff can't see the Carver Hawkeye floor during game nights, he will see plenty of it in practice. That is where Uthoff has to leave his mark on the 2012-2013 squad.
Having an athletic forward beating up on Zach McCabe, Adam Woodbury, Melsahn Basabe and especially Aaron White is an absolute godsend. Uthoff doesn't have any excuses not to go hard day in and day out. He has a year-long interview for playing time.
Iowa needs him to push the frontcourt and make it better.
If that's not enough, he's familiar with coach Ryan's playbook. During Badger Hunting week, he'll be a valuable asset.
Second Tier (Maybe): Watch that video. No seriously, watch it.
Tendinitis. In his knee. Has had it for his whole life.
If not a flag, it's something that could significantly decrease his minutes.
As I wrote a little while back,
The 6'10" center is walking into a tough position at Iowa. He will be battling classmate Adam Woodbury, sophomore and London beanstalk Gabe Olaseni, hopeful Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Zach McCabe, sophomore Aaron White and junior Malsahn Basabe for minutes.
That will be twofold if in fact this tendinitis issue persists.
More from that last post,
Meyer is better when facing the rim and has a lot of work to do in the post game (something that will keep him sidelined once the Big Ten season rolls around). If he can develop that offensive side of his game while adding the strength needed to become a minutes-eater when Iowa is in foul trouble, Meyer could be an extremely versatile piece for McCaffery's bench depth down the road.
That is, of course, if this tendinitis issues doesn't stick around.
Notice a theme here?
Second Tier: Clemmons is the definition of solid. As a high school senior, he averaged 14.7 points (mostly by getting to the rack, based on his highlight videos), 4.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.4 steals.
He is a good defender and plays the game like he is being filmed for a basketball fundamentals video.
That is the perfect recipe for some quality playing time.
What will ultimately help his cause is that he is really the only true point guard on the Iowa roster (Mike Gesell is better without the ball in his hands).
With that said, what could hurt Clemmons is that he doesn't have a very good jumper. If you watched the video I linked, you probably noticed that. But shooting form can be improved, and I would assume the young point guard knows that taking outside shots will not be a priority his freshman season.
Second Tier: Iowa, Oklahoma, Auburn, Ole Miss and Wichita State all had extreme interest in Gabe Olaseni.
Nobody is completely sure if it was, in fact, to play basketball or football.
The England native has formed himself into Fran McCaffery and company's personal project for the next couple of years. Coming into college, he was extremely raw and lacked the type of basketball knowledge most players have coming into the Big Ten.
He was strong, tall and had a 7'2" wingspan. That was about it.
But it was enough for McCaffery.
Olaseni was essentially a throw-in piece in the 2011 recruiting class, but his potential has always been astounding. The 6'10" center has grown exponentially in only a year, having completely changed his frame of mind about basketball.
His offensive game has expanded (He averaged 13.0 points and 6.6 rebounds during Prime Time play this summer), which is a sign that he is starting to believe in himself as a player.
Becoming a starter seems unlikely, but that doesn't mean his role won't be important; especially with the only other true center being a freshman.
I'm excited about Olaseni. The potential is there. It was there when he was a 6'10" beanstalk. Now he just has to get past the mental block that he said slowed him last season and become a productive part of the rotation.
Second Tier: I've already gone on a Patrick Ingram lovefest once before.
Not sure you want me to do it again.
Either way, Ingram is going to be really good for the Hawkeyes down the road.
As much as I may be blinded by my not-so-secret "man-crush" on the freshman, I couldn't give him a higher ranking. He just didn't fit.
He is a year away from earning enough playing time to get him into the Big Ten-8 Tier. That figures to happen when he takes over the minutes Eric May leaves behind when he exhausts his eligibility.
This season is all about learning, growing, getting stronger and turning those minutes of floor time into bullet points on his resume.
Before I finish, I want to leave you with one final note from ESPN's Scouting Report.
Ingram is a tough, strong and very athletic slasher and straight-line driver. He can get to the rim on the break and from the wing, where he can finish through contact, above the rim. Ingram can make mid-range jumpers with range to 19 feet with time and space and is an excellent defender. Ingram also excels on the break with ability to finish.
Excels at the break? Very athletic slasher? Can finish through contact?
If McCaffery had to make a mold of the perfect basketball player, it would absolutely, 100 percent be Ingram. That much I am convinced of, and I will bear that to the end of my days.
First Tier: Ever find yourself asking what are the best adjectives to describe the domination when Adam Woodbury steps onto the Carver Hawkeye Arena floor against a Big Ten foe?
Here's what I came up with: alarming, astonishing, electric, shocking, downright foolish, totalitarian, full-blown, undisputed and perfect.
Yup, I think that about sums it up.
But, seriously, Woodbury might be the best recruit Iowa has landed other than Matt Gatens in a long time. His signing means so much to this program, as it could open the door to other the top recruits in Iowa.
The same recruits, who for so long, overlooked the Hawkeyes.
The 7-footer should flourish with Aaron White alongside him. That duo could become one of the Big Ten's best.
The only reason Woodbury stands as my eighth-ranked player is because there are several talented big men with Big Ten experience on this team. Woodbury needs to prove he can get it done at an elite level, and that will probably take a little time, which is alright.
Though he will be an integral part of this team, he won't need to dominate like we will come to expect from him in a year or two.
First Tier: Earlier this week I wrote a pretty lengthy piece on Eric May and how the loss of Todd Lickliter's green light affected the athletic shooting guard negatively once Fran McCaffery was named the coach at Iowa.
I still believe all of that to be true. But May is extremely important to this season. He needs to be a leader. If he isn't getting it done on the stat sheets, he needs to be getting it done with his hustle plays and in practice and the locker room.
He is the only four-year senior on this team, and during the tough road of the Big Ten schedule, his experience will be key.
What would be the best of both worlds is if May figured himself out as a basketball player on top of being the senior captain.
It's not out of the realm of possibility.
May has shown as many flashes of athletic brilliance as he has of misunderstanding McCaffery's offense. That's saying something.
The talent is there. It really is, or at least it was there. Let's hope he can get it back for his last season as a Hawkeye.
First Tier: I'm looking for Oglesby to make the biggest jump this season outside of our No. 1-ranked player.
For the love of Reggie Miller and Jimmer Fredette, it's a jump he needs to make.
There is no time for Oglesby to have a sophomore slump. He played so much as a freshman, he's a junior now as far as experience goes and needs to play like that.
Period. No exceptions.
Why does it seem as if I am so angry about this? That because Oglesby is the Hawkeyes' only pure shooter. That's why he was brought to Iowa. Opponents need to fear leaving him alone for even a split second.
If Oglesby can be the knock-down threat McCaffery needs, the Hawkeyes are going to make a run to the NCAA tourney.
First Tier: My personal Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year for 2012-13 comes in as my fifth-most important Hawkeye.
After all, he is McCaffery's ultimate utility man.
McCabe can play the three through five spots on the floor, rebound, score, assist, block, hustle after loose balls and foul with the best of them.
That's why you can't help but smile and take a deep breath when he gets called for three fouls in five seconds because Ed Hightower got a little whistle-happy.
McCabe does everything he can to help his team win and always leaves it all out on the floor.
There has never been one game where I think to myself, "Hmmmm, McCabe really didn't seem to care tonight."
He just tries so hard.
The Hawkeyes could be down by 50 points, but No. 15 is still running around, flying through the lane for rebounds, diving after balls that are already out of bounds and laying the smack down on some bench- warmer who decided to get a little too fancy in his first minutes of playing time.
He's that old school-type, a real 80s throwback. How could you not love that?
First Tier: Ladies and gentlemen, the Orange Mamba.
If it wasn't for Indiana's Cody Zeller, he would have been the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
As a freshman, White averaged 11.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
In his last five games, however, he averaged 19 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Big games. Big efforts.
White was an instant fan favorite for his "diaper dandy" ways and for becoming the only other real offensive threat during crucial points in the game behind Matt Gatens.
Let's all just hope/wish/pray that sophomore slumps don't run in his family.
Melsahn Basabe was Aaron White before Aaron White. During his freshman season, my main "slime" averaged 11.0 points and 6.8 rebounds, which were almost identical to White's freshman numbers (which is why I asked for everyone to hope/wish/pray slumps don't run in the White family).
What happened to Basabe during his sophomore campaign wasn't as pretty.
He put on muscle weight, slowed down, wasn't as successful doing the things that worked for him during his freshman year and seemed timid and uncomfortable within the offense. At times, it also seemed like Basabe tried to become a jump shooter rather than sticking to his athletic prowess to get him into positions to score.
It got so bad that he ended up losing not only his starting role but minutes, which went to White and his development.
This year, Basabe needs to get back to his freshman form. Whether he is going to start again or come off the bench as he did toward the end of the 2011-12 season remains to be seen. But, regardless, Basabe needs to be the slime he used to be.
He is the Hawkeyes electroshock system. Insert him into the lineup for immediate effects.
There is something special about Basabe and he needs to embrace that. He is a veteran now and an emotional leader.
I can't harp on this enough, though. He desperately needs to drive a powerful frontcourt to reach its full potential.
First Tier: What is the one thing the Hawkeyes haven't had consistently in the past few years?
If you said winning seasons, you're right. But I'm going in a different direction.
If you said top recruits, you're right again. But McCaffrey is changing that.
If you said an extremely talented point guard, we have a winner.
Here is what ESPN wrote about Mike Gesell.
Gesell is tough and competes on both ends of the floor. He looks like a defensive back but has excellent skill. He can knock down threes off the catch and the mid-range jumper off the catch or dribble. He can finish through contact and will finish above the rim on the break and surprise with his rise. He also has an excellent floater in the lane that he shoots with touch and body control. Gesell also doesn't mind rebounding on the defensive end and pushing the ball where he puts immediate pressure on the opponent's transition defense.
Yes, at this point, Gesell is probably better suited to play shooting guard. But his 6'1" frame says differently.
Gesell needs to be the point guard of the Hawkeyes' future. They need him and my rankings No. 1 player to jell and and run rampant over Big Ten defenses.
The mismatches Gesell can create will be extremely difficult to overcome. But he needs to take over the ball-handling duties, so the No. 1-ranked player can focus on scoring.
Get excited about Gesell. This kid is the real deal.
First Tier: This fate of this season rests on Marble's shoulders, just like last year's rested on Matt Gatens.
Don't believe me?
If Gesell doesn't pan out as a point guard, who runs the offense? When the Hawkeyes need a bucket, who is the most versatile scorer on this team? Based on the eye test, who is the most talented player? Who can create mismatches on offense and defense? Who is the player most likely to be taken high in the NBA NBA draft?
Let's say it together.
Roy Devyn Marble.
Out of all the returnees, Marble led in points, assists, steals and minutes per game last year.
Though teammate Eric May is the returning senior, it's unquestionably Marble's team. It's just an obvious career advancement at this point.
Sure, that may change with another solid season by White and potential breakout years by Woodbury and Gesell. But in 2012-13, nobody is more important than Marble.
Remember the offense was basically turned over to Marble during the NIT loss to Oregon last year. In case you don't recall, in that game Marble looked like the NBA player everyone seems to be projecting him to be. He scored 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting. He had five assists, five rebounds and no turnovers in a team-leading 37 minutes of playing time.
It was mesmerizing to watch. It was one of those "Stop everything you are doing" games.
Marble put himself on the map and it was almost enough to push Iowa to another NIT game.
It's his time now. Enjoy it, Hawk fans. It's going to be special.