Iowa Basketball: Playing Time Clues Emerge in Hawkeyes' Comeback Victory

Brad RaunContributor IINovember 19, 2012

Feb 29, 2012; Lincoln, NE, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery cheers during the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the first half at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE
Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

With limited television coverage in many media markets, some fans may have missed Iowa’s Saturday night contest against Gardner-Webb.  If you were one of those fans, you missed more than just a dramatic second half uber-comeback by the Hawkeyes. 

Coach Fran McCaffery also revealed more clues to the mystery that is playing time on this team.  With eleven scholarship players fighting for minutes, who will get those minutes has been a source of much debate for Hawkeye followers.  When Iowa trails by 23 points and doesn’t lead for the first 31-plus minutes of the game, as they did Saturday night, one starts to get answers. 

So what did we learn about playing time from Iowa’s 65-56 win?

There is No Competition for Point Guard Minutes

While it will come as no shock to anyone that Mike Gesell’s position as starting point guard is safe, Saturday showed us just how safe. 

In the first three games this year, Anthony Clemmons received about two-thirds as many minutes as Gesell.  That would indicate Clemmons is pushing Gesell for playing time, and maybe even would be given the keys if Gesell was in the midst of a particularly off-night. 

Not the case.  Gesell played 31 minutes to Clemmons's six against the Runnin’ Bulldogs.  Even more telling, second half minutes were 16-0.

Also interesting was the aggregate minutes for the Hawkeyes’ two true PGs.  In Iowa’s only other game in which it had to do more than just show up to get the W (vs Central Michigan), Gesell and Clemmons combined for 53 minutes (13 more than the 40 minutes available to the position in one game), possibly indicating that at least one of the two will be bringing the ball up at all times.

Six days prior to the one-year anniversary of a stunning loss to Campbell University and facing a similar prospect, Gesell and Clemmons combined for 37 minutes, or less than 40 minutes (and again, 16-0 in the second half).

Takeaway:  When it matters most and Gesell needs to come out, expect to see Devyn Marble slide to the point and not Clemmons come off the bench.

Olaseni Not Quite Ready for More than Spot Contributions

One of the most commonly heard developments over the offseason was the improvement of sophomore center Gabe Olaseni.  Despite only having played basketball for a few years, many expected him to compete for a starting position, or at least get significant minutes splitting time with Adam Woodbury.

Olaseni has looked much more comfortable this season and the length and athleticism that McCaffery seeks is evident.  But with only four minutes Saturday night, it’s clear that he’s not yet ready for more than spot minutes in significant contests.

As a true freshman, Woodbury is the primary option at center for the Hawkeyes.  Expect him to get around 20 minutes a game in conference play when he stays out of foul trouble. 

When Woodbury isn’t in, McCaffery looks ready to tap the logjam of Aaron White, Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe to man the four and the five positions, or use a four-guard lineup like he did for heavy minutes against Central Michigan.

Olaseni will be a valuable player this season for situational match-ups and as an athletic big man with five fouls to give.  But it’s unlikely to see Olaseni getting double-digit minutes in the back half of the season.

Despite Great Depth, a Core Rotation Exists

Iowa has 12 players on scholarship for the 2012-13 season (including redshirt Kyle Meyer) and each is capable of contributing in some capacity.  That kind of depth is a luxury that the Hawkeyes haven’t had for several seasons.  Combine that with the fast pace that McCaffery likes to play, and Iowa seemed poised to be running 9, 10 or 11 deep with hockey-like line changes to keep the entire roster fresh.

Not gonna happen.  Saturday showed that McCaffery currently has a core rotation of seven-eight guys that will get the vast majority of the significant playing time.  Gesell, Marble, Josh Oglesby, White, McCabe, Basabe and Woodbury all played at least 19 minutes against Gardner-Webb.  Eric May played 12, but only three in the second half.  Nobody else played more than six.

This consolidation of minutes shouldn’t really come as a surprise.  McCaffery has always ridden his best players.  In his five years at Siena, his top five players averaged over 31 minutes per game.  That would have trailed only Michigan (at nearly 32) among the twelve Big Ten schools last season.

Different school, same philosophy.  The best players play… a lot.

Fran’s Guys Stand Out

Iowa may have a solid rotation, specialists and depth, but great teams need great players that you can hitch your cart to.  McCaffery appears to have identified three guys that will play the roles of “stars” this season: Marble, White and Gesell.  If these guys can go, they will be on the floor.

In the first half, White had one FG.  Marble had none and four turnovers.  Gesell was 0-8 from the field on the night. Yet Fran still rode each for over 30 minutes.  Not everyone earns that kind of trust from their coach.

Typically, someone from that group of players is expected to make plays in big moments.  Saturday Marble did just that.

With six minutes to go and the game tied 50-50, Marble took control by scoring nine of Iowa’s next 10 points, giving Iowa a 60-52 lead.  With just over two minutes to play, the game was all but over. 

Time will tell if the Hawkeyes will look to Marble in all tight games down the stretch, or if White and Gesell will have their opportunities as well.  In any event, it’s clear that Saturday was Marble’s night to be the closer.

Many More Answers Ahead

As telling about the Iowa rotation as Saturday night was, it’s best to keep in mind a few things: It’s one game.  In November.  With a young team.

Things can and will change over the course of a 31-game regular season.  But for now, when Iowa feels like they are playing for their NCAA tournament lives, it’s becoming a little more clear who will be doing the playing.


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