Iowa Hawkeyes: 5 Reasons They Can Expect to Make the NCAA Tournament in 2012

Geoff EstesCorrespondent IJune 15, 2011

Iowa Hawkeyes: 5 Reasons They Can Expect to Make the NCAA Tournament in 2012

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    WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - JANUARY 09:  Head coach Fran McCaffery of the Iowa Hawkeyes coaches during the Big Ten Conference game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Mackey Arena on January 9, 2011 in West Lafayette, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    It may be mid-June, but thanks to "Iowa Day" on the Big Ten Network, I am already excited about the upcoming Iowa football and basketball seasons.

    The basketball team ended on a high note last season, with a tightly played game in the Big Ten Tournament against Michigan State, which was closely on the heels of the huge upset of Purdue in Iowa City.

    Fran McCaffery brings his young team back for year two of the McCaffery regime, and I expect the Hawkeyes to be playing past the Big Ten Tournament this year. 

    Here are five reasons for Hawkeyes fans to get on their dancing shoes.

1) 2nd Year of Bryce Cartwright Running the Point

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10:  Bryce Cartwright #24 of the Iowa Hawkeyes brings the ball up court against the Michigan State Spartans during the first round of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 10, 2011 in Indianap
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    After returning starting point guard Cully Payne went down with a sports hernia early in the season, many Hawks fans were panicking about the point guard position.  Bryce Cartwright wasted no time in calming those fears. 

    The junior college transfer proved to be everything Payne was and more.  Cartwright scored 10.9 points, grabbed 2.9 rebounds and dished out 5.9 assists per game in his first season in an Iowa uniform. 

    Cartwright ran Fran McCaffery's up-tempo offense brilliantly throughout most of the season and was unafraid to take big shots. 

    While he did force some shots at times, and tended to drive into traffic a little more than was needed, he at least provided some quickness and leadership at the point guard position that had been missing from Iowa since Jeff Horner left.

    Cartwright seemed to get more comfortable in the D1 game as the year progressed and should be expected to play even better this coming season as he becomes more attuned to the Fran McCaffery style of running an offense.

2) Strong Sophomore Class

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10:  Draymond Green #23 of the Michigan State Spartans fights for rebound position against Melsahn Basabe #1 of the Iowa Hawkeyes during the first round of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on Marc
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Fran McCaffery's first freshman class last year exceeded even Coach Fran's expectations. 

    Melsahn Basabe was a force underneath the basket, and even showed an ability to step out and hit a 15-foot jumper.  Basabe averaged 11.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game as a true freshman.  His dedication to offseason work and the weight room will play a large role in how he improves this coming season.

    Roy Devyn Marble was another player, much like Bryce Cartwright, who got better as the season went on.  Marble played more two guard than point towards the end of the year, and it allowed him to score more.

    His 18-point game against Indiana was his season high, but his scoring barrage to keep the Hawkeyes in the game against a hot Michigan team was the game that captured the fan's imaginations.  Marble could feed off his late season play, and become more like his dad than many Hawkeye's fans expected.

    The third sophomore returning is Zach McCabe.  I do not remember a player that changed my opinion of him more in one game than McCabe had the ability to do.  He had a knack for hitting a big three, putting the crowd strongly on his side, followed by shooting an air ball on a wide open look or committing a turnover the next time down. 

    As a true freshman, those mistakes are to be expected, just not as many as he made.  If McCabe can become a smarter basketball player and improve his foot speed, this sophomore class could be the best in the Big Ten.

3) Senior Year of Matt Gatens

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    INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 11:  Guard Matt Gatens #5 of the Iowa Hawkeyes stands on the court during the game against the Michigan Wolverines in the first round of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 11, 2010 in Indianapolis,
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Matt Gatens is a senior already.  It is hard to believe it is the hometown kid's final season as a Hawkeye.  Gatens has never been my favorite Hawkeye, although I do like him.  He has never really had the game that captures Hawkeye Nation's hearts like Greg Brunner or Adam Haluska had the ability to do.

    Some of the love for Gatens seems to me to be forced, simply because he hasn't had much else around him.  He has worked hard and stuck by a program that was in shambles for his first few years. He is the hometown kid who has stayed true to the Hawkeyes.

    Yet, he still has never been one to take or make the big shot.  In his time as a Hawkeye, that task seemed to fall to Jake Kelley or Bryce Cartwright, or even at times, Eric May.

    I have a feeling Gatens will have his best year as a Hawkeye in 2011-2012.  He should enter the year healthy and hungry for his first postseason appearance, and first winning season, as a Hawkeye.

    I have not looked into this, but I would venture to guess that if the Hawkeyes have another losing season, Matt Gatens and Andrew Brommer could have a chance be the losingest Hawkeyes of all time.  I am sure Gatens does not want that distinction and will do everything in his power to make sure that doesn't happen, and he is a part of his first over .500 team at Iowa.

4) Incoming Recruits

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    WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - JANUARY 09:  Head coach Fran McCaffery of the Iowa Hawkeyes coaches during the Big Ten Conference game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Mackey Arena on January 9, 2011 in West Lafayette, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The Hawkeyes bring in another promising recruiting class.  Cedar Rapids Washington star Josh Oglesby may be the best known of the four, but he is certainly not alone.

    Oglesby is a 6'5" shooting guard who has the ability to be one of the better guards in the Big Ten by the time he is done at Iowa.  He is ranked as the 36th best shooting guard in the class of 2011, but should improve on that after working out with the Hawkeyes both in the Prime Time League and in the weight room over the summer.

     Aaron White is the other incoming true freshman.  He is a 6'8" small forward from Strongsville, Ohio. White was recently named the MVP in the Ohio/Kentucky All-Star Game.

    The two transfers are center Gabe Olesani, who is full of raw talent, and 26-year-old Anthony Hubbard, whom I wrote a little bit about in this piece.

    Recruits impact are usually hard to predict, but I think McCaffery has done another fine job in year two of recruiting.

5) Year 2 Under Fran McCaffery

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10:  Head coach Fran McCaffery of the Iowa Hawkeyes reacts against the Michigan State Spartans during the first round of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 10, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Todd Lickleiter or Steve Alford, he is not.  Fran McCaffery became a fan-favorite quickly upon his arrival in Iowa City and continued to win fans over his first season.  His fiery attitude and up-tempo style of play is just what the Hawkeyes needed to get Carver rocking again.

    In his second year of being at the helm, many expect the Hawks to be in even better shape than last year after McCaffery's grueling practices. 

    The offense, which was obviously not easily grasped by everybody last season, should be a well-oiled machine for all of the returning players.  Finally, the intensified weight room work should prove beneficial for many of the younger Hawks.

    McCaffery took steps to point the Hawkeyes in the right direction last season, now he needs to take the next step and play some postseason basketball in 2012.