WEST LAFAYETTE IN - JANUARY 09: Meisahn Basabe #1 of the Iowa Hawkeyes is a good 37 inches taller than anybody else, and is unstoppable at basketball as we know it. He is not even jumping in this picture, but the other two guys are. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
It's a new year and things are getting better. They're certainly faster, but by all accounts they're better. How much better? Who knows? We're allowed to enjoy optimism, right? It won't end in pain and like 20 losses will, does it? We hope not, because here is your optimistic look at the 2011-2012 Iowa Hawkeyes. First up: the big men.
The Sizzle and the Steak
Melsahn Basabe (Forward, #1, Sophomore, 6'7", 225, St. Mark's HS (Glen Cove, NY))
For a true freshman who was all set to attend a MAAC school before Fran showed up here and poached him, Melsahn Basabe sure kicked some ass in 2011. Basabe was both athletic and relentless in his attack on the inside, and it netted him 11.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game, with a .572 FG% to show for it. His footwork in the post isn't great, but it's better than Reggie Evans' or Doug Thomas' ever was at Iowa (NOTE: Not that much of a compliment).
Basabe's a year older now, and he's got the benefit of a season under his belt and 15 pounds of added muscle; McCaffrey said Basabe came in at 210 and while Basabe will never hit 245, well, they don't want him that big anyway so he's pretty close to his ideal weight right now. Certainly the added muscle's going to help in the interior, and Fran's going to make sure that Basabe's not going to get weighed down to the point that he's no longer as much of an asset in the open floor; if anything, Basabe having a full year in a D-I conditioning program is going to be every bit as beneficial as whatever muscle gains he's made.
We're not about to set baselines for performance (i.e.: Basabe must average a 15-8 or Iowa will suffer), because Basabe scored 6 points on 1-5 shooting in Iowa's exhibition against NW Missouri State and the world didn't end. And even if he'd hit every shot, he'd still have gotten only 5 FGAs and 6 FTAs in 21 minutes of play, and that's not a tremendously high usage rate for a guy who's going to have to be your biggest threat in the interior. Do we want to see him put up monster stats this year? Of course. But barring a dropoff in productivity, there are no magic numbers that Basabe has to hit in order for Iowa to be successful.
The Prodigal Sorcerer
Devon Archie (Forward, #35, Senior, 6'9", 222, Vincennes CC/Ben Davis HS (Indianapolis))
It remains a source of astonishment that Archie is going to exhaust his eligibility here at Iowa. That's not at all an indictment of his character or anything of the sort, it's just that he was a juco kid who came to Iowa and immediately suffered a serious shoulder injury that cost him a year -- and generally, even if they have redshirt years to burn (which Archie did), juco players don't usually have the luxury of taking a year off at D-I programs. Worse yet for Archie's prospects, the coach that recruited him was axed for what we assume was marked "comical incompetence" on the official form, and the new coach had pretty much nothing to judge this player on. That's a recipe for a transfer to a mid-major or a D-II school every time.
Except this is not every time, apparently, so Archie stuck around, and he found himself in a very limited reserve role in 2010, a season most marked by his cover-your-eyes .261 FT%. Again, recipe for transfer, right? Well, no, and Archie is not only back for his senior season, he's starting in the exhibition season.
Archie is favorably athletic; just on appearance alone, at a built 6'9" (The website says 222, Fran put him at 240, so this just SCREAMS eating disorder, DEVELOPING....), he looks like he belongs on a Big Ten court. Of course, by that metric, Duez Henderson should have been an All-American, but we didn't come here to smear the good name of Duez. The point is, Archie's got the athleticism to both bang and move, but if he can't put all that together for 20 minutes of solid play a game, there just might be someone behind him who can.
The Minnesota Muscle
Andrew Brommer (Power Forward/Center, #20, Senior, 6'9", 247, Rosemount (MN) HS)
Last year, we had Brommer down as a center, and although he's only listed as a forward on the Iowa roster this year, he's also probably the closest thing Iowa's going to have to a center when he's on the court. Brommer has bulked up to 247 pounds, according to the Iowa website, and he and Archie are tied as the second-tallest player on the team. Brommer's never been afraid to use that size and muscle on the interior, and once he's healthy again, his senior campaign should afford him his best opportunity yet to do so. Starting center (or third forward or whatever) Andrew Brommer? It could happen. It could happen a lot.
Of course, you can't really talk about Brommer without mentioning the leaps and bounds he's made in his play; though he only increased his scoring from 1.7 to 3.1 ppg, he also wasn't the worst player we had ever seen in an Iowa uniform either. We exaggerate, but only slightly; Brommer spent his first two years looking utterly lost on the court, tallying more fouls than points over the span, and sometimes doing things like boxing his defender out of the lane... without a shot going up. How Todd Lickliter didn't start crying right then and there is beyond us.
So Brommer's 2011 season was a revelation; his foul rate plummeted to a still-too-high-but-not-catastrophic 6.8/40, he developed a semblance of ability to get shots off (and make them!) near the bucket, and he looked downright comfortable in transition. Heck, it looked like he was finally getting it. Who can forget Brommer putting up 12 and 6 in 30 minutes at Ohio State and frustrating future billionaire in the process, or the numerous calls of "BROMMICIDE" in the comment threads whenever he attacked an open rim and finished with authority? For fans who suffered through the Lickliter era, it can't be said enough: this is Andrew Brommer we're talking about, and if last season was his "I know kung fu" breakthrough, this season is where he stops bullets. Of course, well, this is Andrew Brommer we're talking about, so "stops bullets" probably means "plays 20 minutes a game, averages 7 points and 5 boards a game and goes Full Doug Thomas a couple times," but y'know what? We'll take that, no questions asked.
While You Wait for the Others
Zach McCabe (Small/Power Forward, #15, Sophomore, 6'7", 232, Bishop Heelan HS (Sioux City, IA)
Speaking of guys gaining muscle, McCabe's now a robust 232 pounds -- a good 17 pounds heavier than we found him last year, and across the 230-pound Rubicon of Big-ness. If you're over 230 pounds and under the age of 23, you're either Cavs-era LeBron James or someone who has no business playing the 2 or otherwise being classified as a guard. And yet, the kid can shoot; he doesn't have unlimited range or anything, but his range extends past the 3-point line quite reliably, and that has a net positive effect on spacing defenders when he's in the game.
That all said, McCabe has some work to be done on the defensive side of the ball, and he doesn't seem at all comfortable in the transition game except as a long-range trailer (not an insignificant role, for what it's worth, but also one that's a lot easier to fill than point-man) . Last season, it looked an awful lot like McCabe was still trying to feel out his role on both sides of the ball, and if he's got either side figured out much better this year he'll continue being one of the first guys off the bench.
Aaron White (Forward, #30, Freshman, 6'8", 225, Strongsville (OH) HS)
One of the two decently-regarded big men coming for this class, White is probably going to pleasantly surprise Iowa fans this year. He has the versatility to play the 3, 4, or 5, the springs to be an effective shot-blocker, and the motor to be one of Iowa's best defenders, like, right now. That's not to say that he's got much polish on the offensive end as yet, and he's probably going to be most effective as a non-change-of-pace guy. By that, we mean McCaffery has made no secret of the fact that he wants to keep the pace up even more than last season, and having a guy like White who can play anything outside of guard (at least between two TV timeouts, anyway) means Iowa can substitute liberally enough to keep fresh legs in the game for 40 minutes. We like that. But for real: don't sleep on White's defense; it'll probably be good enough to get him in the starting lineup within a year or two.
Gabe Olaseni (Center, #00, Freshman, 6'10", 225, London, England, Sunrise Christian Academy (Wichita, HS)
In terms of pure physical gifts, Olaseni is the class of the bigs; he's not only the tallest guy on the team, he's probably going to be 250+ and still mobile by the time he leaves campus. Tantalizing? Yes, quite. A recipe for immediate, substantial contributions to the cause? Well, not so much. Olaseni's only in his fifth year of organized basketball, and he's easily the most raw of any Iowa big man in terms of technique right now. We do expect Olaseni to get some time this year, and he's probably going to flash some serious promise. But if everyone stays healthy, Iowa has the luxury of not depending on Olaseni to produce with the game on the line this year and probably next, and that's going to be immensely helpful in his maturation process.
Darius Stokes (Forward, #34, Redshirt Freshman, 6'7", 203, Linn-Mar HS (Cedar Rapids, IA))
There was some talk last year of Stokes playing well enough to win a scholarship, but that hasn't happened, and with a glut of big men in the process of joining iowa, that scholarship might not come until as late as Stokes' senior season. He's got the frame and physicality to contribute at some point down the line, and McCaffrey wouldn't have redshirted Stokes if he didn't think there was some value to what would be his fifth year in the program. But considering we've got six guys listed ahead of Stokes in this and four of them are either freshmen or sophomores (with Adam Woodbury and Kyle Meyer en route), it's going to take a lot for Stokes to assert himself and earn some playing time, otherwise he gets to look forward to all the glitz and glamour of the grey team.
Then again, Stokes has more going for him than Darryl Moore, and we know how that ended up, so hey--keep busting your ass, Darius, and at the very least good things are more likely to happen.
Cody Cox (Forward, #11, Sophomore, 6'4", 190, West HS (Waterloo, IA))
Cody Cox graduated from Waterloo West. So did Dan Gable. Cody Cox is the next Dan Gable -- insofar as Dan Gable probably didn't have much of a chance of playing basketball for Iowa either, anyway.