Iowa BasketballHGPreview 2011: The Guards

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The Mainstay

Matt Gatens (Shooting Guard, #5, 6'5", 212, Sr., Iowa City HS) 

We've finally come to the end of the line for Matt Gatens, a four-year starter with commitments to three different coaches to play the two guard and a partridge in a pear tree has to fit in there somehow.  Gatens was supposed to be the savior of the Steve Alford era when he signed as a four-star recruit; his dad is a former Iowa basketball player, he won a state championship at Iowa City High, and he was one of the consensus top 20 shooting guards in the country.  Alford left before he could hit campus, but Gatens stayed committed and played for Todd Lickliter.  Like everyone, this probably wasn't the best thing for him.

Gatens was arguably at his best during his freshman year, where his field goal percentage and three-point percentage were at their highest.  His 10.9/3.8/2.6 line was promising, especially given the struggles of that team.  The next season, Gatens' production improved, even if every one of his relevant percentages dropped; his 12.3/4.3/3.2 averages on worse shooting and worse overall team performance felt like a step backwards, even if it was a nominal improvement over his first campaign.  Gatens had become overly dependent on the three-point shot, and his increased number of shots coupled with an 8% decrease in three-point percentage was a recipe for disaster.

Fran McCaffery was supposed to be a revelation for Gatens in particular.  McCaffery's aversion to perimeter shooting at his previous stops promised a renewed reliance on the mid-range game that had made Gatens a potential star.  So when his first season under McCaffery returned worse figures (12.6/2.4/1.8), we were baffled.  Gatens did reduce his reliance on the outside shot, a good thing as his 3PT% remained a defiantly mediocre 33%.  His attempts decreased in general, though, as did his general importance to the offense.  While he led the team in scoring, his place as the focal point of the offense was gone and his perimeter screens evaporated in McCaffery's slash and burn offense.  Matt Gatens, golden boy had been reduced to Matt Gatens, role player, a marginally competent outside threat with enough handle to occasionally get to the hoop (and still the best free throw shooter in the conference when he could draw contact).  Given his statistics over three years, that's probably the role Gatens was meant to hold.  Matt Gatens is an unquestionable team leader for three seasons and offensive contributor who needs a talented point guard and inside game to generate shot opportunities, and I think both he and we are alright with that.

Straight Outta Paris

Bryce Cartwright (Point Guard, #24, 6'1", 190, Sr., Paris (KS) Junior College/Dominguez HS (Compton, CA))

Is it possible to be a breakthrough star in an 11-win season?  Because if there is, Bryce Cartwright pulled it off.  Cartwright spent his freshman season at Fresno State, starting 20 games and averaging 4.9 points and 3.2 assists per game.  He left Fresno after that season, though, and after a season in junior college became Fran McCaffery's first recruit at Iowa.  Objects at the top of the depth chart tend to stay at the top of the depth chart, and so we all assumed Cartwright would back up Cully Payne and provide a spark off the bench.

The depth chart changed when Cully Payne was injured; the rest of it moved more slowly.  Cartwright only scored 2 points in a season-opening loss to South Dakota State, and didn't break double digits in scoring until the fourth game of the season.  He slowly found a groove during non-conference play, scoring 17 in a loss to Long Beach, going for 15 points and 8 assists in a win over Idaho State, knocking down 19 points and adding 7 assists against Louisiana Tech.  It was a near-miss loss to #2 Ohio State where Cartwright really started paying dividends, though: 35 minutes, 10 points, 8 assists, 2 steals (marred only by 6 turnovers).  From there, Cartwright exploded on the Big Ten scene, finishing third in assists (5.87 per game, bested only by Demitri McCamey and Darius Morris), 28th in scoring, and 11th in assist/turnover ratio.  The most telling evidence of Cartwright's impact on Iowa' offensive production: By late January, it was him (and not Gatens or May) holding the ball for the final shot of games, despite a horrendous 27.5% three-point percentage, because the three-point shot had been relegated to the second or third option in McCaffery's (and Cartwright's) slash-and-dish game.

Iowa is still without a pure backup point guard in 2011: Payne is gone and the smorgasboard of potential recruits all went elsewhere.  Cartwright's role will only increase this season, and whether he's ready for it could well dictate where this team ends up.  After last season, it's safe to say we like our chances.

The Enigma

Eric May (Shooting Guard/Small Forward, #25, 6'5", 220, Jr., Wahlert HS (Dubuque, IA))

As a freshman, Eric May looked like the one player so athletic that not even Todd Lickliter's slow roll system could shut him down.  As a sophomore, with a coach who prizes athleticism, perimeter defense, and the ability to drive to the basket, May had an apparent breakdown and ended up on the bench.  So yeah, we don't know what to tell you.

May was a three-star recruit out of Dubuque Wahlert with offers from Butler and UNI, but if Iowa fans thought they were getting another spot-up three-point shooter in the Butler mold, they were mistaken.  As a freshman, he was a revelation on the defensive side, averaging almost 5 rebounds a game, blocking 26 shots, and picking off 34 steals despite playing from the bench in non-conference games.  His offensive game needed some refining (he shot just 28.7% from behind the arc, and his free throw percentage didn't help on the rare occasion when Lickliter let him go to the basket), but it was as promising a season as we'd seen from an Iowa freshman in some time.  

That athleticism and innate defensive ability seemed to fit McCaffery's gameplan perfectly, and when May opened the season with a career-high 20 points against South Dakota State, it looked like our speculation had proven true.  The slow fade began almost immediately, though.  He scored just nine in Iowa's next game against Louisiana-Monroe, and after stringing together six consecutive double-digit scoring games, he disappeared for the Big Four series: 9 against UNI, 2 against Iowa State, and 5 against Drake.  After opening Big Ten play with 12 points (and, for the first time all season, no assists, blocks, or steals) in a loss to Illinois, May missed the Ohio State game with a groin injury and returned a shell of his former self.  He scored just 3 in losses to Purdue, Michigan, and Penn State, and didn't score at all in losses to Northwestern and Ohio State.  Eric May scored just 100 points in the 18 Big Ten regular season and tournament games he played; if you take out a one-off 16-point explosion against Minnesota in mid-January, that's just 4.9 ppg.  He didn't reach double-digits once after February 5, and he averaged less than 20 minutes per game over the last month of the season.

There was speculation that it was all because of the lingering groin injury from early January, and the timeline would make sense; if that injury occurred before UNI, as speculated, the dropoff correlates perfectly.  But if the groin was still bothering him, May did a great job of hiding it.  May has said that he was also having other issues, though there hasn't been much elaboration.  Players go through injuries, and players go through mental blocks, and most come out on the other side, and there's nothing indicating May can't do the same.  The athleticism is still there for him, and he clearly still has the ability to contribute to this team.  May has a chance to make 2010-11 irrelevant, and we'd all better hope he takes full advantage of that opportunity.

While You Wait for the Others

Devyn Marble (Combo Guard, #4, 6'6", 195, Soph., Lathrup HS (Southfield, MI))

There was a concern that Marble, a Lickliter recruit without a defined position under either coach's regime, was too raw and too unrecruited to contribute as a freshman and was coasting into Iowa on his dad's reputation alone.  One year in, those concerns are largely unfounded.  That's not to say there aren't concerns, though.

Marble is the son of Iowa all-time leading scorer Roy Marble, and he was brought in largely to play the same swingman role his dad played.  That all changed when Cully Payne went down with a sports hernia, leaving Cartwright as the team's only point guard.  Marble showed the ability to dribble with both hands, putting him ahead of every other guard on the team in ballhandling ability, and so he became the de facto backup point guard.  It was not exactly smooth sailing.  Marble's decisionmaking was occasionally suspect, he committed too many unforced errors, and his height made him vulnerable to the carney-like hands of smaller guards.

Obviously, Marble isn't built to be a long-term point guard prospect; he's still projected as the 2/3 swingman we thought we were getting last fall.  But McCaffery's recruiting efforts were unable to uncover another point guard, and with Payne now gone for good, Marble will again be pressed into point guard duty in 2011-12.  An improvement over last year's performance could be the difference between an Iowa team that can build and hold leads and one that can score in bunches but again go dead for minutes upon minutes.

Josh Oglesby (Shooting Guard, #2, 6'5", 185, Fresh., Washington HS (Cedar Rapids))

Oglesby is a universal three-star prospect from 25 miles up the road who McCaffery has already called the best pure shooter he's ever coached.  The Oglesby commitment was no small get, as he held offers from Illinois and Minnesota, as well as a slew of mid-majors.  In a normal season, he might only factor into blowouts and injury duty, but McCaffery has promised a ten-man rotation (at least at first) and Oglesby has to be in that ten, based solely on recruiting hype and early returns.  Expect him to come off the bench early and often, and to come out firing.

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