The play of Aaron White and Zach McCabe will determine Iowa's frontline success in 2012 - Jonathan Daniel
BHGP details the Iowa forwards in anticipation of the 2012-13 basketball season.
The Jamboree is your two-week preseason guide to the 2012 Iowa basketball season. We start like we start everything else: With player summaries, position by position.
Today: The forwards.
Much like brothers that are forced to move into the same room upon the birth of a younger sibling, so Iowa's forwards will be forced to share minutes this year now that little Adam Woodbury has arrived on the scene. Last year the Hawks had to make do with a motley assortment of non-conventional line-ups in the front court, with undersized players like Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe at center and young wunder-ginger Aaron White at the four. This was mostly due to the fact that Fran McCaffery's alternatives at the center position were Andrew Brommer, Devon Archie, and a very raw Gabe Olaseni.
And you know the funny thing? By the end of the year, they found a way to make it work. The writer Bethlehem Shoals (of FreeDarko fame) coined the term "positional revolution" a few years ago to describe the increasing fluidity of positional roles in the NBA, and the Hawks provided a good example of that revolution last year. With decent outside shooters at five positions (Gatens, Cartwright, Oglesby, White, McCabe), Iowa was able to run some interesting pick and pop sets with McCabe and White, the result of which was a much more open court and plenty of lanes for White and others to drive to the basket. The flip side of this increased offensive efficiency was a defense that was porous to say the least, but Iowa's defense seemed to be horrible no matter who they played last year.
This year, all of that will have to change to some extent. Gatens is gone, and with him Iowa's greatest perimeter threat. His absence will send shock waves to every other player on the court. Defenses will be able to sag in more, clogging driving lanes and mucking up the offensive flow. The departure of Bryce Cartwright could hurt more than most people might expect. For all his flaws last year (turnovers, turnovers, turnovers), he was Iowa's fastest player and the one player who could straight-up blow by defenders off the dribble. Iowa will be a much bigger team with Woodbury and a greater role for Olaseni, but they will also be arguably a slower team and a worse shooting team. All of this will affect the roles of Iowa's forwards.
The Golden (or Orange) Boy
Aaron White (#30, Sophomore, Forward, 6'8", 218, Strongsville HS (Strongsville, OH))
If one player is destined to make a giant leap in 2012, it's Aaron White. In fact, you could argue that he's already made it. Starting with his breakout 18-point, 6-7 FG performance in a win over Wisconsin, White steadily began to play more and more minutes, and responded with a bevy of great games: Seventeen points, nine rebound, four assists and three blocks against Penn State; 17 points, 12 rebounds against Northwestern; 16 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks against Penn State again; 25 points on 10-15 shooting and 11 rebounds against Dayton; 22 points and eight rebounds against Oregon. White thrived more than any other player in Iowa's non-traditional lineups. Playing at the four, he was frequently matched up on the perimeter with slower players, and took advantage. His unique combination of a respectable three-point shot and decent handles for a 6'8" guy made him a threat both to shoot and drive. He also was a force on the offensive glass, in transition, and even as a bit of a shot-blocker in the post. With another year of conditioning under his belt, White has great promise to be a real star for the Hawks this year.
But there is the question of exactly what position he will play. Fran McCaffery has indicated that White may play some at the three this year, which is almost inevitable given the presence of Woodbury at the five. Putting White at the three may negate some of his greatest strengths, namely his advantage in speed and dribbling over opposing fours. In a way, White's dilemma resembles that of Carmelo Anthony. As a four, Anthony is faster and more agile than most of the players who guard him, but as a three or a quasi-two guard, he suddenly is matched with quicker small forwards and guards who can stay in front of him and keep him penned up on the perimeter. The worst thing that could happen to White's game would be for him to drift at the three-point line, because it would eliminate him as a threat at the rim (where he has very deft finishing skills) and on the offensive boards. Also, while he had a few impressive games from beyond the arc, he was not a great three-point shooter overall (28% for the year).
The other threat to White's effectiveness will be the simple fact that his secret is out. Opposing coaches will recognize that he is a good player, and will put better defenders on him. Whereas White could sometimes lurk unrecognized on the weak side, only to crash to the rim on unsuspecting defenders, this year he will have no such luxury. Just the price of having a rep.
Zach McCabe (#15, Junior, Forward, 6'7", 235, Bishop Heelan HS (Sioux City, IA))
Much of White's success will depend on how he interacts with Zach McCabe. The two players developed a bit of chemistry together last year, with McCabe improving as a low-post presence and a dead-eye three-point shooter (45% on the year). McCabe is a strong dude, and was able to back down many defenders and then finish with a short bank shot. He's so strong, in fact, that he ran into a bit of a problem picking up offensive fouls as he lowered his shoulder into post defenders.
The best hope for McCabe is that he doesn't take his designation as a four too seriously. His shooting is good enough that he is a real threat on the wing, and it would be a shame to waste that. If he and White can maintain their simpatico relationship as quasi small forwards/power forwards, they have a good chance to replicate their strong play late last year.
The one asterisk on McCabe's game is and has always been defense. He is simply not a speedy player, has problems defending in space, and doesn't have the vertical to alter shots. As a small forward, he had a tendency to get burnt off the dribble, and as a center, he was undersized and a weak rim protector. He did best, not surprisingly, matched up against players who resembled him in speed and size. The same strength that makes him a good post-up player made him a difficult object to move on defense. The fact remains, though, that McCabe will most likely be a minus on defense for the Hawks. If he can improve his quickness, that would be great, otherwise he will need to be enough of an offensive positive to make up for it on the other end.
The Wild Card
Melsahn Basabe (#1, Junior, Forward, 6'7", 221, St. Mark's HS (Glen Cove, NY))
When the White-McCabe partnership began to succeed last year, Melsahn Basabe proved to be the third wheel. He didn't display much improvement in his offensive game, and his weight gain in the off-season negated much of his defensive value as a weak-side defender and shot blocker. He regained some of his old form in the later stages of the season, but was still a bit of an odd fit in the line-up.
This is mostly because Basabe is just an odd fit as a player. A slender 6'7" power forward/center with negligible ball-handling and outside shooting skills, a ferocious finisher when receiving a pass but a weak post player with the ball in his hands, and a great weak-side shot-blocker who is nevertheless a so-so one-on-one defender. Unfortunately for Melsahn, Aaron White replicates many of Basabe's best skills (White's a worse shot blocker, but that's about it), and boasts several skills that Basabe lacks -- offensive variety, better defensive situational awareness, better passing skills. It will be interesting to see how Fran makes use of Basabe this year, but the junior could find himself in the difficult position of coming off the bench to spell White and provide energy and rebounding on the second unit. How well he performs will depend on his reaction to this new role (assuming I'm right about the fact that he will be in this new role).
The Superfluous Man
Darius Stokes (#35, Sophomore, Forward, 6'7", 203, Linn-Mar HS (Cedar Rapids, IA))
Darius Stokes found himself playing a few minutes at power forward last year, mainly due to a serious dearth of reliable bench players and Fran McCaffery's unceasing mistrust of Devon Archie's game. He may find his way on the court again if McCabe and Basabe find themselves in foul trouble, but the arrival of Woodbury and Kyle Meyer, combined with the presumably increased role of Olaseni, means that Stokes may find his minutes few and far between.
The May-be Forward
Eric May (#25, Senior, Guard-Forward, 6'5", 219, Wahlert HS (Dubuque, IA))
We placed Eric May in the guards category, but he could see some time at the three this year. If we assume that the starting line-up will be something like Marble, Oglesby/Gesell, White, McCabe and Woodbury, then May will be forced to come off the bench. If he does, it's conceivable that he could play the three, with Basabe at the four and Olaseni at the five. Put Gesell, Pat Ingram or Anthony Clemmons in the back court and you have a very athletic and quick unit to wreak havoc on the defensive end while the starters are on the bench. May has the skills to be a great defender, and Iowa will need him to pick up the slack now that Gatens is gone. You could see him on the first unit for precisely this reason, playing two with Marble at the point.
EDIT: Horace's breakdown of the forward situation was excellent, but there was one name he left out (for obvious reasons)... -- ross
Jarrod Uthoff (#20, Redshirt Freshman, Foward, 6'8", 200, Cedar Rapids Jefferson HS (Cedar Rapids, IA))
Uthoff is the rare major-college transfer to arrive at Iowa in recent years; transfers haven't been a big part of McCaffery's team-building philosophy so far and they weren't for Lickliter, either. In fact, the last high-profile transfer to land at Iowa was probably Adam Haluska in the mid-2000s. Uthoff's journey from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City -- with a one-year layover in Madison -- has been well-documented, so we'll not dwell on it anymore here. Well, maybe we'll dwell for just long enough to say: SUCK IT, BO. Ahem. Since he's transferring from a DI school to another DI school, Uthoff will have to sit out this year; he'll be most useful this year in providing another skilled player to practice against. But next year? That's when things figure to get interesting. Uthoff was a prolific scorer in in high school and should add another versatile option to Iowa's offensive array. Of course, if you thought it will be hard for McCaffery to juggle minutes between White, Basabe, and McCabe this year, just wait until Uthoff is in the mix, too. Of course, having "too many" talented or useful players is a wonderful "problem" to have -- and one that Iowa basketball hasn't had to deal with for several years. We'll happily cross that bridge when we get there. (Also? Uthoff has one hell of an ostrich neck.)