Basketball season is still almost two months away but, hell, we need a little respite from thinking about this football season, right? ESPN's Andy Katz cornered Fran McCaffery and got him to spill the beans on a variety of topics, including the state of the 2012 squad, the likely starters this year, and even a few tidbits about upcoming schedules (which sounds very promising if -- like many folks -- you've been disgruntled with the cupcake-heavy slates of late). The discussion about the state of this year's team included a fair amount of the usual hype-work (Marble was very good but needs to get better, Oglesby is one of the best pure shooters Fran's been around, Olaseni could be something special), but Fran was also pretty blunt in his assessment of last year's team:
"We didn't defend," said McCaffery of last season's team, which went 18-17 and reached the second round of the NIT. The Hawkeyes gave up 108 points in that NIT loss at Oregon, the second time during the latter half of the season that they allowed opponents over the century mark (the other was a 103-89 loss to Indiana).
"We won 18 games -- that's a nice number. We made the NIT -- that's great. We won a [postseason] game. There are a lot of things to be positive about," McCaffery said. "But if you're analytical about our team -- and look at our losses -- you'll see that we gave up 52 percent on 3s, we got beat off the dribble. That all starts at the point of pressure."
It's reassuring to see Fran acknowledge the need for better defense; as fun as it was to watch Iowa push the pace last year in game after game and average over 70 ppg, it was equally frustrating to watch their defense get gashed game after game. And you can't win in the Big Ten without playing at least some defense. To his credit, Fran clearly seems to realize that -- those words above are not the philosophy of a coach who's just looking to outscore every opponent 100-95.
Fran also dropped a few tidbits about future non-conference schedules. That's been a (moderately) hot topic of late and no one was too impressed with the final 2012-13 schedule, even if we understand its purpose (get wins). But there may be some more exciting non-con games in the near future:
The Hawkeyes will play in the Great Alaska Shootout in 2013, and then in 2014 McCaffrey said they'll head to New York for a nonconference tournament with Syracuse, Texas and Cal.
It's worth noting that the Great Alaska Shootout isn't quite the event that old-school Hawkeye fans might remember it as. Iowa won the event back in 1986 (with tournament MVP Roy Marble; how fun would it be to win it in 2013 with tournament MVP Roy Devyn Marble?) and finished runner-up to Duke in 1995. (Iowa famously beat UConn 101-95 earlier in the Shootout, thanks to a 30-point explosion from Chris Kingsbury.) But this year's field includes UC Riverside, Northeastern, Belmont, Loyola Marymount, Oral Roberts, Texas State, Charlotte, and Alaska-Anchorage (the host and sworn enemy of Alaska-Fairbanks, home of HOCKEY BEAR) -- not exactly a group of RPI-boosters there.
Last year's field consisted of Murray State, Alaska-Anchorage, Dartmouth, San Francisco, Central Michigan, New Mexico State, UC Irvine, and Southern Miss. The 2010 field had Ball State, Drake, Southern Utah, St. John's, Houston Baptist, Arizona State, Weber State, and Alaska-Anchorage. 2009 was a little better with Oklahoma, Washington State, San Diego, Nicholls State, Houston, San Diego, and (of course) Alaska-Anchorage. In other words, don't be surprised if the 2013 field ends up being similar to the field of the Cancun Challenge event Iowa's in this year.
The unnamed 2014 tournament with Syracuse, Texas, and Cal in New York is certainly more intriguing, though. Friend of the Pants Brendan Stiles put on his detective fedora and sussed out which tournament Katz is (likely) referring to: sounds like the 2014 2K Sports Classic. Regardless of which tournament it is, it's definitely exciting to see teams like Syracuse, Texas, and/or Cal as potential non-conference opponents. All three have been NCAA Tournament-caliber squads in recent years and should provide a welcome jolt of excitement to Iowa basketball's November/December doldrums.
Finally, Fran also let slip a little information about the likely starting lineup this year:
"In all likelihood, we'll start two freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors,"
Anyone want to speculate on who that might be? I'll put my chips down on the freshmen being Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury, the sophomore being Aaron White, and the juniors being Zach McCabe and Marble... but who knows. Fran has some good things to say about Olaseni in the article, too, and I wouldn't fight you if you wanted to put Basabe in the lineup over McCabe. Either way, we'll find out soon enough -- and, frankly, basketball season can't get here soon enough.