Believe it or not, the 2007-2008 basketball season is almost upon us. Iowa will tip off against perennial powerhouse Idaho State tonight. The Bengals are the first of four straight home opponents to open the year for Iowa, then the Hawkeyes travel to South Padre Island for a two-game quickie with Bradley and either Vandy or Utah State. Afterwards, it's nothing but dates in Iowa until January; Iowa travels to UNI and ISU, but plays no other true road games until the second game of the conference schedule, when they face (and lose to) Wisconsin in the Kohl Center. As to what we should expect as Todd Lickliter heals the emotional wounds of a Hawkeye Nation ripped asunder, we've got plenty of preview information available below.
The cupboard is bare. New coach Todd Lickliter had more talent to work with at Butler.
Steve Alford is gone! Iowa fans hated this guy. Lickliter is a major upgrade for in-game coaching, but Alford got the last evil laugh by cleaning out the cupboard on his way out the door (By the way, has anyone had a bigger one-year drop-off than Steve Alford? This guy went from a leading candidate for the Indiana job to the New Mexico coach... On the other hand, he should be right at home coaching thugs like J.R. Giddens.)
The Hawkeyes are one of 3 Big Ten teams with a new coach. Unfortunate for Todd Lickliter is the fact that his team probably has the least talent of the three. The Hawkeyes did finish the season 9-7, but 3 of their top 4 scorers have left and their top 2 rebounders are gone, leaving this team with some serious holes to fill. Lickliter hopes to instill a new culture in Iowa City that involves, "just trying to do the right thing, treating people the way you want to be treated, wanting to compete, [and] having team success as the ultimate reward for your work.'' This what he refers to as "The Butler Way" (sounds to me like he might meet up with Denny on "The Highroad")
Lickliter will have to be even more of a magician in his first season at Iowa if the Hawkeyes are to be competitive in the Big Ten. Lickliter replaces Steve Alford, who left to take the coaching job at New Mexico while under fire from Hawkeyes fans, and inherits just one of the top four scorers from a team that did [sic] make the postseason last year after going 17-14.
Anything is possible, of course, but the challenges faced at the outset by the new Iowa coach shouldn't be glossed over lightly. Granted, the defense may well improve--it has room to do so. This year's offense is, on paper, an assembly of role players looking for a scorer. Alando Tucker and Brian Butch aside, no duo in the Big Ten took a larger share of their team's shots while they were on the floor together last year than did Adam Haluska and Tyler Smith. Both are long gone. Haluska was picked in the second round by the New Orleans Hornets; Smith transferred to Tennessee. Where will the points come from now in Iowa City? No one knows, least of all Lickliter. Haluska was more than Iowa's leading scorer, he was the Hawkeyes' most efficient offensive weapon. This year's team will likely find it's much easier to replace Haluska's shots than it is to replace his points.
The consensus, of course, is that things look a little bleak for this season? And you know what? That's fine with us. As long as we can see improvement, fundamentals, and a coach who can conduct himself with class, then that's fine. We know better than to expect huge things out of a team whose two leading returning scorers are either injured or Seth Gorney. And with a non-conference schedule like Iowa's, going 14-18 wouldn't be too shabby either.