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 guards.
We're not in the business of opinining on the existence of Old Testament deities -- well, except for one -- but there was a certain curse that surrounded the Iowa point guard position for the last five years. Bryce Cartwright: Injured. Cully Payne: Injured and transferred, though if a Lickliter-era player transferring was a sign of a higher power, we might as well have just called it Angry Iowa Basketball Hating God. Or Todd Lickliter, actually. There was also Jeff Peterson, who transferred twice. Anthony Tucker, who spent a little time at point guard, got thrown off the team for kicking a taxicab or something. Jake Kelly transferred to Indiana State. Tony Freeman left with a year remaining, even though he'd won the Chris Street Award. So, yeah, it's been a rough few years for point guards.
All of that makes the plethora of backcourt options at Iowa's disposal this year even more fun. Let's get to it.
Roy Devyn Marble (#4, Junior, Shooting Guard, 6'6", 195, Lathrup HS (Southfield, MI))
In a program that has had problems keeping players long enough to tell their stories, Devyn Marble is a story. Marble, the son of Iowa's all-time scoring leader, is technically a Lickliter holdover; he committed to the program while Lickliter was coaching, then stayed with it when McCaffery took over (and while his classmates were jumping ship for Madison and Gainesville). His modest offer sheet -- Dayton, Providence, and Detroit were his best options outside of Iowa -- and, perversely, his eagerness to join the program after the coaching change and ejector seat bailouts of Brust and Larson left most with the opinion that Marble was a legacy pick that would likely be relegated into a small role by the new coaching staff, just as soon as McCaffery had his own guys.
Two years later, Marble is the leader of the team and the focus of offseason blogger fights over his NBA ability. As a freshman, he was forced to the point out of bare necessity, and struggled to find his footing. Nevertheless, Marble averaged 5.7 points and 1.3 assists per game as he developed two important weapons: An outside jump shot and a drive-and-dish game that would later trigger the entire Iowa offense. Last season, he exploded on the Big Ten scene, averaging 11.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game (11.0 ppg and 3.6 apg in conference play), then putting up a staggering 31 points on 10/15 shooting (including 7/8 from behind the arc) in the NIT finale against Oregon. McCaffery recently told ESPN's Andy Katz: "When we beat Michigan last year, Marble was the best perimeter player on the floor. They had Trey Burke and Hardaway, and we had Gatens. Marble was the best."
If there's a knock on Marble, it's that his biggest games came in losses. He completely owned Purdue last year, scoring 35 points and adding 9 assists in two games, but Iowa lost both of those games. He had 21 points and five assists in a loss to Iowa State. He put up 15 and 3 in a loss to Nebraska. That 31/5/5 against Oregon came in a loss. Iowa was 14-6 in games where Marble scored less than his 11.5-point average, 4-11 in games where he scored 12 or more. It's a weird stat, but it's proof that the offense worked best when it runs through Marble but works out to other players.
This year, Marble shifts out to the wing and hands the keys to a freshman. He'll need an improved jump shot, both from the perimeter and in mid-range, and he'll need to do that while maintaining his previous skill set. As McCaffery said, "Marble has to be a star...The challenge for him to be the best player regularly." He's got the skills to do it. Whether he does could determine much of this season.
Mike Gessell (#10, Freshman, Point Guard, 6'1", 185, South Sioux City (NE) HS)
"Gesell is the Hawkeyes' best player. Not only Iowa's best starter, but the best player on the team -- period."
Randy Larson is commissioner of the Prime Time League, the summer league in North Liberty, Iowa where Iowa's guys play every year. He's done this for a long time, and he usually coaches a team while he's at it. We might dismiss the PTL as a defense-free summer pastime, but when Larson says that a true freshman is the best player on an Iowa team that is a promising as any team has been in a decade, we take notice.
Gessell is the second four-star recruit in McCaffery's 2012 class, a national top 100 prospect and the Nebraska high school player of the year for 2011. He had offers from Iowa State, Nebraska, Stanford, Utah, Creighton, and Drake, with interest from around the country. He committed to Iowa in August 2011, then set about locking down AAU teammate Adam Woodbury. Iowa got them both, and both will certainly figure in Iowa's rotation this season. He's currently competing with fellow freshman Anthony Clemmons for the starting spot. If Larson is to be trusted, it's Gessell's job to lose.
The Invisible Man
Eric May (#25, Senior, Shooting Guard, 6'5", 220, Wahlert HS (Dubuque, IA))
What a long, strange trip it's been for Eric May, the last player on the Iowa roster who actively played for Todd Lickliter (Devon Archie was on the bench for a year, but redshirted). May was always something of an enigma. He entered Iowa as the most athletic recruit that Lickliter had ever landed, a bundle of speed and quickness without a consistent jumper, making him an odd fit for a system that outwardly appeared to be "everyone stand on the perimeter, give the ball to the point guard, throw it around for a while and chuck up a three." Nevertheless, May thrived under Lickliter, scoring 9.0 points per game and grabbing 4.6 rebounds, and earning a place on the Big Ten all-freshman team.
When Iowa fired Lickliter and hired Fran McCaffery, then, May looked like a perfect fit. What could be better for a fast, athletic player with a questionable jumper than a system predicated on fast break points and a drive-and-dish half-court offense? Yet, May's numbers -- minutes, points, rebounds, assists -- have been in steady decline ever since McCaffery's arrival. Last season, he averaged 14.7 minutes played per game, less than half what he had played as a freshman. His scoring was also cut in half, down to 4.3 points per game. Even his field goal percentage decreased despite the fact he was taking 75% fewer three-point attempts. There's a certain amount that stems from improved across-the-board talent, to be sure, but the drop in percentage really has no explanation.
There's no denying he's a favorite in the locker room; he's a captain, and he is always cited by the younger players as a leader. But on the court, he looked spent last year. He's got one more year to play, and we're hoping he makes it count.
While You Wait for the Others
Josh Oglesby (#2, Sophomore, Shooting Guard, 6'5", 200, Washington HS (Cedar Rapids))
The greatest revelation from last season was that Oglesby, and not Matt Gatens, had the purest jump shot on the team. He came to Iowa with three recruiting stars and an offer sheet that included Illinois, Butler, and Minnesota. He was billed as a perimeter scorer, pure and simple, and that's how he will be used. His freshman numbers (18.7 MPG, 6.4 PPG, 40% FG, 37% 3P) were solid, given that he was basically working as a poor man's Gatens in limited circumstances. Expect more minutes, more open three point shots, and more everything this year.
Anthony Clemmons (#5, Freshman, Point Guard, 6'1", 195, Sexton HS (Lansing, MI)
If you listen to McCaffery, Clemmons is still in the mix to start at point guard. In actuality, that seems unlikely, but he'll be in the rotation and contributing on Day One. Clemmons, a Lansing product, held offers from throughout the MAC and Horizon League, but Iowa was the only major-conference program to offer. McCaffery has indicated he would like to rotate Clemmons siginficantly, and possibly play him with Gessell in the same backcourt from time to time. Expect 15 minutes a game and corresponding offensive production.
Patrick Ingram (#24, Freshman, Shooting Guard, 6'2", 210, North Central HS (Indianapolis, IN))
Ingram was a bit of a question mark, spending summer in Indianapolis getting his grades in order and playing in local All-Star games. Obviously, the schoolwork was necessary and beneficial -- he's in good standing at last check -- but it also made it difficult to find his place. He's definitely a combo guard and will likely take the third rotation spot at both positions. He's been repeatedly praised for his defense; McCaffery said he regards Ingram as a "defensive stopper," a great role to have filled in a program built on role players.