Bio: 6'1", 190 lbs. (South Sioux City, NE)
Last Season: 25.1 minutes per game, .375 FG%, .315 3PT%, led team with 3.9 assists per game
What we saw last season: Is it possible for a player to have a sophomore slump while playing more or less exactly as well as he did the year before? Mike Gesell seemed to manage that feat in 2013-14. After a freshman season where the young South Sioux Citian showed off a smooth jump shot and some deft ballhandling ability on his way to 8.7 points a game, Iowa fans were ready for big things for Gesell in his second year. Instead, he first suffered a broken hand two months before the season, then saw his points per game, minutes, field goal percentage, three-point percentage and free throw percentage all sink in his second year at the point. Gesell's biggest problem was that his shot abandoned him for long stretches, in all facets of the game. His three-point shooting actually stayed on par with his first-year performance, but was still below the basketball Mendoza line of 33%. Where he really seemed to struggle was in the paint and at the free throw line. His two-point percentage was an abysmal 41% and his overall field goal percentage of 37.5% was Rubio-esque. And as a cherry on his misery sundae, he went from shooting 79% on free throws to shooting a sub-par 67%, a decline that cost the team as they struggled with close losses.
What was the problem? Beyond a possible Voodoo curse, the best explanation is that Gesell is a fairly wee little man, at least relative to college basketball, and yet his game is built around doing the tasks of a slightly less wee little man. In short, he's a shooting guard playing at point guard out of necessity, and he struggles to finish against contact or over taller defenders. He hasn't proven to be a deadly spot-up shooter, either, which leaves him somewhat betwixt and between as a scorer. He is one of Iowa's faster, shiftier players, and was often the rare player on the team who could penetrate a defense and force it out of position, but he wasn't particularly good at making shots after all that useful work.
And yet... Gesell's overall performance as a sophomore was just about as good as it was as a freshman. His shooting declined, but he greatly improved his assist numbers in fewer minutes per game while also dropping his turnovers and improving his steal numbers. He held down the fort at point guard for much of the year when the alternatives were fairly grim, and he was one of the few offensive sparks of life on the mostly-non-shooting-big-men starting unit of Gesell-Marble-White-Basabe-Woodbury. His defense was pretty non-special, but that that was mostly due to his size, not any lack of effort. All in all, he was ... ok. For a player who many saw as a rising star on the Hawks, that could only come off as a disappointment.
What we need to see this season: As rough as things were on offense at times last year for the Hawks, they could be worse this year thanks to a large #4-shaped absence on the court. Iowa scored in all kinds of unconventional ways last year — off turnovers, off the offensive glass, on fast breaks and secondary breaks — but to keep that kind of attack going, someone on the team needs to generate shots. That someone may have to be Mike Gesell. On a team that's fairly slow and un-shifty with the ball, Gesell is the one player (apart from possibly Peter Jok and the incoming Trey Dickerson) who can make defenses bend out of shape with the ball in his hands. If Gesell doesn't improve his shooting off the dribble and in the paint, it could be another rough year for him, percentage-wise, but the team needs someone, anyone, to create shots, if only for the team's legion of Brobdingnagians to corral and put back.
Best case scenario: Gesell shakes off his shooting woes and becomes a plus for the team as a shooter: 45% from the field, 35% from three, and 78% from the free throw line would transform him into a legitimately dangerous perimeter threat. If Aaron White and Adam Woodbury can emerge as sources of concern for opposing defenses and start to draw double-teams, then Gesell could find the space to get his shot off and move his percentages northward.
Most likely scenario: A healthy Gesell rebounds slightly from his sophomore slump while taking on a larger role in the offense, but still is forced to push outside his comfort zone in his efforts to get Iowa's offense moving.