Iowa held Media Day for basketball yesterday, which was our first official introduction to the host of new players descending on Iowa City this winter and also a reminder in the midst of all our football fervor that basketball -- the sport we were actually excited about this summer, remember? -- is just around the corner. (Well, assuming the corner is a month away. But still!) Let's meet the newbies!
From left to right that's Ahmad Wagner (0), Isaiah Moss (4), Dale Jones (1), Brandon Hutton (30), Andrew Fleming (2), and Christian Williams (11). Open your eyes, Dale!
The newcomers didn't have a lot to say, but Hutton provided a nice soundbite:
Iowa frosh Brandon Hutton is a fun interview. Will play 2 & 3. "I can see myself really slashing and tearing the rim off at the 3 position."— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) October 7, 2015
Hutton does not lack confidence. At all. It feels like he's going to be a really fun player for Iowa -- maybe not this year, given the heavy minutes the upperclassmen are expected to play, but at some point.
McCaffery was cagey about the freshmen and playing time; ultimately the guys who play the most will be the ones who can handle the pressure of performing in games the best:
Q. The freshman class, I know it's early, but have any of those guys caught your eye?
COACH Fran McCaffery: They all have caught my eye in a lot of different ways. How that will manifest itself specifically we have too much time to figure that out right now. Who can take what they've done so far and then go play three positions legitimately. Everybody thinks they can play three positions, but a lot of guys can't remember three positions, because that means tech plays, out of bound plays, zone offensive, defensive teams. Now you're the one, now you're the three, now you're the two. Certain guys can handle that and certain guys can't, that will manifest itself over time. Who can play well when the TV lights come on? Who does it then? That's a big difference for some guys.
No one brought up redshirts and that's a decision that won't need to be made for a while, but it is something that could be a factor this season. Fran's hopeful that 3-4 of the newcomer class (the five freshmen plus JUCO transfer Jones) will emerge as part of the rotation; the 2-3 guys on the outside of that rotation might be best-served by redshirting this year. (It would also help even out Iowa's eligibility crunch -- Iowa currently has a lot of seniors and a lot of freshmen, but not a lot in-between.) Of course, deciding who joins the rotation and who redshirts is easier said than done, especially if the key factor is going to be performance in games.
Speaking of guys not lacking in confidence... step on down, Sapp!
Asked Anthony Clemmons (@sapp_5): More 1 or 2 this year? Answer: "As I say (to Fran), ‘You keep me on the floor. We’re going to win games.’"— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) October 7, 2015
Clemmons and Gesell can both play the 1 and the 2 for Iowa, so how minutes are portioned out there will be interesting to see. The main issue with playing Clemmons and Gesell at the same time is that they're also essentially the primary back-ups for each other -- if they're both on the court, who steps in as a replacement when one of them needs a breather? It seems more likely that Clemmons and Gesell play some minutes together, but primarily play on separate units. For instance, Gesell plays 30 out of 40 minutes at the 1, with Clemmons playing most of the remaining 10 minutes there while also getting around 10 minutes at the 2 with Gesell. That might be workable.
The question of what to do with Clemmons ties into the minor mystery surrounding Iowa's fifth starter. Four of Iowa's five starters are pretty much bolted on: Gesell, Woodbury, Jarrod Uthoff, and Peter Jok. Per Fran, the decision for the final starter is down to two names and could change depending on situations and match-ups.
Q. As far as your starters go, it's still really early, is it Clemmons or Uhl, depending if you want to go small or big?
COACH Fran McCaffery: Yeah, probably. That could change. But it's exactly what you would expect it to be. You would expect Clemmons to be out playing people at this point in time. We really had two full practices, and we obviously started working out in June and had some work in July and some workouts in September. You would expect others to be farther along. But the question becomes is there a better fit in the starting lineup? And do we go back to a guy that, one of the best six men in college basketball in many ways last year? You could bring him in, he could score for you and he could play the point for you. He would make big plays at critical times in the game.
This makes sense, given that Jok can also play the 2 or the 3 and that Uthoff can play the 3 or the 4. You can start a backcourt of Gesell and Clemmons with Jok on the wing and a front court of Uthoff and Woodbury, or you can start a backcourt of Gesell and Jok with Uthoff on the wing and a front court of Uhl and Woodbury. Options are good. Options are fun.
One of the bigger news-type things to emerge from Media Day was the news that Iowa is counting on Dom Uhl to spell Adam Woodbury at the 5 spot. Iowa lost a lot of size with the departures of Aaron White and (especially) Gabe Olaseni last year and none of the incoming players profile as traditional big men, leaving it open as to who would spell Woodbury. Now we know.
As expected, Fran says Dom Uhl will play a lot at the 5. So that's Woodbury's backup, probably.— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) October 7, 2015
Uhl is listed at 6-9, 216 -- he's not scrawny, but that's a far cry from Woodbury's 7-1, 249 lb physical presence. Obviously, Iowa's inside presence with Uhl is going to be much different than their inside presence with Woody. Then again, if all goes according to plan, Uhl won't need to log too many minutes at the 5 this year.
Fran ticked off long list of expectations for Woodbury. Among them: 30-36 minutes a game, move feet on defense, stay out of foul trouble.— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) October 7, 2015
That's a big jump. Woodbury averaged 16.5 mpg in 2012-13, 16.9 mpg in 2013-14, and 20.5 mpg in 2014-15. Now he's going to add another 10-15 minutes more every game? For his part, Woodbury says it won't be a problem physically:
"As I told somebody the other day, I could've played 30-plus minutes last year," Woodbury said. "But it wasn't called upon me. They didn't ask me to do that, so I didn't. This year, they're calling upon me to do that, so I will."
That sounds good, but color me skeptical still. The last time Iowa has had a player average near 35 minutes per game was Matt Gatens in 2010-11 (33.5 mpg) and 2011-12 (34.6 mpg); Iowa has rarely had players play more than 30 minutes per game under McCaffery. I'm not even sure playing that much is optimal for Woodbury -- yes, Iowa is short on big bodies, but is it better to have a potentially tired Woodbury on the court at the end of games or, worse, at the end of the season? And this doesn't even touch on the issue of foul trouble, which could be an even bigger issue to overcome than stamina or any other physical issues. So yeah: I'll believe 30-35 minutes per game when I see it. 25-30 minutes per game seems like a more realistic expectation. It also makes me wonder what sort of tempo McCaffery is looking to play at this year. He's favored a more up-tempo pace for most of his tenure at Iowa, but a quicker pace is likely to exacerbate the problems of trying to play Woodbury 30+ minutes per game.
But Fran is definitely expecting big things from Woodbury this season:
Fran: I think Adam Woodbury can lead the B1G in rebounding.— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) October 7, 2015
This seems like a lofty goal for a guy who's never averaged more than 5.2 rebounds per game in his career, but Fran's expanded comment provides some helpful context:
"He's going to play a lot more now. So you'll see his numbers improve, without question," McCaffery said. "He's a guy that could lead the Big Ten in rebounding. Will he? I think he could. Thirty-four, 35 minutes, he could be a 10-12 rebound-a-game guy."
Woodbury was averaging only 5 rebounds per game in the past, but he was also playing just 20 minutes per game; it's not unreasonable to expect his rebounding to go up if his minutes also go up. That said, averaging 10-12 rebounds a game (which is what it would take to be the best rebounder in the Big Ten) is still pretty rarefied air. I do expect Woodbury to have his best season yet in an Iowa uniform -- he's improved every year he's been in Iowa City and he's going to have ample opportunities this season to be a key player for this team. But if he's as good as McCaffery is hoping/expecting, he's going to have an All-Big Ten First Team-type season and Iowa's going to be in contention for a Big Ten Championship. Which would be great! Let's hope Fran is right.
Speaking of Woodbury, Friend of the Pants Scott Dochterman wrote a nice profile on Woodbury and Gesell for The Gazette, now preparing for their senior years at Iowa. As Dochterman says, landing them was one of Fran's greatest wins to date:
The program's perception changed when both arrived on campus. As the record suggests, Iowa has shifted from Big Ten afterthought to contender both on the court and the recruiting trail. Nobody would suggest either one was the catalyst for Iowa's success. There were other players — all-Big Ten stars Devyn Marble and Aaron White among them — who were instrumental in the team's success. But McCaffery concedes, "I do think that we felt like that was a major step" when he landed Gesell and Woodbury. They immediately became starters.
Gesell and Woodbury might not have (yet) had the types of glittering seasons that Iowa fans hoped they might have when they committed to Iowa (and that their recruiting hype suggested), but they've had good careers, with the potential to end those careers on a high note this year. And regardless of their on-court contributions, securing their commitments was a big win for Iowa hoops in the perception game -- Iowa beat Roy Williams to land Woodbury's signature. That just didn't happen. Tom Davis couldn't do that. Steve Alford couldn't do that. Todd Lickliter definitely couldn't do that. But Fran could -- and did.
Gesell and Woodbury have been at Iowa for damn near every step of Fran's resuscitation of the program, too. They were there when Iowa broke through and made a run to the NIT Championship Game. They were there when Iowa finally ended an eight-year drought and returned to the NCAA Tournament. They were there when Iowa ended finally ended an even-longer drought and won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in 14 years. Hell, they were there when Iowa beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill, a win that won't be soon forgotten. Their presence has been a constant and steady reassurance over the last three years; we'll miss them when they're gone.