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2014-2015 IOWA MEN'S BASKETBALL SEASON IN REVIEW

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Now that we’ve looked at all the players individually from this past season, let’s reflect on the team organism, as whole.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Seasons are funny social constructs. When you really think about it, a season is really an arbitrary amount of time allotted for teams to participate in their sport. Because of the arbitrary beginning and end points of a season, a lot of random and crazy things can happen. Teams go on slumps, teams catch fire, injuries happen, etc. If the college basketball season had ended in January, we would have all been terribly disappointed in this basketball season. Likewise, if the NCAA Tournament had not been held until April or May, how would Iowa have finished out the end of the regular season? What if they went on a six-game losing streak? Would that have stripped away some of the sheen of their six-game winning streak in February and March?

The answer, of course, is who knows? And, really, who cares? I'm not actually here to think about what might have been, but I am more just wanting to drive home the point that seasons are arbitrary allotments of time. And that allows for a whole host of events to occur within that period.

Iowa's 2014-2015 season was no different, either. It was equipped with highs and lows and, really, everything in between. The first two months saw a team that won with defense, a January that hammered the Hawkeyes with a brutal schedule, and then a final two months where the team gelled at the right time and took advantage of a friendly schedule on their way to the NCAA Tournament. There were times when the season seemed as if it could be a disappointment, but luckily the team hit their stride at the right time and helped make this a positive Season in Review for me to write. Thanks, guys.

Season in Review

If you can remember back to the beginning of the year, it is striking to see just how far this team developed from the beginning of the season to the end of it. While McCaffery's squad had a nice win against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, November and December were disappointing months in terms of beating anybody else with much of a pulse. The offense was lousy, and it had mainly to do with their guard play. Mike Gesell didn't look like a third year starting point guard, Anthony Clemmons looked as if he was still stuck in his sophomore slump, Josh Oglesby looked like whatever the sports psychologist had done to help him had worn off, and Peter Jok looked as if he was still hungover from the offseason.

Iowa was able to win with defense against Roy Williams and Co. but that didn't work against Texas, Syracuse, Iowa State, or UNI. Something had to change and, fortunately, something did change.

In the final game of the non-conference schedule, Iowa played North Florida and beat them by 10 points but continued to be terrible at putting the ball in the basket from the floor. That North Florida game was the fourth contest in a row in which Iowa had an eFG% of 45% or less and it was their fifth in their last six games at that point. These offensive struggles led to a post-game interview, in which Matthew Driscoll, the head coach of North Florida, openly criticized the Hawkeyes for having not being mentally tough enough and getting down on themselves when they missed shots.

Now, correlation doesn't equal causation, but the end of the non-conference schedule marked the start of a pretty clear improvement for the Hawkeyes in offensive production for the rest of the year.

efficiency

As you can see by the yellow line, Iowa's offensive was more potent as the season wore on, and they were playing better against teams not named "Longwood" too.

Another story line that was used to explain the offensive improvement was the fact that Iowa's coaching staff had done some scouting and realized the possessions in which they ran their motion offense were much more likely to end in a basket when they made three or more passes. This was prompted in the middle of a three-game losing streak where they had lost at the hands of National Champion runner-up, Wisconsin, and on the road to a good Purdue team where Aaron White only played 7 minutes before getting injured. I'm not saying the three or more passes observation was incorrect or didn't help, but Iowa's offense had an eFG% of 54% or better in three of their five games before the stomping at the hands of the Badgers that led to this scouting tidbit. And even in their 32-point drubbing in Madison, Iowa still had an eFG% of 50%. Garbage time buckets made that better than it was when the game mattered, but it wasn't just shooting that cost them that game, it was turnovers and rebounding, too. And, more to my point, Iowa's strength of schedule was absolutely brutal during that first month and change of the Big Ten schedule. They had played Ohio State and Wisconsin twice, and Michigan State and Purdue once. That's six games against four of what turned out to be the top six teams in the conference. The only teams they missed were second place Maryland and themselves, who would go on to finish fifth.

But let's not get too far ahead.

As the offense improved, even against the tougher schedule, the team that we thought was all defense quickly came back down to earth, as you can see by looking at the black line on the chart above. Iowa's defensive efficiency had climbed from 0.83 points per possession allowed in November to 0.92 in December to 1.19 (!!!) in January. It was ugly.

Four Factors November December January February March
Offensive Efficiency 106.4 102.1 109.4 111.2 111.5
Defensive Efficiency 83.1 92.0 118.7 92.0 98.6
eFG% 48.9% 43.6% 48.3% 52.3% 47.0%
Opponent eFG% 39.8% 45.2% 52.3% 43.2% 49.1%
Offensive Rebounding Rate 38.3% 36.0% 35.1% 34.0% 35.7%
Opponent Offensive Rebounding Rate 32.7% 30.0% 36.1% 28.8% 22.9%
Turnover Rate 20.6% 17.7% 15.9% 16.9% 13.6%
Opponent Turnover Rate 24.0% 20.6% 12.4% 19.2% 16.5%
Free Throw Rate 37.6% 35.0% 51.7% 34.4% 31.7%
Opponent Free Throw Rate 29.1% 21.7% 35.9% 29.6% 29.3%

*Note: The weird number formatting for some of the numbers does not hold any special meaning. Rather, it's a weird formatting thing that I can't seem to get rid of in all of the tables in this post.

But despite Travis Trice having his way with Iowa's defense, Wisconsin pretty much just doing what they did to everyone else, and losing to Purdue because of a lack of Aaron White, the Hawkeyes still finished the first month (including the late December game against Ohio State) with a record of 4-4. Finishing that tough stretch at .500 with an easier schedule coming up, put them on track to make a nice end-of-season run. And they did just that.

Equipped with a less daunting schedule, the Hawkeyes went on to finish the regular season by winning eight of their last ten games. It wasn't always that rosy, however, as Iowa lost two winnable games at home against Minnesota and on the road in Northwestern. And that sputter came after a game in which they had obliterated a highly-ranked Maryland team. But it was those final six games of the regular season in which Iowa never lost again, and where Aaron White went absolutely bananas and put up the best season we've seen from an Iowa player in a long, long time. That six-game win streak culminated in a hammering of Northwestern in Carver, on a Senior Day to remember for Aaron White.

Iowa couldn't keep that momentum up in the Big Ten Tournament, falling for the second year in a row in the first round. However, the fact that they had gone .500 in a difficult January and had finished the remainder of the regular season 8-2 was enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament without a play-in game this year. They handled an undersized and athletically-limited Davidson team in the first round with little issue, but simply ran into a Gonzaga team in the Round of 32 that just had too much talent for them.

Overall, though, this season ended up being a success. It had its pitfalls and there were plenty of moments to doubt whether or not it was going to be a success, but McCaffery was able to get the true talent level of his team to come out at just the right time this year. That wasn't the case last year and it left us with a sour taste in our mouth. But that just brings us back to the arbitrariness of a sports season. Had last season ended in January, the 2013-2014 season would likely feel like a complete success and one in which we didn't have to explain the caveat of a defensive implosion. But if the season would have ended in January this season, we all would have likely been pretty down on the year and possibly the program.

Sports are funny like that. Sometimes your team gets hot at the right time and sometimes it doesn't. But without pain we wouldn't feel joy, so maybe we should thank last season for making this season feel so damn special.

Next Year

Can I just say I don't know? Because I really have no idea what to conclude from what is returning next year. I am confident in Jarrod Uthoff being amazing, but after him I could go a million different ways with every other man on this roster.

Compared to this time last year, predicting what to expect from the upcoming roster is a challenge. Iowa does return four starters from this year's squad, but they also have six new scholarship guys returning and are losing... well, just see for yourself.

Win Shares Minutes/Game Offense Defense Total Win Shares/40
Aaron White- F 31.5 5.0 2.2 7.2 0.270
Jarrod Uthoff- F 30.3 2.6 2.2 4.8 0.187
Gabe Olaseni- C 18.6 1.9 1.3 3.2 0.200
Mike Gesell-G 25.5 0.9 1.2 2.1 0.096
Adam Woodbury- C 20.5 0.8 1.3 2.1 0.120
Anthony Clemmons-G 19.9 0.8 1.0 1.7 0.102
Peter Jok- SG/SF 19.9 0.6 1.0 1.6 0.092
Josh Oglesby- SG/SF 18.9 0.3 0.7 1.0 0.064
Dom Uhl- F 10.0 -0.2 0.5 0.4 0.044
Brady Ellingson- SG 4.6 0.1 0.0 0.2 0.207
Kyle Denning- G 2.8 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.086
Trey Dickerson- PG 9.7 -0.2 0.2 0.0 -0.008
Okey Ukah- F 2.4 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.082
Charlie Rose- G 2.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.059
Total 12.6 11.7 24.4
Graduating 7.2 4.2 11.5
Returning 5.6 7.3 12.9

Thanks to graduation, Iowa loses two of their three best players and 11.5 of their 24.4 win shares transitioning from this season to next. That's 47% of their production from this past season. Coming into 2014-2015 they only had to replace 8.7 of their 26.4 win shares, which came out to 33%. That's still a decent chunk of value, but a third is not a half. And making things more complicated for next year, is that there is much more unknown about the roster and playing time than there was coming into this season. With six new guys coming in with this recruiting class, it's hard to tell right off the bat who will play meaningful minutes and who won't.

Because of the immediate need for more help in the front court, Dale Jones is probably the only guy we can be pretty positive is going to get a good amount of run right away next season. I imagine Ahmad Wagner will miss a redshirt because of Iowa's lack of depth in the post, but the rest of the guys in Andrew Fleming, Isaiah Moss, Brandon Hutton, and Christian Williams are all wing players that Iowa seems to have quite a few of right now. With the amount of wings this Iowa roster will have next season, I imagine that one or two of those guys are going to redshirt.

If I had to choose right now, I would guess Fleming and Hutton see the court a little bit as freshman, and maybe Williams. Fleming because of his immediate ability to shoot threes. But with Ellingson being healthy next year that should limit his playing time and could possibly lead to a redshirt. Hutton I think will play because he can provide Iowa with immediate defense. Also, his 6'7" frame can hopefully provide Iowa with some rebounding and he may be able to play the four spot in a smaller lineup for a few minutes per game too. As for Williams, I would like him to redshirt, personally, because he seems like he may be a late bloomer. But Fran may give him similar minutes to what Trey Dickerson saw this past year in order to get him some experience for when Gesell and Clemmons are gone after next year. And that leaves Moss redshirting because I feel like he is raw and the amount of guys on the wing allows him to take that redshirt year for development purposes. But I've been wrong before and I will be wrong again, so don't take my word as gospel on who will play and who won't.

Anyway, besides the enormous amount of new guys coming in, Iowa also has a lot of returning unknowns to deal with. For example, they are going to need a lot more consistency out of guys like Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury, and Peter Jok. All three guys saw their win shares per 40 minutes go down this past season from the season before. With the departures of Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni, Iowa is going to need somebody to help bring the fire power besides just Jarrod Uthoff. All three of those guys are capable of taking that next step and being high-caliber players, but a lot of the uncertainty around next season is whether or not they can live up to that potential.

So, even with the fact that I am not exactly sure what the playing time and rotations will look like next year I am still going to try and project what next season could look like. These estimates are rough and imperfect, so feel free to quibble. But I think they are a fun exercise.

Now, like I did last season, I gave everybody the same win shares per 40 minutes that they had this past year. In the case of the new guys, Dale Jones was given the highest win shares per 40 minutes because he's a JUCO guy who should in theory be a little more developed, but I still went pretty conservative on him. And with the incoming true freshman, I gave them all the same conservative projection.

As for the minutes, I will go through the big players:

  • I gave Uthoff 31 minutes per game because that seems to be what Fran has given his go-to guys in the past couple of seasons.
  • I bumped up Gesell's minutes per game just slightly, and I've gone back and forth on this numerous times. On one hand, Fran loves Gesell and he's the best point guard on the team, so I could see him getting 30 minutes toward the end of the season. However, Gesell has never received 30 minutes per night on a regular basis and Clemmons is a capable backup, so I went with 27 minutes for the former and 19 minutes for the latter.
  • I did move Woodbury up to 28 minutes per night because he no longer has to split time with Olaseni. McCaffery did mention this offseason that he wants to give him 34-36 minutes per night, but: 1) He never gives any player that much; 2) That many minutes also depends on Woodbury not getting fatigued or in foul trouble; and 3) He also said that he was going to play Woodbury and Olaseni a lot more this past year and he didn't. I think McCaffery says a lot of things for the motivation of his players, and I think this is one of them. He may get 30 in February and March, but likely not before then.
  • As for Peter Jok, I gave him 25 minutes per game because the Hawkeyes are going to need him to step up as a second scorer next year. If he shows that he has improved as much as we think he is capable of, he could push 30 minutes down the stretch next season.

Now, finally, for the table.

Player 14-15 MPG Projected 15-16 MPG Projected Win Shares/40 Projected Win Shares
Jarrod Uthoff- F 30.3 31.0 0.187 4.6
Adam Woodbury- C 20.5 28.0 0.120 2.7
Mike Gesell-G 25.5 27.0 0.096 2.1
Peter Jok- SG/SF 19.9 25.0 0.092 1.8
Anthony Clemmons-G 19.9 19.0 0.102 1.6
Brady Ellingson- SG 4.6 15.0 0.090 1.1
Dale Jones N/A 15.0 0.090 1.1
Dom Uhl- F 10.0 15.0 0.080 1.0
Brandon Hutton- F N/A 8.0 0.060 0.4
Ahmad Wagner- F N/A 8.0 0.060 0.4
Andrew Fleming- G N/A 5.0 0.080 0.3
Christian Williams- G N/A 5.0 0.060 0.2
Okey Ukah- F 2.4 2.0 0.082 0.1
Charlie Rose- G 2.0 1.0 0.059 0.1
Nicholas Baer- F N/A 1.0 0.060 0.0
Isaiah Moss- G/F N/A Redshirt N/A N/A
Team 135.1 205.0 17.5

All-in-all, the addition of so many new guys mixed with the fact that Gesell, Jok, and Woodbury had lower win shares per 40 minutes totals than the previous year only sees this team winning something like 17-18 games in a 32 game schedule next year. And I think that's a fair projection at this point in time. I think it also speaks to the importance of the three aforementioned players to this team. If they can really play up to their potential, Iowa could be much better.

For an example of how much better this team can be with those three guys having bigger seasons, l changed the projections for Gesell, Jok, and Woodbury to their win shares per 40 minutes that they totaled in 2013-2014, which were better than from this past season.

Player 14-15 MPG Projected 15-16 MPG Projected Win Shares/40 Projected Win Shares
Jarrod Uthoff- F 30.3 31.0 0.187 4.6
Adam Woodbury- C 20.5 28.0 0.142 3.2
Peter Jok- SG/SF 19.9 25.0 0.144 2.9
Mike Gesell-G 25.5 27.0 0.121 2.6
Anthony Clemmons-G 19.9 19.0 0.102 1.6
Brady Ellingson- SG 4.6 15.0 0.090 1.1
Dale Jones N/A 15.0 0.090 1.1
Dom Uhl- F 10.0 15.0 0.080 1.0
Brandon Hutton- F N/A 8.0 0.060 0.4
Ahmad Wagner- F N/A 8.0 0.060 0.4
Andrew Fleming- G N/A 5.0 0.080 0.3
Christian Williams- G N/A 5.0 0.060 0.2
Okey Ukah- F 2.4 2.0 0.082 0.1
Nicholas Baer-F N/A 1.0 0.060 0.0
Charlie Rose- G 2.0 1.0 0.059 0.0
Isaiah Moss- G/F N/A Redshirt N/A N/A
Team 135.1 205.0 19.5

That moves the Hawkeyes from a 17-18 win team to a 19-20 win team. That's a 2 win difference and that is big. And if Jarrod Uthoff wants to have an Aaron White-style senior year (he's more than capable of it), that could also add another 2-3 wins to this total alone.

Of course, things never go 100% perfect for any team. Some players will have breakout years and some will slump or just be meh. It happens. But I go through this hypothetical to give you an idea of the range of outcomes for next year's team. Yes, I am putting my money on next year's team taking a bit of a step back from this year's. However, the talent is there for them not to fall off either.

It's going to be interesting to watch this team evolve because next year looks like the beginning of having a roster that is made up almost exclusively of versatile wing players. Fran has already admitted that next year it will be a different team. When Woodbury is on the bench, this is going to be a team that consists of a lot of lanky 6'5"-6'8" guys, not including Gesell and Clemmons, of course. This change in roster makeup could be a good thing or it can be a bad thing. It could be a negative against a team that plays through its 7-foot centers in the post like Purdue. So if Woodbury gets in foul trouble early on against a team like that, it could be a long night. However, it could be a positive if it allows McCaffery to run the system that he wants to run. I've already written about his philosophy on both offense and defense and a team that runs out a lineup full of guys between 6'5" and 6'8" with long arms fits that pretty well. That allows his team to get out in transition and get easy baskets, and it allows them to play the kind of pressure defense that aggressively hedges screens and constantly has their long arms ready to jump the passing lane. There are downfalls to that type of lineup, of course, but if McCaffery plays it right it can work.

But, again, that's the second team and that will not be the bulk of what we see next year. With one more year of Gesell and Woodbury next season, the majority of what we see will be similar to what we've seen in past years. And that's not a bad thing, considering this incoming recruiting class is going to need time to develop.

Overall, I really have no idea what to expect next season. The roster is filled with so many unknowns that I can envision scenarios in which it's a rebuilding season and I can see scenarios in which next year's Hawkeyes finish with a similar record to the last two years. But in order for the latter scenario to come true, they are going to need a lot of guys to take big steps forward. How far this team goes will really depend on the further growth of Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury, and Peter Jok. And if Jarrod Uthoff becomes a First or Second Team All-Big Ten player, then we can tack on something like 2 more wins to whatever we think the final total will be next year. I am a lot more nervous about 2015-2016 than I was coming into 2014-2015, but I'm cautiously optimistic. Let's hope for another NCAA Tournament run.