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The 2011-12 Iowa Hawkeyes: Returning to the postseason

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Despite the bumpiness of the season, Matt Gatens’s career went out on a high note

Screenshot via hawkeyesports.com (video link)

Over the course of 10 weeks, we’re counting down Fran McCaffery’s squads as head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Below are links to previous iterations in the series:


Fran McCaffery made it through one season at Iowa and things were looking ... good? Bad? Frankly, I don’t know and can’t really remember. We’ll get to my only real memories of the season, but the expectations felt similarly low to the year prior.

Maybe I’m wrong.

Some truly, truly bad losses plagued this team throughout the year. Much earlier and much more often than I initially thought in this journey down the rabbit hole. It’s because the highs were so genuinely high. After years in the darkness, this team finally saw light, by way of both a postseason berth and victory.

The Lead-Up

Though Iowa lost just Jarryd Cole off the 2011 squad, there was little reason to believe in a jump, talent-wise for this squad. The bulk of the talent were freshmen-turned-sophomores around a senior ironman (Matt Gatens) and dutiful soldiers in Bryce Cartwright and Eric May. Fran also brought in Aaron White, Josh Oglesby, & Gabe Olaseni.

Will I take this time to air my grievances about Olaseni burning a redshirt year despite having senior big men in Devon Archie and Andrew Brommer for 18 games and 90 freaking minutes? I think I just did.

Anyways, the season was a freaking roller coaster.

The Statistical Profile

(all ranks vs. McCaffery teams)

Record: 18-17 (8th), 8-10 (8th)

Offense: AdjO - 111.6 (8th); 73.0 PPG (7th)

Defense: AdjD - 104.4 (9th); 72.5 PPG (7th)

There is a real, advanced stats, case for this team to be ranked dead last amongst McCaffery-led squads. Only 2018 had a worst defense...not exactly the company to keep on that side of the court. The offense, at 39th in the country, being so bad (relatively) is a function of just how good Fran has his offenses going and the strong defenses they performed well against.

While this team possesses the worst KenPom ranking of the decade under Fran, it’s largely because the 1.42 points/possession they allowed to Oregon in the final game. (They were 83rd going into the game and left 101st)

The Rotation

(ORtg, % Poss; Points-Rebounds-Assists; FG%/3P%/FT%; MPG)

ORtg & % Poss via KenPom ($); rest via sports-ref

Full-time Starters

Matt Gatens, sr - 125.4, 0.183; 15.2-3.6-2; 0.469/0.41/0.854; 34.6
Roy Devyn Marble, so - 107.8, 0.222; 11.5-3.8-3.6; 0.436/0.393/0.723; 29.5
Zach McCabe, so - 104.5, 0.2; 7.8-4.6-1; 0.495/0.449/0.746; 21.5

Part-time Starters

Aaron White, fr - 111.6, 0.231; 11.1-5.7-0.9; 0.504/0.279/0.699; 23.8
Melsahn Basabe, so - 103.7, 0.213; 8.2-4.8-0.3; 0.524//0.657; 20.1
Bryce Cartwright, sr - 87.3, 0.223; 6-2.1-4.8; 0.352/0.174/0.75; 23.7
Eric May, jr - 91.4, 0.193; 4.3-2.4-1; 0.384/0.341/0.625; 14.7

Bench

Josh Oglesby, fr - 114.6, 0.158; 6.4-1.7-1.2; 0.398/0.372/0.722; 18.7
Andrew Brommer, sr - 88.8, 0.129; 1.4-1.5-0.2; 0.625//0.444; 7.9
Gabriel Olaseni, fr - N/A, N/A; 1.4-1.2-0.2; 0.474//0.615; 5
Devon Archie, sr - N/A, N/A; 1.3-1.9-0.2; 0.611//0.4; 7.5

  • Bryce Cartwright did his job at Iowa. He was the stop-gap point guard needed to get the Hawkeyes to a Marble-led squad. His minutes dipped 8 minutes and Marble’s picked up by 10. By the time Iowa got to Eugene, it was officially his, as Marble went 7/8 from 3 en route to 31 points. They lost big, but the torch was passed.
  • The only person who started more games than Zach McCabe was Matt Gatens. Through some sports-ref sleuthing, the change was made after Iowa started 3-2 with some very shaky minutes from Devon Archie. White, also, did not immediately start. It feels weird because he never stopped starting once he did, but Basabe started at power forward for the first 21 games of 2012. KenPom does not track starting lineups back that far, but it’s easy to estimate there were probably 10 or more Fran ran out that year. For reference, Iowa had just 5 this year despite the injuries which hit the rotation.
  • Gatens, despite leading the team in scoring again, had a usage rate lower than six other players. If there is any player you could drop into a given Fran McCaffery lineup, it would be him: do-it-all yet doesn’t require the ball to be effective.
  • Poor Eric May was absolutely plagued by injuries and a murky rotation this season. He played in nearly every game but was 8th in minutes/game at 14.5.

The Low Point

When you see the list of honorable mentions, it will feel like a bit of an impossibility for this team to have made the postseason. But there is a singular moment which sticks out for me: this loss to UNI. It was the last game the Hawks have played at the McLeod Center and it was, um, not pretty.

Down just two, three technicals (one each from McCaffery, the bench, and McCabe) led to an eight-point possession to kick off a 21-2 run which stretched a two-point deficit to 21. Said McCaffery, of the incidents, “I’m here to comment about our team.”

In rereading the gamer above, it’s easy to see why he harbored such frustration. Never forget why he’s unlikely to set foot again in Cedar Falls.

Honorable mentions: 16-point loss to Campbell, playing both UNI & Iowa State on the road, chair-slamming incident at Michigan State, home loss to Nebraska, road loss to Penn State, senior night loss to Northwestern

The High Point

Matt Gatens’s heater.

In back-to-back games against top 25 Indiana and Wisconsin, Matt Gatens played 79 minutes, scored 63 points, made 14 of 20 threes, and generally owned the week. Adding more insanity to the statistical weight he carried: it was amidst a five-game stretch where he played 197 minutes.

It certainly is reminiscent of Jarryd Cole from the year prior...someone recruited to play in Iowa City by one coach, seeing him leave to play under another, and then finally coming into his own with a third coach at the helm. He could have left and, probably would have if it were 2020 and not 2010. But he stuck through and got Iowa back into the postseason.

Honorable mentions: ROAD WIN at Wisconsin, chair-slamming incident at Michigan State, NIT win against Dayton

The What If

This was another team which weirdly met its destiny. They deserved to get into the postseason and did. They paid their dues for years and turned it into a win.

But an annual scheduling quirk, where Dayton hosts the first four, forced the game to Iowa City despite the Hawks’ seven seed to the Flyers’ two.

Is this season remembered as fondly without the delightful postseason win?

The Why

Iowa got back to the postseason. In a tenure where just two Fran teams have missed even the NIT, the bar is at 8th for this one. But there was just too much inconsistent play throughout the regular season to justify a higher ranking.