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The 2012-13 Iowa Hawkeyes: The Hottest Hawks in March

After struggling on the road in the regular season, Devyn Marble and company rode a hot streak into the NIT finals

USA Today

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:

With the Iowa Hawkeyes coming off a return to postseason play, there was reason to be excited. Matt Gatens, Bryce Cartwright, and Andrew Brommer graduated out of the black and gold, but in came Iowa’s highest rated recruiting class since... many moons before.

Yes, the crown jewel of the best class before Adam Woodbury shirked off a late Roy Williams pitch to play in Iowa City alongside Mike Gesell was Alex Thompson. Outside of those two, Iowa returned Devyn Marble, Aaron White, and Melsahn Basabe, among others. There was reason to be excited going into this one.

2012-13 certainly wasn’t a perfect season - none are, especially in Iowa City - but it featured Iowa’s deepest run in the postseason under McCaffery. Their regular season resume left some performances on the table, though, which is to be expected from an NIT-bound team. Yet their run against ACC foes (Virginia & Maryland) outside of Iowa City was almost enough to get people to forget about the Big Ten Tournament collapse against Michigan State.


The Lead-Up

We return to the time period of difficult Internet searching for season previews but the archives note Woodbury’s fearlessness in a scrimmage against Creighton AND Josh Oglesby’s green light heading into the season. What a rush that was.

But the big key, as noted by Inside The Hall, was replacing Matt Gatens’ 15 points a game. Marble was the prime candidate, as the last time Iowa saw the hardwood, he put up and double digits in 15 of Iowa’s last 18 games, capped by a 30-point outing in an NIT loss at Oregon.

As noted by Scott Dochterman, everything was ahead of Marble. Fran said ahead of the season that with a great season, he could be headed towards a first round draft pick: “Now he’s got to take that next step and be a premier player in this league, which I think he can be. I would expect him to be.”

The Statistical Profile

(all ranks vs. McCaffery teams)

Record: 25-13 (1st), 9-9 (T-5th)

Offense: AdjO - 109.8 (9th); 70.1 PPG (8th)

Defense: AdjD - 91.9 (1st); 62.8 PPG (2nd)

Iowa had their most unbalanced season - towards defense - in the 2012-13 season. With Marble and Aaron White as Iowa’s only double digit scorers, McCaffery relied on depth across the line to sustain the strongest defense in his time at Iowa.

Gesell and fellow freshman Anthony Clemmons backed up RDM with stinginess at guard while Josh Oglesby and Eric May manned the wing as 3-and-D players (“3” optional) in a switchy defense. Along the front line were Melsahn Basabe, McCabe, and Gabriel Olaseni fortified the back line with some combination of White and Woodbury.

It certainly wasn’t perfect, as Iowa failed to reach 70 points in over half of their conference games. Marble was very hit-or-miss as Iowa’s bailout offense and no viable volume shooters around him. Things were dire.

In retrospect, however, it makes the style of play all the more impressive from a coaching perspective: Fran knew what he had and, while it did not lean into his preferences as an offensive-minded coach, it did win ballgames. The offense sputtered along with an effective field goal percentage of just 46.6% (the worst of his tenure). Yet it sustained, in aggregate, by hitting the offensive glass, getting to the line, and being clean with the ball.

They averaged a clean 1.000 point/possession in conference play (7th) had the #4 defense at 0.971. It should be noted that, at the Big Ten was even better relative to the second best conference than they were this past season, eclipsing the Big East by over 3 AdjEM points.

The sixth place finish wasn’t enough to get Iowa into the tournament, though Minnesota and Illinois leapfrogged them with 8-10 records, in conference. The difference? Iowa played the 338th non-conference schedule while the Goofers and Illini played ones not nearly that bad.

The Rotation

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

Full-Time Starters

Player yr ORtg % Poss PTS TRB AST FG% 3P% FT% MP
Player yr ORtg % Poss PTS TRB AST FG% 3P% FT% MP
Aaron White sr 128.1 0.231 16.4 7.3 1.4 0.521 0.356 0.819 31.5
Jarrod Uthoff rs jr 113.8 0.253 12.4 6.4 1.7 0.43 0.372 0.737 30.3
Mike Gesell jr 98.5 0.206 7.4 1.9 4 0.408 0.267 0.689 25.5
Adam Woodbury jr 98.7 0.206 6.6 5.2 0.9 0.489 0.576 20.5

Part-Time Starter

Player yr ORtg % Poss PTS TRB AST FG% 3P% FT% MP
Player yr ORtg % Poss PTS TRB AST FG% 3P% FT% MP
Melsahn Basabe jr 103.1 0.202 6.8 5.1 0.5 0.481 0 0.656 18.5
Anthony Clemmons fr 91.9 0.199 4.3 1.6 2.8 0.377 0.362 0.731 16.8

Part-time Starters

Player yr ORtg % Poss PTS TRB AST FG% 3P% FT% MP
Player yr ORtg % Poss PTS TRB AST FG% 3P% FT% MP
Peter Jok so 96.9 0.215 7 2.6 1.3 0.358 0.343 0.902 19.9
Anthony Clemmons jr 102.6 0.153 4.8 1.9 1.9 0.381 0.373 0.75 19.9


Player yr ORtg % Poss PTS TRB AST FG% 3P% FT% MP
Player yr ORtg % Poss PTS TRB AST FG% 3P% FT% MP
Gabriel Olaseni sr 113.6 0.228 8.1 4.8 0.4 0.52 0.75 18.6
Josh Oglesby sr 96.5 0.122 3.2 1.9 1.5 0.282 0.292 1 18.9
Dom Uhl fr 82 0.169 2.1 1.8 0.4 0.361 0.185 0.524 10
  • As alluded above, offense was tough to come by for this group. Marble was often the guy creating shots, whether by design or necessity. Depending on how you grade RDM’s career, you could chalk this up as his best as a Hawkeye. Highest FT% and 3P% and a shade off his highest 2P%. He was much better from deep in conference from deep, as he hit over 40% from three. (He was at just 29% this season)
  • 7 players played between 15 and 25 minutes which is a record Fran doesn’t need to try breaking IMO.
  • Aaron White had more free throw attempts than two-point attempts.
  • Only two of Iowa’s rotation players had eFG%s over 50 - Eric May & Gabe Olaseni.

The Low Point

Heading into the weekend, Iowa held a 47-35 lead on the Michigan State Spartans. They were a shade over 10 minutes from getting into the NCAA Tournament with an upset victory over a name brand team which would have put Iowa into the semis of the conference tournament.

And then a 22-2 run happened which put the game out of Iowa’s reach. This delightfully named YouTube video from the time details Iowa’s referee-induced frustrations (many amidst the run):

Keith Appling and Adreian Payne factored prominently.

Don’t get me wrong. They still have to finish games. Iowa had their chances. Fran started the half with two timeouts and didn’t use either while MSU mounted their comeback. But this game leaves as dirty a taste in my mouth as any of Fran’s tenure.

Honorable mentions: losses at Virginia Tech, Nebraska

The High Point

Iowa’s run in the NIT was certainly memorable but the most impressive game remains, for me, the double-digit win at Virginia:

(Iowa’s account has apparently been scrubbed from the Internet)

The win sent Iowa to Madison Square Garden in what was considered a real notch in McCaffery’s belt in just three years. Marble’s run throughout the NIT capped an impressive finish to his season where he finished with KenPom MVPs in 6 of Iowa’s 9 final games. But the Virginia game showed him at his best: getting to the rim, dishing, and affecting the defensive side of the floor.

Honorable mentions: rivalry wins against Wisconsin, ISU, and UNI

The What If

If that Michigan State game goes the opposite way, what happens if Iowa makes the tournament? The most interesting hypothetical flips Iowa for the 11-seeded Minnesota team Iowa split games with in the regular season.

Who’d they face? UCLA. Now, it wasn’t Redacted’s Bruins but they were an overrated team according to KenPom: At the time, they were ranked 44th to Minnesota’s 20th and were promptly pantsed, sending Ben Howland on his merry way. Iowa was just 7 spots shy of Minnesota heading into postseason play so maybe it plays out similarly. Maybe it doesn’t.

But the hypothetical builds on itself if the Hawks have true postseason play under their belt heading into the 2013-14 season instead of the nice but less meaningful NIT run. The question was explored aptly by Scott Dochterman ahead of the game against Maryland.

The Why

Though Iowa had no real defining wins in the regular season, it doesn’t invalidate their abilities. Through staunch defense, they played high floor basketball and were rarely blown out by lesser opponents. In a tough conference, they held their ground and finished .500.

Yet their offense didn’t travel away from Carver. With two home games to get the NIT run going, does that make the success of 2013 less valid?

Their defense is something I consistently come back to. It was so uniquely good from Fran’s squads that it demonstrated the coaching acumen to find ways to win. With that and as deep a team as Fran has ever had, they’re ultimately in the right place.