With the graduation of Zach McCabe, Iowa is losing their enforcer. We didn't know he was going to be the enforcer when he committed to Iowa back in 2010, but that's exactly what he developed into. You see, Zach came to Iowa much scrawnier than he is going to leave Iowa City. I can't find his listed freshman weight, but his Rivals profile has him at 201 pounds coming out of high school (it also had him listed as a small forward LOL). He could have added a few pounds before he entered college, but he was most likely right around that weight still. Fast forward to 2014 and he now weighs 235 pounds. Dude bulked up.
When McCabe arrived on the scene, it didn't take long for him to establish himself as the enforcer. It was during his freshman year that we started to see signs of McCabe earning that reputation. I don't remember what game it was, but I'm pretty sure I remember an incident where Eric May (I think?) had been fouled hard and Zach didn't take too kindly to it. If I remember correctly, after the foul he ran over to the player who had fouled May and got up in his face. I'm also pretty sure that he was T'd up, as a result. But it was after that play that I realized the type of fire that he played with. Of course, there is really never a good time to pick up a technical. It gives the other team two free throws for no reason and giving your opponent a chance at two free points is not a particularly good strategy. But let's be honest here, how many of us didn't get at least a little bit excited when McCabe got a little chippy over his career? No matter how rational we may believe we are, I think the emotional aspect of being a fan tends to overtake us in those situations and we can't help but get a little excited. Sure, once we calm down we may realize "Holy crap, that was stupid." But deep down, it gets our adrenaline pumping and we crave more.
Now, while those types of plays made Iowa fans fond of him, it was that same exact aspect of Zach McCabe's game that made him a polarizing player in the Big Ten. He was one of those guys that you love when he's on your team, but you absolutely can't stand if he's not on your team. Lazy racial stereotypes aside, I think a really good word to describe Zach McCabe's game is "gritty." Many people questioned the team's toughness this year (and in years past) by insinuating that they were "soft." And while I ca neither confirm nor deny that, I can confirm that no one was questioning McCabe's toughness. Ever. He was a bad, bad man and everyone knew it.
The Year in Review
McCabe had an... interesting year to say the least. He started the season on fire offensively, but slumped and slumped hard December through February. His minutes were cut because of his drop in production, but he was able to end the season on a positive note with a nice month of March. But let's examine that slump, shall we? What exactly led to his drop in minutes? Three point shooting looks to be the main culprit.
You can see from the chart that McCabe's monthly points per minute seemed to follow the similar "U" shape that his monthly three point field goal percentage did. A big part of his offensive game comes from beyond the arc, where he took about 48% of his field goal attempts this year. Clearly, though, when you're only making 21-26% of your three pointers for a 20 game stretch and that shot is such a big part of your arsenal, the coach at least has to start thinking about changing things up. To be fair to Fran, he was loyal to Zach (just as he was loyal to Eric May in previous years) and continued to let him try to work things out on the court. Because of Fran's loyalty, McCabe didn't start to get his minutes decreased until February, but even then it was only by two per game.
Then came the second Wisconsin game. Iowa failed to come through in another close game, but this time the uproar was about who took the final shot. After Josh Oglesby had been red hot all second half, the final shot of the game went to McCabe. To be fair again, Oglesby was the first option on the play, but he was covered. Zach was the second option, and after running through two screens, he had a wide open look at a three pointer that would have tied the game at 75. Unfortunately, the ball slipped out of his hands and it came nowhere near the rim. After the game, some idiot "fans" decided to take their petty frustrations out on a 22 year old college kid via Twitter. A frustrated McCabe (and rightfully so) let his emotions get the best of him and posted an emotional response to those "fans" that created a controversy. That one Tweet was exactly what the media lives for and they jumped all over it instantly. McCaffery then banished the team from Twitter for the rest of the year, but that didn't matter much considering what came next. As it turned out, the Wisconsin game was just the tip of the iceberg, and that loss was the beginning of a slide where Iowa would lose 7 of their final 8 games.
However, that was the team as a whole. Zach McCabe, on the other hand, actually broke out of his slump in the final month of the season. His minutes per game had dropped from around 17 to 13 per game, but his three point field goal percentage went back up to 37.50% (only 8 attempts, but whatever) and he also took 52% of his shots near the rim in the month of March. Both of those factors combined brought McCabe's points per minute up 0.49 for his final 5 games. His season concluded with a very good performance off the bench against Tennessee, where he played 22 well-deserved minutes and finished with 9 points and 6 rebounds. He also fouled out, which seems kind of fitting.
McCabe actually showed some improvement in his scoring each year on campus. And despite that drought in the middle of the season, he actually finished with his highest points per minute total and Kenpom even has his 110.4 offensive rating in his Senior year being 6 points higher than his Sophomore campaign, which was the second highest of his career at 104.5. I guess that's what happens when you average 0.59 points per minute in November and 0.49 in March; it can cover up the rough middle part of the season.
I've said this before, but I'll say it again and I'll probably continue to say it for as long as I'm as nerdy about sports as I currently am: Zach McCabe's career shooting charts are my favorite things ever. Why? Because look at his Sophomore year. Looks a bit different than his other three years in black and gold, right? McCabe's shooting profile was much different that season because Iowa, having lost Jarryd Cole to graduation, only had the option of playing either Zach McCabe, Melsahn Basabe, Andrew Brommer, Devon Archie, or a very young and very raw Gabe Olaseni at the center position. Olaseni was out of the question for reasons just stated, and as we all remember, Brommer and Archie just weren't Big Ten-caliber players. That left Basabe and McCabe. Both were undersized for the five spot, but both had different positive attributes: Basabe was more athletic and could jump out of the gym, but McCabe was strong enough to bang with the big boys down low. Ultimately, Fran chose Zach as Iowa's starting center for the season and he actually did an admirable job for playing out of position. One of the real big differences in playing the center position, though, was that McCabe had fewer looks from deep. Because of this, his scoring profile changed accordingly:
McCabe's two point jumpers stayed relatively the same, but he traded points from three pointers for points near the rim in his sophomore year playing the five. Once Iowa had built a little more depth by adding Adam Woodbury to the program and the continual development of Olaseni's game, it was no longer necessary for McCabe to moonlight at center for the Hawks, and he was able to return to his true power forward position. Once he transitioned back to that spot, the three pointers returned to being a huge part of his game.
One real quick aside: I do find it interesting that McCabe's percentage of points from free throws didn't go up in his year where he got almost half of his points from near the rim. Usually more shots near the rim leads to more free throw attempts, and while McCabe posted his highest free throw rate of his career, it was still a small increase of about 5 percentage points over his career average. Basically, Big Ten officials seemed like they enjoyed calling fouls on McCabe more than they liked giving him credit for drawing them.
Looking at McCabe's career shooting, his sophomore year looks pretty damn good. He took 48% of his shots near the rim and hit 75% of them, meanwhile he was able to convert fewer three point attempts at a much higher clip. Like I said before, he still had the better individual offensive rating in his final season, but I'm pretty sure that's because he had far fewer turnovers this year than his sophomore year.
But in addition to scoring, he was also a consistently decent rebounder all four seasons as a Hawkeye. He wasn't one of the best in the nation, but he got the job done, especially on the defensive glass. It was his ability to hold onto the ball in his later years that helped give him more value to this Iowa team. A bench player who can come in the game hit a three or two, grab a few rebounds, and avoid empty possessions by not turning the ball over? Yeah, that's some nice value.
Unfortunately, I don't think Zach McCabe will be playing basketball come next year. He may have a chance at playing somewhere in Europe next season, but it's hard to say. On the one hand, he can shoot the ball a little, he's not a bad rebounder, and he's not afraid to get physical in the paint. On the other hand, he's undersized and doesn't possess the type of athleticism that we talked about with Basabe yesterday. While he may be able to hide that on offense by shooting threes, the problem most likely lies on the defensive side of the ball. The main issue is that McCabe is too short to guard big men in the post and doesn't possess the quickness to guard small forwards out on the wing. He ran into this problem in college often, and there's no reason to think it wouldn't be more of the same overseas.
I'm not trying to be disrespectful to McCabe, but his future lies in something other basketball. That's not a bad thing, considering his athletic career has been much more successful than mine was or that of nearly everybody reading this post right now. Rather, he will most likely be joining the majority of us in the 40 hour per week grind next year. But who knows? Maybe, just maybe we could see him suit up for the Hawkeyes one last time this fall?* That would be interesting, wouldn't it?
*No, this will most likely not happen. McCabe had a successful high school career as a quarterback, but would be more of a tight end prospect in college. The Hawkeyes are pretty full at the tight end spot for the foreseeable future and, as we saw with the Polish Hat, you can't just pick up blocking overnight and expect to play for Kirk Ferentz. This is probably not a Greg Paulus situation.
So, with that, I bid adieu to monsieur McCabe. I'm really going to miss that evil grin. What I won't miss, however, is yelling at my TV every time an official calls a block or a charge that was clearly on the opposing player. Because that was just stupid and annoying. In other words, I hope whatever his future holds, it's filled with things that are less stupid and annoying than Big Ten referees.
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