Originally posted on Just Cover Blog  |  Last updated 12/6/11

Melsahn Basabe out-played Jared Sullinger heads-up last year. For some reason, Iowa would rather give the ball to guys name Roy and Zack.

In many ways, Iowa and Indiana are similar clubs. Both finished at the bottom of the Big 10 last year (the differentiating mark was the Hawkeyes’ season sweep of the Hoosiers). Both teams return all but a single contributor (the Hoosiers lose the invisible Jeremiah Rivers, the Hawkeyes lose rebounding machine Jarryd Cole). Both teams feature large swaths of under-classmen growing into their own. It’s somewhat jarring, then, that one team’s glaring weakness is the other’s glaring strength – in this case, fouling.

 Indiana was among the ten worst teams in the nation at keeping the opposition off the charity stripe, while Iowa was among the fifteen best. This single stat moves Iowa’s defense from “mediocre” to “solid”. Despite having two excellent rate-rebounders in Melsahn Basabe and Jarryd Cole, the Hawkeyes, due to their own foul-troubles, weren’t very good defensive rebounders, and they were rather poor at forcing bad shooting performances. The defense, led by Eric May, was moderately successful at forcing turnovers, but their single best trait was simply keeping the opposition’s offense honest by making them score from the floor.

 The Hawkeyes will need that defense, because the offense, simply, is terrible. Let’s start with the good: Melsahn Basabe. Basabe is the one upper-division quality player on the roster – the one that wouldn’t be out of place on some of the better rosters in basketball. Basabe, a somewhat un-recruited freshman who followed Coach Fran McCaffery from Siena, floated through the pre-season occasionally making an impact, but exploded in the second conference game against Ohio State– putting up a 22/13 and out-playing Jared Sullinger in a narrow loss in Columbus. From then on, he was a revelation, only occasionally held back by his own profligate foul rate, or the team’s bizarre tendency to occasionally forget he existed. At the end of the season, Basabe was one of the league’s most efficient scorers, best rebounders, shot-blockers, and foul magnet, drawing five fouls a game. Assuming he grows out of his foul-problems, Basabe is on course to be an all-conference selection as early as this year.

 Unfortunately, there isn’t much else here. Matt Gatens and Eric May are average offensive players, which, on Iowa, make them their second-best options. Shooting only 33% on five three-point attempts a game, while providing no rebounding or defense, it’s debatable Gatens can even be described as average. May, for his part, is a staunch defender with a respectable shooting percentage on a team surrounded by brick-layers. Bryce Cartwright scored some points, but, like Gatens, shot under 40% from the floor without any semblance of three-point shooting to make his eFG% respectable. Toss in a league-leading 3.3 turnovers a game, and he’s a dubious point-guard at best. Freshmen Roy Devin Marble and Zach McCabe played a lot, but, like Gatens and Cartwright, shot 35% and 37% from the floor. Andrew Brommer, a rising senior, has all of Basabe’s fouling problems with none of the upside, and rising senior Devon Archie, a respectable rebounder in limited minutes seems destined for the Jarryd Cole role – he won’t shoot, ever.

With a freshman class most kindly described as “over-looked”, the only addition they can expect is Junior Cully Payne – last year’s starting PG who missed all but the season’s first five games. Its possible be can supplant Cartwright freeing him to…I’m not sure what. Most likely, the starting lineup is Payne/Cartwright, Gatens, May, Brommer, and Basabe, with Marble and McCabe filling in at the wings, and Archie spelling the bigs off the bench.

Unofruntaley, as the season has progressed, the Hawkeyes hopes for improvement seem to be fizzling, as losses at Creighton (by 23) and Campbell (by 16 at home. No, I don’t know what Campbell is either) have added up. The Hawkeyes were at their worst last year when they didn’t get the ball to Melsahn Basabe – unfortunately, that appears to be the rule this year. In their three losses, he’s taken a total of fourteen shots and zero free throws, after averaging 9 shots and 4 free throws in Big Ten Play last year (he averaging 5 shots a game on the season this year). When the Hawkeyes fail to get him the ball, it means those shots are being spread among career sub-40% shooter Matt Gatens, Roy Marble, and Zack McCabe. This is hardly a fair trade-off. Freshman Josh Oglesby has gotten off to a hot start as a three-point gunner, but short of that, there’s not much solace to take in the Hawkeye start.

The league is a bit worse, and natural maturation should make the Hawkeyes a bit better, but this is still a cellar-dwelling club, unless Basabe proves Jared Sullinger’s equal, which seems unlikely given the Hawkeyes’ refusal to allow him to do so. It’s possible they’re better than a Mbakwe-less Minnesota club or Penn State, but it’s questionable.

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