We’re barely a week into the college basketball season, and things across the country have gotten off to a flying start.
Zeroing in on the Big Ten conference, the Iowa basketball team has reeled off three consecutive victories to begin 2013-14. One of the most anticipated seasons in recent memory has seen the Hawkeyes utilize various lineup combinations seemingly every time they take the floor. So which have been the most effective, and what changes might be beneficial going forward?
First off let’s examine the offensive end.
Iowa is a team that possesses neither deadly outside shooting nor a potent inside game where a single player can be expected to repeated score on his defender. However, the Hawkeyes make up for their lack of a distinct advantage in these areas by overwhelming their opponents with a variety of long and skilled players, specifically at the forward positions.
In Aaron White, Jarrod Uthoff, Melsahn Basabe, and Zach McCabe Iowa has four different players 6-7 or taller that have the ability to get to the basket by putting the ball on the floor and/or hit shots from the perimeter. White and Uthoff in particular are two 6-9 guys that can knock down outside shots, run the floor, and take advantage of their size inside if confronted by a smaller defender.
The abundance of diverse forwards on the Hawkeyes’ roster allows them to consistently place at least two players on the floor whom the opposition will have great difficulty matching up with. Despite the lack of complete dominance in one particular offensive aspect, Iowa uses numerous players that can take advantage of the defense in ways that a traditional player at their position wouldn’t be able to.
Junior forward Aaron White is just one of a plethora of long players utilized by Coach McCaffery.(Photo Credit: David Scrivner)
Expanding to guards and centers Iowa has length and diversity at these positions as well.
The large number of forwards seeing the floor at the same time has had an effect on the Iowa backcourt rotation thus far. Fans have primarily seen the Hawkeyes go with either Mike Gesell or Anthony Clemmons alongside of a longer wing player at the guard positions. This is not to say that Iowa doesn’t have the ability to play with a smaller lineup (Gesell, Clemmons, and versatile 6-6 senior Devyn Marble started together for a good portion of last season), but rather that they have thus far elected to press their advantages in height and length.
The center position is another area of intrigue for the Iowa team. Former ESPN top 100 recruit Adam Woodbury essentially is what he is, a 7-1 player that is a good position defender and defensive rebounder but lacks real value on the offensive end outside of setting hard screens. Meanwhile, 6-10 junior Gabe Olaseni is starting to express some of the same confidence and aggressiveness that the coaching staff has been longing for out of the ultra-athletic big man.
Although Woodbury started every game last season and the first three this year, Olaseni has proved to be more reliable from the foul line as well as possessing a superior mid-range jump shot. What has really begun to set him apart though is his increase in activity both attacking the basket and crashing the offensive boards. His unusual athletic ability for a player his size makes Olaseni much more effective rebounding outside of his area after a teammate’s miss than Woodbury, who is relatively stationary once he stakes a position inside.
Heading over to the defensive end of the floor, Iowa has also found ways to utilize its numerous lineups to force opponents into under 32 percent shooting from the field and just over 18 percent from three.
While at times the Hawkeyes have struggled to keep quicker opponents out of the paint the sheer size and length of the five players on the floor usually results in the forcing of a contested shot. Having eight of the ten main contributors listed at 6-6 or taller helps this significantly, as is shown by Iowa’s over eight blocks per game average.
With so much length up and down the lineup Iowa has developed into a very good all-around defensive team. That many long athletes have made intermittent use of a 2-3 zone very effective, as well as a full-court press that makes getting the ball over half court a struggle in itself for the opposition. Recently Iowa has had the most success pressing opponents with Gabe Olaseni in the lineup because his shot blocking prowess allows teammates to further extend pressure without worrying about giving up layups behind them.
Playing without a designated “lock-down” defender forces the Hawkeyes to play complete team defense every time they take the court. It’s the aforementioned switching of defenses and pressing style that makes Iowa’s five man unit on the floor difficult to score against.
Now let me emphasize that we are only three games into the season, so please take these potential lineup suggestions with a grain of salt. In my own humble opinion these are a few things that could benefit the Iowa basketball team as the schedule ramps up in the next couple of weeks.
On offense the Hawkeyes must continue to space the floor and take advantage of the individual mismatches presented. Jarrod Uthoff is a player who can provide that inside-outside presence alongside of Aaron White. When Iowa plays without a center, driving lanes open up for players like Devyn Marble to score or find open teammates.
Defensively Iowa becomes much more athletic and intimidating at the rim with center Gabe Olaseni on the floor, especially when he plays alongside another capable shot blocker in either Uthoff or Melsahn Basabe.
As the competition stiffens I would look for Uthoff and Olaseni to be two players who continue to see more and more minutes thrown their way. The only players who have really cemented 25+ minutes a night on this Iowa team are Devyn Marble and Aaron White. Coach Fran McCaffery has shown that he is unafraid of using different lineups, and he has the option of either adjusting to what the opponent puts on the floor or forcing them to make changes in order to match up with the Hawkeyes.
The bottom line is that three games into the season may be far too soon to consider substantial adjustments to Iowa’s rotation, but fans can expect McCaffery to do whatever he feels is necessary to win ballgames. Iowa is a very unselfish team and trusts that the coaching staff will put them in the best position to succeed. If that entails changes to the lineup, so longs as it leads to wins on the court, this is one of the unique teams that will be willing to accept it.
This Iowa team has had success thus far, and the future of the season looks to be in good hands with so many able contributors that have yet to reach the ceiling of their potential both as individuals and as a cohesive unit. So be sure to keep a close eye on each of these Hawkeye players.
Who knows, any one of them just might be the reason why your favorite team goes home with a loss.