One of the biggest things I got out of basketball media day in Iowa City last week was how deep the Hawkeye roster will be this season.
After winning 25 games and reaching the NIT final a year ago, the Hawkeyes lost just senior Eric May from their regular rotation but welcome in two talented players with differing skill sets.
Transfer Jarrod Uthoff finally gets to put on a game uniform this year after sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules.
Uthoff will play any one of three positions, while freshman Peter Jok will be relied on to hit open and contested 3-point shots and be a spark at the offensive end.
The trick, and even the challenge, for head coach Fran McCaffery will be to put the right lineups on the court at the right time.
“I don’t think you can ever have too much depth,” McCaffery said. “It’s a long season. The way we play, you need fresh legs and fresh bodies. We also have differing skill sets. We went through it last year and overseas. They understand that they may not always be out there. It makes us harder to prepare for, too. We have a lot more offense this year than last year, and I think you’ll see that.”
Guessing the starting lineup for the season opener is tough. Roy Devyn Marble is definitely the point guard, Adam Woodbury is definitely the center and Aaron White also will start. The other two could be shooting guard Mike Gesell and power forward Melsahn Basabe.
But there also are guards Josh Oglesby, Anthony Clemmons and Jok, forwards Uthoff and Zach McCabe and centers Gabe Olaseni and Kyle Meyer.
The lineup will go 10-12 deep every night. That will make for some interesting substitutions from McCaffery and his coaching staff.
“There is no drop off at all with the first and second team,” said Gesell. “There is a constant battle every day and that helps us improve our game. It will get us prepared for the season, too.”
There is only one ball and only five players can be on the court at one time. That means seven capable players are parked on the bench next McCaffery and the coaches.
Gesell said that shouldn’t be an issue with this group of Hawkeyes.
“It could be an issue on some teams, but it’s not on this team,” said Gesell. “We have a lot of high-character guys who just want to win and want to do whatever it takes to win. Sometimes depth can be a bad thing. We are tight as a unit. The depth on this team is going to be positive.”
Marble, last year’s leading scorer, is making the switch to point guard because he says it gives the team the best chance to succeed. The Michigan native also said being on a team with depth is part of collegiate sports.
"That comes with the territory,” Marble said. “You signed on to the team knowing who was on the roster. It is going to be competitive regardless of the positions. None of us will have problem with the depth. If you want to play more, then work harder. That is the way it goes for any sport and any program.”
Another positive for this year’s team will be the various positions that many of the players on the roster can play.
Marble will most likely get minutes at both guard spots but at 6-foot-7 could be used at small forward if needed. White has played both the 3 and the 4 in his first two years in Iowa City and Uthoff will provide a mismatch at both the 3 and the 4 but has the ability to play the wing as well. The same goes for McCabe, who has played anywhere from the 2 to the 4 in a Hawkeye uniform.
“It will help us in game by game situations but also will help you late in the year when the minutes start piling up,” White said. “The depth on this team is a strength for sure. Even coach is intrigued by it. He has a lot of options.”
The intriguing part is seeing when and where McCaffery uses the lineups he uses.
A predominant shooting lineup would have Marble and Jok at the guards, McCabe and Uthoff at the forwards and potentially White at center.
If McCaffery needs his team to go up and get a rebound, he could go with Marble and Uthoff at the guards, White and Basabe at the forwards and either Woodbury or Olaseni in the paint.
“Our style of play is the best way to create substitution situations because when guys are coming out, they're tired,” McCaffery said. “They all know they're going to get their number called. They prepare that way in practice, and they all complement each other in terms of skill set. I think that's the way we put this team together.
“We can press more, we can zone more, we can run more motion, we can run more sets, and we can go to different people in late game situations, which makes us that much harder to prepare for.”
The go-to guy down the stretch in a close game is no doubt Marble. But McCaffery definitely has plenty other options to go to if needed.
“There is definitely a buzz around this team and that is a good thing,” Marble said. “But you can’t put too much thought into it. We just have to go out and play.
“We have to make plays more down the stretch. That may be the difference from winning some of those games last year and losing them. If we do that, we can improve the overall result.”