Finding the right rotations, emphasizing better defense and working on turning the ball over less were all things Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery and his coaching staff worked on this preseason.
Those things get put into play for real on Friday night when the Hawkeyes take on UT-Pan American at 8:05 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The game will be part of a men’s-women’s doubleheader as the Hawkeye women play host to Northern Illinois at 5:30 p.m.
“This has been a much more complicated thing to manage when you look at players that deserve to play and players who are expecting to play, and they've done nothing to suggest that they shouldn't play more,” McCaffery said about his team’s depth.
Having more depth is a good problem to have. Last year, Iowa ran into issues with depth and often ran out of gas late in games.
That shouldn’t be an issue this season as McCaffery essentially guaranteed that he will play 10 guys throughout every game this year. And there isn’t all that much difference in who starts and who comes off the bench.
"We are going to play 10 no question,” said McCaffery, who begins his third season in Iowa City. “There's probably going to be times where you're really not sure who the first group and the second group is, and I think that's a good thing. It's been interesting because that second group is real close, and there's guys on that second group that want to be on the first group, and that's what makes everybody better.”
The projected starting lineup for Friday night’s opener features two true freshmen in point guard Mike Gesell and center Adam Woodbury. The other three starters are expected to be junior Roy Devyn Marble, sophomore Aaron White and junior Zach McCabe.
The next five in could essentially be in the starting five and that group includes true freshman point guard Anthony Clemmons, sophomore Josh Oglesby, senior Eric May, junior Melsahn Basabe and sophomore Gabe Olaseni.
“The first five and second five play well together and aren’t necessarily a first unit and a second unit, “ McCaffery said. “Melsahn plays better with May and Olaseni.”
The Hawkeyes went 18-17 last season and advanced to postseason play for the first time in six seasons. They beat Dayton in Round 1 of NIT and then lost at Oregon in Round 2.
That team did not go 10 deep. That squad did not have a top-20 recruiting class. That roster did not feature two starting lineups.
The 2012-13 team has all that and more and the expectations this season are higher than they’ve been since Steve Alford left the program. And they are as high as the days when Tom Davis roamed the bench.
“We welcome those expectations and want our fans to be excited about what we are doing here,” McCaffery said. “But I want to let them know to be cautious because the Big Ten Conference is the best league in the country. We may get six teams in this year or we could get eight. Hopefully we are one of those teams, but it won’t be easy.”
No matter what happens, the fans are excited to see a competitive basketball team again.
Marble is the team’s leading returning scorer at 11.5 points per game, while White averaged 11 points and 6 rebounds during his freshman season. McCabe also averaged 8 points and 5 rebounds and is much improved, according to McCaffery.
“Basabe is essentially our sixth man but he and Zach are both right there,” McCaffery said. “That competition has been great and so have some of the other positions. Anthony Clemmons pushes Mike Gesell every day to be better. Mike knows Anthony wants his starting spot.”
McCaffery said competition will bring out the best in everyone and will help with conditioning later in the season. Every one of those top 10 players has to work hard in practice every day or risk getting his spot in the rotation taken away.
“I think personally a lot of guys would prefer to just be able to show up and get their starting job,” McCaffery said. “But the reality in life is you've got to keep working, you've got to keep preparing, and you've got to understand that every time you take the floor somebody is coming after you. Well, if you're dealing with that every day, you'll be much better able to handle it twice a week.”
“For me, it'll be an interesting challenge all season long to make sure we manage these 10 players effectively.”
The Broncs are coming off an 11-21 campaign but return five of their top six scorers from last season.
That includes Brandon Provost, who averaged 13.4 points per contest. Provost also hit 73 triples last season. Aaron Urbanus (8.6 ppg) and Ruben Cabrera (6.2 ppg) also return to the roster.
“I've been impressed with them. They also have got a pretty substantial number of people back,” McCaffery said. “They've got three starters back and two other guys that contributed a lot, but then they've got 10 new players. They've got a lot of junior college transfers. So I think they're deeper than they were last year. They're more athletic than they were last year with some experience back.”
Gesell had 18 points to lead Iowa in last week’s exhibition game against Quincy. But three other Hawkeyes finished in double figures. May and Oglesby had 15 points each, while Basabe finished with 12.
May is the only senior among those 10 guys who are expected to see significant minutes.
The Hawkeyes scored 100 points and Marble, who is expected to be the team’s best player and go-to guy this season, only took three shots and scored six points.