Oct. 11, 2012
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- There tends to be a correlation between college basketball teams playing deep into the month of March and college basketball teams having a deep bench.
Fran McCaffery's third edition University of Iowa men's basketball team has depth; whether that translates into the school's first NCAA Tournament berth since 2006 remains to be seen. But the march to March began Thursday with the first practice leading up to the season-opener Nov. 9 against UT-Pan American.
McCaffery unveiled the Hawkeyes on Thursday at their annual Media Day. He answered questions from reporters for 30 minutes in the Feller Club Room inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena before the student-athletes were made available in the practice gymnasium. The first 45 minutes of practice were open to the public.
"I don't know that I've ever had a team where we have 12 guys that can play the game," McCaffery said. "It's not easy to get 12 in, so we'll see how that goes. If we stay healthy I think we can be playing for a while. Obviously we want to play into March."
The Hawkeyes received a taste of the postseason a year ago, compiling a record of 18-17 and advancing to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament. It was the first winning season for the UI since going 17-14 in 2006-07.
That success, especially an 84-75 win against Dayton in the first round of the NIT in front of 13,190 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, has led to a high excitement level. McCaffery's history also hints at happy times ahead...this season. In the third years of his previous head coaching stops, McCaffery's teams have won 21 (Lehigh), 20 (UNC-Greensboro) and 23 (Siena) games.
"I don't know that I've ever had a team where we have 12 guys that can play the game. It's not easy to get 12 in, so we'll see how that goes. If we stay healthy I think we can be playing for a while. Obviously we want to play into March."
UI men's basketball coach
The Hawkeyes return seven lettermen and three starters: junior forward Zach McCabe, junior guard Roy Devyn Marble, and sophomore forward Aaron White. Senior forward Eric May, junior forward Melsahn Basabe and sophomore guard Josh Oglesby also have starting experience.
Marble (11.5) and White (11.1) averaged double figures in points last season, followed by Basabe (8.2), McCabe (7.8), Oglesby (6.4) and May (4.3). White (5.7), Basabe (4.8), McCabe (4.6) and Marble (3.8) return with the top rebounding averages.
Sprinkle in the best recruiting class in years, and it's easy to see why things are looking up in Iowa City.
"Practices this year will be so much more competitive that they have been in the previous two years," McCaffery said. "Players are going after playing time, they're going after starting roles. That's only going to make our team better."
McCaffery said the Big Ten Conference traditionally advances six to eight teams to the NCAA Tournament; he sees eight going this season, based on the strength of the league he called "without a doubt the best conference in the country."
Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota have all received preseason national recognition with Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State in the top 10. Iowa was 2-2 against those teams last season with a 75-59 win against Michigan and a 78-66 win against Indiana.
"We have made phenomenal strides filling our roster with talent and addressing needs in terms of depth at the point guard position, size, versatility, the ability to have the personnel that can play the style that we want to play," McCaffery said. "Now we have to go out and win consistently. We have to do it in the nonconference portion of our schedule and against the teams in the best conference in the country. Last year we won eight in league play (8-10) and it's probably going to take a little more than that."
Newcomers to the program are freshmen Anthony Clemmons (guard), Mike Gesell (guard), Pat Ingram (guard), Kyle Meyer (forward) and Adam Woodbury (center). Forward Jarrod Uthoff, a transfer from Wisconsin, will not compete this season.
"What we all hope for when we recruit freshmen is they don't play like freshmen," McCaffery said. "I don't think they will."