Like Iowa, Big Ten is Improved
Oct. 25, 2012
CHICAGO -- Fran McCaffery's team is deep, talented and versatile. Of course, so is the rest of the Big Ten.
That was one message delivered today by the University of Iowa head coach at the Big Ten's annual basketball media day in Chicago. McCaffery and head coaches from around the league referenced the national attention and preseason recognition surrounding the Big Ten, a conference that has five teams ranked in the preseason coaches poll, including three in the top five.
"I recognize how good this league is," said McCaffery, who is entering his third year at Iowa and 16th as a college head coach. "As good as it has been since I've been in the industry, it's even better now in terms of quality teams 1-12."
Indiana, the nation's preseason No. 1, was tabbed as the conference favorite by the Big Ten media. Michigan and Ohio State were picked to finish second and third, respectively. The conference only announces the top three preseason teams.
All three schools have players on the preseason All-Big Ten team. The Hoosiers are led by sophomore Cody Zeller, who added conference Player of the Year to his list of preseason honors. Zeller was joined by Ohio State's Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas, Michigan's Trey Burke, and Penn State senior Tim Frazier, the conference's top returning scorer.
"It's a great conference with great players," said junior guard Roy Devyn Marble. "We're going to have to be ready, and we're going to have to be better."
The Hawkeyes are often mentioned as a dark horse in the conference conversation, a role McCaffery is not taking lightly.
Part of that challenge is improving team defense. Iowa ranked 12th in scoring defense last season, and McCaffery knows the Hawkeyes will have to be better if they plan to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
"The key is can we defend," McCaffery said. "The players in this league are too good to play the way we played last year defensively.
"We have to play better defense, and we need to be a better rebounding team, which should help lower the other teams' shooting percentage a little bit. If we can put it all together, we'll be substantially improved."
The Hawkeyes lost their leading scorer from a year ago, but return the majority of their offense from a team that ranked third in the league in scoring offense. The returning roster includes three starters and seven letterwinners.
"I'm very excited about our team and its potential," said McCaffery. "We still need to be cautiously optimistic because we're still a very young team.
"We have some pieces. We can score. We have multiple options I can go to in terms of personnel. I can go big, I can go small, and we can press more because we have more depth.
"We're the biggest we've been in a long time. We're the deepest we've been in a long time. I think we have a chance to be very good. I think the challenge in the mean time when you're coaching in this league is `are you good enough?'"
The Hawkeyes have 13 dates on the nonconference schedule before they run face first into the league's top-ranked barometer. Indiana visits Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the Big Ten opener Dec. 31. One week later, the Hawkeyes travel to Ann Arbor to face Michigan, the nation's fifth-ranked team in the preseason coaches' poll. All told, the conference has five teams ranked in the top 25, more than any other league.
"We've shown we can compete and win at this level," said Marble. "A lot of people have us taking the next step and a lot of people don't, but I think at the end of the day it's going to depend on how this team and coaching staff react to situations throughout the season. I know we have the ability to be talked about with those teams."