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Monday, July 1, 2013
Iowa banking on better shooting

By Eamonn Brennan

Prepare yourself: In the next five months, you are going to hear a lot about the Iowa Hawkeyes.

This is for good reason. Iowa was a bubble team in 2012-13, which in itself was a drastic improvement over the post-Todd Lickliter rebuilding years, but "bubble team" sells the Hawkeyes short. Iowa didn't make the tournament largely thanks to its ugly schedule and its lack of marquee wins. But the Hawkeyes' failures in attention-grabbing bubble games were usually of the heartbreakingly close variety, the bane of a good young team that couldn't quite get over the hump. An even cursory glance at Iowa's advanced analytics -- where it finished No. 22 in adjusted defensive efficiency, and No. 24 overall -- revealed an underrated group that did battle with the best conference in the country and survived to tell the tale. Now, with basically everyone back, the Hawkeyes look like a lock to finish in the top half of the Big Ten. Title contention is not out of the question.

Fran McCaffery
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery knows that his team won't be short on talent next season.
There's just one thing missing: Three-point shooting! The Hawkeyes shot just 30.5 percent overall from 3 last season, and were dead last in the Big Ten at 28.5. Shooting accuracy was a general issue -- Iowa finished at 47.0 percent from inside the arc, which is hardly burning up the gym -- but nowhere were the Hawkeyes worse than when they launched from behind the arc (which they did on 31.5 percent of their field goals).

As you might imagine, coach Fran McCaffery and his staff just so happened to notice the wall of bricks lining the Carver-Hawkeye Arena floor, and they're going to go ahead and ask that everyone shoot a little bit better this time around. From the Iowa City Press Citizen (hat tip: Eric Angevine):
“I would be surprised if we didn’t shoot better from 3 (in 2013-14),” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “Because we have multiple guys who can shoot 3s. It starts with Mike Gesell and Josh Oglesby. And guys like Zach McCabe, Peter Jok, Jarrod Uthoff and Anthony Clemmons. We’ve had so many games where there are multiple guys making 3s. I think Aaron White is going to be better. He’ll get to where he’s above 33 percent. Now that changes everything. Now you have seven guys that make 30 or more 3s in a season.”

(That sound you hear is Iowa fans groaning at McCaffery's nod to Oglesby. My Hawkeyes-obsessed buddy has told me once a week how important it is that Oglseby's minutes are limited. The collective angst isn't quite at Russell Byrd levels, but it's closing in.)

Anyway, even with all of those returning players -- rising sophomore center Adam Woodbury might be the most promising, but White is still a bit underrated, and Roy Devyn Marble is a unique scoring talent -- the biggest cogs in the long-range effort might well be newcomers. Jok was not a highly touted recruit (he's the No. 41-ranked small forward in the 2013 class), but he will arrive as a lights-out shooter whom opposing defenses should have to track right away.

And then there's Uthoff. You remember Jarrod Uthoff, right? The former Wisconsin player whose bumbled transfer process made Bo Ryan the unlikely target of antipathy toward the inherent balance of power between players and schools? Right. With the whole "being a symbol of a larger philosophical debate about the inequity of amateurism" behind him, Uthoff has been, you know, playing basketball -- and impressively so, apparently:
Uthoff can stretch the floor as a big man with a mid to long-range jump shot and improved ball-handling skills. Uthoff also has the size and athleticism to score from the blocks through tip-ins or dunks, and he can defend multiple positions.

"Jarrod has been playing really well this summer. He can hit outside shots, and obviously he creates matchup problems for those post guys inside,'' Iowa senior forward Zach McCabe said. "He was always working on his game, just getting ready. Just talking to him, he's sick of sitting out. He wants to play.''

With Woodbury, White and senior forward/rebounding specialist Melsahn Basabe, Iowa suddenly has a glut of forwards capable of competing in the Big Ten. Uthoff will be a factor in that mix, too, particularly as the Hawkeyes look to maintain the defensive excellence that served them so well in 2012-13 and, when possible, make a few 3s, too. Even if the "let's shoot better" plan doesn't come to fruition, Iowa is almost certainly going to be a tournament team. But if deep range becomes a part of the arsenal, a tourney berth will soon seem like a quaint afterthought.