Whatever momentum was gained by taking down then-ranked No. 6 Purdue in last season’s regular season finale has surely waned in an abysmal start to the new season for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Despite only going 4-14 in the conference last season, our rival to the south was hoping to build on a core of returning starters and a sense of optimism not felt in the Hawkeye State for quite sometime on the hardwood. Fran McCaffery enters his second year as the head coach hoping to transform a historically boring, half-court offense into a more up-tempo, interesting set. Further, the Hawkeyes drew a fairly favorable B1G schedule to help drive their rebuilding attempt, facing Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State only once this year – three teams invited to last year’s NCAA Tournament.
What they’ve done so far:
Let’s just say that the start to the season isn’t quite what the Hawkeyes likely imagined. Iowa dropped a head-scratcher at home to the mighty Campbell Camels (straight outta the SoCon!) by double digits and also fell by fairly large margins to in-state rivals Northern Iowa and Iowa State. In fact, each of its five losses this season has come by 10 points or more. Despite a fairly soft non-conference schedule the best Iowa can finish before conference play is 8-5 – not exactly a statement of success for a major conference team.
Who to watch:
The pickings are slim, but the most exciting part of the Hawkeyes might be their backcourt. Senior SG Matt Gatens is far and away the best player Iowa has and so far is averaging 14.1 ppg. Always a threat to go off on any given night, Gatens so far has three 20+ point games this season while connecting on a decent 35% of his three-point shots. The problem, however, has been slight inconsistency in scoring for Gatens, who has put up single-digit figures four times already this season. In Iowa’s 20-point loss to UNI, for instance, Gatens collected only six points. With Iowa bringing back several starters from last year, consistency is expected and the Hawkeyes certainly need solid output from its leader night in and night out.
Also worth following is the performance of senior PG Bryce Cartwright, who came out of nowhere last year to lead the B1G in assists (6.83 apg) and also average over 10 points a game. This year, though, hasn’t been the same for Cartwright who has been hobbled by a hamstring injury and is only averaging 6.0 ppg and 4.0 apg. Another senior leader the Hawkeyes are hoping to rely on, Cartwright’s health and performance will go a long ways towards securing the Iowa backcourt and providing at least some foundation for success.
What to watch:
Iowa has been the conference doormat for the latter half of the past decade, but with the commencement of the McCaffery era it will be interesting to see how the team moves forward from the angst-filled years of Todd Lickliter’s regime. McCaffery already looks frustrated with the season as evidenced by his ejection during the blowout loss to Northern Iowa and getting off to an 6-5 start certainly couldn’t have been high on Iowa’s to-do list. The team had several hard-luck losses in conference play last year and looked to be on the relative upswing, but as it stands now they certainly appear to have a ways to go. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of Hawkeye team shows up in conference play and whether or not McCaffery is able to do more in his second year in terms of getting the team to respond. Will they push opponents like they did in the latter half of last season or be the pushovers we’ve come to expect? Remember, this is the same team last lost by 17 to the Gophers during their epic collapse last season.
Seriously, though. What sort of college coach gets ejected? For an idea of how lame Fran McCaffery is you needn’t look further than this video. Sorry Fran, but it’s not the fault of the refs that you lost by 20 points, no matter how you slice it. What a baby.
How they’ll do:
You’d like to think that bringing four of their five starters from last season would spark a little continuity for the Hawkeyes, but so far that doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, Iowa has looked pretty lethargic against mainly inferior competition so far in non-conference play with their best win coming over Drake (RPI: 93) and a handful of other wins over low-majors. Their success will hinge largely on Gatens’ ability to carry them and how well their veterans can respond to conference play. However, given what we’ve seen so far it’s hard to imagine that the Hawkeyes will be able to climb out of the 10th spot in the B1G.