It's easy to forget that Iowa used to be viewed as a perennial Big Ten contender and a team to watch in the NCAA tournament.
Those lofty expectations are back.
The program's long fall from the halcyon days under coach Tom Davis looks to be over. After two trips to the NIT that culminated in a run to the title game a year ago, the Hawkeyes are expected to finish high in the Big Ten and earn their first NCAA tournament trip in eight years.
Iowa could also open the season ranked for the first time 2006, when it won the conference tournament and finished unbeaten at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes (25-13 in 2012-13) begin their most anticipated season in years on Nov. 8 against UNC-Wilmington.
"Clearly you want to be in a position where everybody thinks you're going to be good," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "We are excited that people think enough of our team to rank us in the Top 25 and project us to be in the NCAA tournament. That's exciting. It's an accomplishment for some of the guys who have been here and haven't had that before. But the reality is now we have to go out and do it."
The Hawkeyes return four starters, led by senior guard Devyn Marble and junior forward Aaron White, and a host of veteran reserves with significant Big Ten experience.
Iowa will also add Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff and freshman guard Peter Jok to its rotation, and McCaffery believes both could have significant roles.
"I'm trying to figure out who can play together, who makes sense together, and I guess at this point what I've concluded is we have a lot of good players, and they're all going to play," McCaffery said.
Here are five things to watch for the Hawkeyes this season:
MARBLE ON POINT: The Hawkeyes will run their offense through Marble, who averaged a team-high 15 points and three assists per game last season. Marble is the most experienced guard on the roster, and the move to the point is based largely on the fact that he's at his best with the ball in his hands. "I want him to think like a point guard, and to me that means you engineer victory, at home, on the road, late game," McCaffery said. Sophomore Mike Gesell will back up Marble, though both could share the floor as well.
THEY'RE GOING TO JARROD: Uthoff is a 6-foot-9 forward who can play multiple positions. Though he's never played a minute in college, Iowa believes Uthoff can be useful from inside the paint and on the perimeter because of his blend of size and ball-handling skills. If the Hawkeyes can find room for Uthoff, White and 7-foot-1 Adam Woodbury in the same lineup, they'll be dangerous on the blocks.
NO BRICKS: One issue that plagued the Hawkeyes in 2012-13 was outside shooting. Iowa shot just 30.5 percent from 3-point range, and reserve Josh Oglesby hit only 42 3s in 156 attempts. But McCaffery is hoping that the addition of Jok and the law of averages helps Iowa improve their perimeter shooting. "Last year wasn't a year to remember for myself," Oglesby said. "I look at it as motivation for this year to try and prove people wrong."
CENTER OF IT ALL: Woodbury struggled to live up to the hype surrounding his arrival as a freshman, averaging 4.9 points and 4.8 rebounds a game. But the Hawkeyes still expect big things out of the Sioux City native, who along with backup Gabe Olaseni could give Iowa one of the top center duos in the country. "He's hungry. He's in phenomenal shape. He has been incredibly consistent, and I'm just thrilled with his development," McCaffery said of Woodbury.
TOUGHER SCHEDULE: Iowa's chances for an at-large NCAA tournament bid were hurt significantly last season by its nonconference schedule. The Hawkeyes made sure to schedule tougher this winter, with Notre Dame, Xavier and possible matchups against Tennessee and Kansas on the slate. Iowa also faces Iowa State on the road and Drake in Des Moines.
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