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IOWA CITY, Iowa – Last season's Hawkeyes could have been known as the team that revived the program. Instead, they'll be remembered for crumbling down the stretch.
Iowa was ranked 15th in the country when a fallen beam at Indiana's Assembly Hall forced the Hoosiers to postpone their Feb. 18 matchup with the Hawkeyes. The symbolism was fitting, because it foreshadowed an Iowa collapse few saw coming.
The Hawkeyes dropped seven of their last eight games, including a loss to Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and finished 20-13 and 9-9 in the Big Ten.
"Was the leadership a factor in it? You could argue it, I guess. But the reality is we didn't defend the way we need to defend to consistently win. That's why we were 9-9 and not better than that. And I think that's got to be the challenge for this team," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.
The Hawkeyes have enough talent to make their long-suffering loyal fan base forget about last season, even with the loss of star guard Devyn Marble. The real question is whether the Hawkeyes can overcome adversity instead of being overwhelmed by it.
Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons and promising junior college transfer Trey Dickerson will compete for minutes at point guard. Senior Josh Oglesby and the talented but troubled Peter Jok will be the top shooting guards, with Gesell available to shift over to exploit matchups.
Forward Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff each have All-Big Ten type potential, and Adam Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni could form one of the nation's best center duos.
Here are some of issues to consider as Iowa looks to return to the NCAA tournament. The Hawkeyes open the season Nov. 14 against Hampton.
WHITE'S TEAM: The loss of Marble leaves White as Iowa's top returning player. He averaged 12.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game last season. He also shot 58.4 percent from the field and nearly 81 percent from the free-throw line.
But the 6-foot-9 White lost confidence in his mid-range jumper last season, and hit just 8 threes all year. If White can get opponents to respect his jump shot, he could be in the running for conference player-of-the-year honors.
"He's also established himself in terms of work ethic. He's also the guy that will speak up," McCaffery said.
UTHOFF'S TIME: Uthoff has the skill to someday rank among the nation's most versatile big men. The 6-foot-9 redshirt junior had 35 blocks last season and shot 50 percent from the field, 42.5 percent from 3-point range and, like White, over 80 percent from the line.
But too often, Uthoff disappeared for large stretches, which can't be the case this season with the absences of Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe. Uthoff has vowed to be more assertive this season.
JOK AND ROLL: The upside with Jok is that he, like Uthoff, appears to have star-type ability. The downside: The sophomore was arrested twice in the offseason, both times while on his moped. He pleaded guilty to charges of drunk driving and driving with a revoked license and served his four-day jail sentence in September.
Jok closed out his freshman season with a flourish, scoring 10 points in limited action during Iowa's loss to the Volunteers. If he can stay out of trouble and improve his conditioning, Jok could easily overtake Oglesby as Iowa's main shooting guard.
DOUBLE TEAM: Woodbury isn't the game-changer many thought he'd be when he spurned North Carolina and other teams to play for his home-state Hawkeyes. And Olaseni's next start will be the first of his career.
But the pair gives Iowa a constant presence in the post, and McCaffery has hinted that he might play Woodbury and Olaseni at times based on matchups.
TOUGH TESTS: McCaffery scheduled too soft in nonconference play a few years back, and it might have cost Iowa an NCAA tournament bid. Strength of schedule shouldn't be an issue in 2014-15.
Iowa plays Texas and either California or Syracuse in Madison Square Garden, North Carolina in Chapel Hill, resurgent mid-major Northern Iowa in Des Moines and rival Iowa State in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes also have home-and-homes with Big Ten favorites Wisconsin and Ohio State.
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