DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - In some respects, Iowa just wrapped up its best season in years. The Hawkeyes earned a spot in the Top 25 for the first time in nearly a decade and reached the NCAA tournament after an eight-year absence.
The ending was miserable.
Iowa completed its late-season tailspin on Wednesday night with a 78-65 overtime loss to Tennessee in the First Four of the NCAA tournament. It was the seventh loss in eight games for the Hawkeyes (20-13), who went from a trendy Final Four pick to largely forgotten in the span of a month.
Iowa certainly has the potential to compete for a strong Big Ten finish and another NCAA tournament berth in 2014-15. But the program has a lot of questions to answer in the offseason.
Iowa will lose a crucial piece in senior guard Devyn Marble, who grew from an unheralded recruit to one of the school’s best players in four years with coach Fran McCaffery. Marble finished fifth in school history with 1,694 points and was an All-Big Ten pick as a senior.
The Hawkeyes probably won’t have a scorer as talented as Marble next season and the depth they used to overwhelm certain opponents likely won’t be there, either.
McCaffery still has plenty to work with. Aaron White led Iowa with 6.7 rebounds a game and was second on the team in scoring. White will be a senior next season, and he’ll likely be asked to shoulder more of the scoring burden for the Hawkeyes.
Point guard Mike Gesell had a decent sophomore season, and shooting guard Josh Oglesby showed at times that he can provide the Hawkeyes with a much-needed perimeter threat.
But the most intriguing player in Iowa’s backcourt is Peter Jok, who showed flashes of innate scoring ability in non-conference play but sat largely on the bench during the Big Ten season. Jok broke out against Tennessee with 10 points in just 16 minutes, and he’ll play a lot more than that next season if his defense and overall consistency can catch up to his offense.
“When you go from playing a lot to not playing, there’s two ways to go,” McCaffery said. “You can keep working. You can lock in and get better and force me to play you or you can finger point and blame and go in the other direction. And he’s a young man with great character. He worked, and he made me play him and he kept producing. And obviously (he’s) a key component of our program as we move forward.”
Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff showed plenty of skill in his first year at Iowa, though he wasn’t consistent.
But the growth of forward/center Gabe Olaseni was an encouraging development for Iowa. It’s easy to imagine Olaseni playing more minutes in 2014-15 as the Hawkeyes look to replace starting forward Melsahn Basabe.
Center Adam Woodbury still hasn’t lived up to the outsized expectations he arrived on campus with. But Woodbury also had the best game of his career in the most important one, scoring 16 points in the loss to the Volunteers.
If the 7-foot-1 Woodbury can build off that strong season-ending performance, he and Olaseni could form one of the most formidable frontcourts in the Big Ten.
“Here’s a guy that I think we all recognize had a chance to be special when he came to Iowa, and we’re seeing that now,” McCaffery said of Woodbury.
The Hawkeyes have scored verbal commitments from incoming freshman forward Dominque Uhl and guard Brady Ellingson, though the makeup of the current roster likely means they won’t be counted on much next season. But Iowa also recently got a verbal commitment from highly touted junior college point guard Trey Dickerson, who could make a big impact as early as 2014-15.
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