Expectations: a word that has haunted Iowa sports for years and something that has not been kind to them when the stakes are high. Last year at this time the Iowa basketball team’s expectations were as high since the Alford era and things looked up for the 2013-14 squad. These expectations were not fulfilled for Iowa fans, losing seven of their last eight games and an identity that seemed to be lost.
As the 2014-2015 college basketball regular season begins to wind down with the Iowa Hawkeyes (17-10, 8-6) finding themselves once again amidst a year full of similar expectations for Fran and company, it begs the question, are the Hawkeyes poised to make a deep postseason run or will they experience déjà vu from a year ago?
Throughout the arc of the regular season a postseason run looked in store for the Hawks, snatching up quality wins against powerhouse teams like North Carolina, Ohio State (twice), and Maryland.
Then, there are times where the thought of just sneaking in the backdoor of the NCAA tournament is deserved for a team that has had numerous second half collapses. Most recently, a loss to Big Ten bottom feeder, Northwestern, that only leaves fans scratching their heads in confusion.
There are three major factors moving forward that are key if this veteran squad is to find success come March. First, it is crucial for Iowa to start fast in the first half of games. Fast starts have paved the way for impressive blowout wins at Michigan and home against Maryland.
Playing with the lead is crucial too. Ever since the second half debacle against Michigan State early in the conference schedule, the leader after the first 20 minutes has gone on to win each and every game.
Secondly, Iowa’s best offense has been fueled by their havoc-causing defense. Iowa’s length and scrappy guards makes for a dangerous combination, and puts the team 3rd in the Big Ten with 6.5 steals per game. These steals lead to easy transition points that jumpstarting the offense, huge for a team that has failed to consistently knock down perimeter shots.
Iowa has shown the ability to be one of the better defensive teams in the Big Ten, but now it is just a matter of showing the same intensity game in and game out.
Finally, the continuing emergence of Jarrod Uthoff is huge for the Hawkeyes. We know that Aaron White, the team leader, will consistently put up his 14 points, 7 rebound game. Still, where Iowa finds its most success is when the offense runs through Uthoff.
The 6’8 Cedar Rapids native leads the team in three point percentage with 41% and total 3-pointers with 46. Uthoff is shooting over 50 percent from the field the last three games, a number that has been on the climb ever since Fran McCaffery publicly stated that Uthoff needed to assert himself offensively following the home loss to Minnesota.
It is safe to say that Fran echoed the hopes of the Hawkeye faithful that night, and everyone has since seen the product in motion.
All of the pieces seem to be in place for a significant run in the postseason for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Then again, they were last year too. The difference this year to propel the program over the hump? It just might be consistency.