Aaron White, Nathan Hawkins

Iowa’s Aaron White embraces burden of leadership after tough finish to 2013-14 season

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LAS VEGAS — Given the amount of talent that returned to Iowa City last season, the 2013-14 campaign was one in which many forecasted a return to the NCAA tournament for Fran McCaffery’s Iowa Hawkeyes. With guard Roy Devyn Marble and forward Aaron White leading an experienced group not only were the Hawkeyes seen as an NCAA tournament team, but they were also seen by some as a possible contender in the Big Ten. Iowa played that way during the first half of the season, winning ten of its first 11 games and beginning Big Ten play with wins in four of their first five contests.

But things changed following that solid start to conference play, with the rigors of the Big Ten and defensive struggles combining to result in a 9-9 conference record and losses in six of their seven games ahead of the NCAA tournament. A team that looked to be well on its way to a “protected” seed in the NCAA tournament found itself in Dayton, where they lost to Tennessee in overtime as their head coach was dealing with a family issue more important than the game of basketball.

With the likes of Marble, Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe out of eligibility, Iowa is looking to not only return to the NCAA tournament but do so in smoother fashion in 2014-15. And while the defensive issues may stick out to most when comparing the start of the 2013-14 season to its finish, in the eyes of rising senior forward Aaron White there wasn’t just one particular issue that proved problematic for the Hawkeyes.

“When it comes down to it we were winning at the beginning of the year and we weren’t at the end,” White told NBCSports.com last week at the LeBron James Skills Academy. “A lot goes into that. We were playing with a high level of confidence, sharing the ball and trusting each other. But sometimes you can’t really put your finger on one thing that results in a losing streak.

“I’m just proud of the season we had as a whole. I think we put Iowa on the map, reaching the top ten [of the national polls] and being in the Top 25 for most of the season. [Last season] taught me a lot and my teammates also learned a lot that we’ll take into next year. I think I took a lot more good from last season than bad.”

White was one of the mainstays on that team, starting all 33 games and posting averages of 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-9 forward shot a career-best 58.4% from the field, a figure which ranked first in the Big Ten. And with the now-departed Marble being the only other double-digit scorer (17.0 ppg) for at team that also had seven players averaging between 5.7 and 7.8 points per game, it’s pretty clear that White will be in a position where he’ll be asked to do more both statistically and as a leader for the Hawkeyes.

“It affects me individually because I think when people looked at Iowa, it was me and Devyn,” noted White. “We were kind of a 1-2 punch. And now that he’s gone it’s my team in a sense. I’m not saying that in a selfish way, but I’m the guy returning with the most experience. Devyn was a great player obviously, making first team All-Big Ten and getting drafted. We’re not going to have one guy fill his role. Everyone’s going to have to step up and we’ll be able make up for [his departure].”

And in discussing what he’s doing to work towards being an even more integral figure for Iowa, White noted that the goal of being a professional once his college career ends has impacted the way in which he’s gone about his business during the summer.

“I just want to conduct myself as if I’m going to be a professional basketball player,” said White. “That’s being more aggressive on offense, being more of a leader on defense and communicating. Improving my body, and just trying to prepare myself to have a great final year and take that into next summer.

“I’ve had a lot of talks with Coach McCaffery and we’re on the same wavelength. He always wants me to lead the team, be confident and be aggressive. Just play my game and don’t defer to anyone else; look for my shot and play hard and the rest will fall in place.”

Accounting for the loss of Marble, Basabe and McCabe as a team will be a group task especially when considering what Marble gave the Hawkeyes. Among the options who will be asked to help account for the lost production are guard Mike Gesell (7.8 ppg, 3.9 apg) and forward Jarrod Uthoff (7.6, 4.6 rpg), and the Hawkeyes are also adding a three-member recruiting class led by junior college transfer Trey Dickerson. Last season at Williston State College in North Dakota the 6-foot-1 Dickerson posted averages of 19.8 points, 5.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game, and his arrival gives Iowa some additional perimeter depth alongside its returnees.

However even with those options available to McCaffery, White’s abilities not only as a player but also a leader will be needed if Iowa is to make a return trip to the NCAA tournament. And part of the battle for any team playing in a league as rigorous as the Big Ten is to keep a stretch of negative results from “snowballing” into a situation that proves too difficult to rebound from. This is where the experiences that White and his teammates come into play, and it’s an opportunity he’s looking forward to taking on in 2014-15.

“It’s the best league in the country,” White stated. “[Some of the other campers] may tell you otherwise but it definitely is. Every night’s a dogfight whether you’re playing the 12th place team or the first-place team, home or away it’s a battle. Look at Wisconsin. They lost to Northwestern at home and went on a losing streak (the Badgers lost five of six games early in conference play), and then they end up reaching the Final Four.

“It’s just that type of league. You have to be ready every night, but that’s what makes it fun. You don’t want to be in a league where you have a “cupcake” every other week. I’ve loved the challenge all three years I’ve been at Iowa, and I’m looking forward to this year.”

Wisconsin ends No. 2 Maryland’s 27-game home win streak

Wisconsin forward Vitto Brown (30) shoots during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Maryland, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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Just over a month ago Wisconsin lost at Northwestern, dropping to 9-9 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten and had the look of a team that would have to fight simply to get into the NIT. Since then, Greg Gard’s Badgers have won seven straight games with the most recent triumph being a 70-57 victory at No. 2 Maryland. Not only did Wisconsin become the first Big Ten team to beat the Terrapins at the Xfinity Center since Maryland joined the Big Ten, but they also ended Maryland’s 27-game home win streak.

And it was Wisconsin’s offensive balance that stood out, as four starters scored in double figures led by forward Vitto Brown.

Brown, who accounted for 18 points and five rebounds in Wisconsin’s win over Nebraska Wednesday night, was even better against Maryland as he scored a career-high 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting from the field and grabbed seven rebounds. While Bronson Koenig (16 points, six rebounds, five assists) and Nigel Hayes (14 and six rebounds) are the ones expected to shoulder much of the load, players such as Brown, Ethan Happ and Zak Showalter (11 points) will also be key as Wisconsin makes its push for an NCAA tournament bid.

In Wisconsin’s first five conference games Brown averaged 4.4 points and 1.8 rebounds per contest. Since then he’s averaging 11.4 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, scoring in double figures in each of Wisconsin’s last three games.

Overall Wisconsin’s looked far more fluid offensively during this win streak, and over the last three games the Badgers have shot very well from the perimeter as they made nearly 51 percent of their attempts (12-for-26 against Maryland). Add in Wisconsin’s ability to take advantage of Maryland’s defensive rebounding issues, converting 13 offensive boards into 20 second-chance points, and it was easy to see why Wisconsin was able to grab control of the game in the first half during a 20-0 run that gave them the separation they needed.

Maryland’s issues throughout conference play remain the same, as they struggled to end defensive possessions while also turning the ball over far too often (seven times) during the aforementioned Wisconsin run. With Melo Trimble not playing at the level he’s capable of reaching (he may not be completely healthy), Maryland has some things to address during this stretch run.

But more than anything, Saturday was the product of a Wisconsin team that’s starting to click at the right time. And as crazy as it may seem, given how Wisconsin began Big Ten play, the Badgers only two games out of first place.

No. 5 Xavier finds shooting touch in 74-57 blowout at Butler

Xavier head coach Chris Mack talks with James Farr (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Butler, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Indianapolis. Xavier won 74-57. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
AP Photo/Darron Cummings
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) No. 5 Xavier learned its lesson.

To keep winning, it must continue do the dirty work.

Four days after stumbling at Creighton, the Musketeers got back to basics and used a balanced offense and a smothering defense to run away from Butler 74-57 on Saturday.

“We played much better today and after about the first four or five minutes, we defended,” coach Chris Mack said. “Our shots were, in my opinion, really good ones because we got in the lane, we made the extra pass and I thought that was the difference.”

Whatever the explanation, the Musketeers (22-3, 10-3 Big East) certainly looked worthy of the highest ranking in school history.

After making a season-low 30 percent from the field and just 1 of 21 3-point attempts in Tuesday’s loss, Xavier rebounded by shooting 56.9 percent and going 9 of 18 beyond the arc. J.P. Macura led the way with 13 points while Edmond Sumner and Remy Abell each had 12.

But the biggest improvements showed up in other areas – defense, rebounding and effort. They allowed 36 points over the final 31 1/2 minutes.

“Everybody was boxing out and rebounding, and on the offensive end we have so much talent we could get whatever we wanted,” said Abell, who started his college career playing for the Indiana Hoosiers.

The difference was obvious.

Butler (17-8, 6-7) was held almost 25 points below its season average.

Kelan Martin, with 15 points, and Andrew Chrabascz, with 12, were the only players to score more than 10. And the top three scorers – Martin, Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones – were a combined 11 of 39 from the field as the Bulldogs’ three-game winning streak came to an end.

Xavier crushed the Bulldogs so thoroughly that chants of “Let’s Go X” resounded throughout sold out Hinkle Fieldhouse over the final minutes.

“We didn’t have near the effort, the juice, the purpose defensively and we didn’t move the ball offensively and that was actually the case from the opening minute,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “We mentioned that in the four-minute media and said that had to improve and when it doesn’t these things happen.”

Butler used a 9-0 first-half run to take a 21-13 lead midway through the first half.

Xavier answered with a 27-6 run that included four 3s and a three-point play in a 27-6 run to make it 40-27. The Bulldogs got as close as 47-39 early in the second half, which later became a seven-point deficit after a replay review gave Dunham a 3.

But the Bulldogs couldn’t get closer.

“You can go 1 for 21 one game, and then the next game it’s – I’m sure it was better,” Macura said. “That’s basketball.”

POINTERS

Xavier’s dominance showed up in two key stats on the box score. The Musketeers outscored Butler 36-14 in points off the bench and 36-18 in the paint despite having only two offensive rebounds. Xavier has won six of its last seven.

ON THE ROAD

Even the road has been kind to the Musketeers this season. They have won seven times in true road games, their highest season total since 2010-11. They have also won five Big East games on the road – more than they won in either of their first two seasons in the league and they have won 10 of the last 13 at Hinkle.

MOVING UP

Dunham continues his ascent on the Bulldogs’ career scoring list. After moving from 14th to sixth on the list in the first 23 games this season, Dunham moved passed Lynn Mitchem (1,798) for fifth and within one point of A.J. Graves (1,807) for fourth. Matt Howard is third (1,939) and the only 2,000-point scorers in school history are Chad Tucker (2,321) and Darrin Fitzgerald (2,019).

TIP-INS

Xavier: Former Indiana prep star Trevon Bluiett had 11 points and four rebounds and James Farr had 12 rebounds. … Each of Xavier’s 22 wins has come by at least seven points. … The Musketeers were the highest-ranked team to play at Hinkle Fieldhouse since No. 3 DePaul visited Feb. 23, 1981.

Butler: Shot 33.3 percent overall and was 8 of 22 on 3s. …. The Bulldogs only have three wins at home against Top 10 teams – No. 8 Gonzaga in January 2013, No. 3 Michigan in 1965-66 and No. 5 Tennessee in 1958-59. … Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence attended the game.

UP NEXT

Xavier hosts No. 20 Providence on Wednesday.

Butler hosts Creighton on Tuesday.