Since picking up wins over Minnesota and Ohio State, Iowa has dropped its last two games ahead of Saturday’s matchup with No. 5 Wisconsin in Iowa City. With Iowa sitting at 13-7 overall and 4-3 in Big Ten play, avenging their 82-50 loss in Madison on January 20 would undoubtedly enhance their chances of making a return trip to the NCAA tournament.
However, head coach Fran McCaffery has two health issues to take into consideration with front court contributors Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni at less than full strength. White suffered a stinger in Iowa’s loss to Purdue, and Olaseni rolled his right ankle during practice on Monday. With Wisconsin being led by the front court trio of Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes, having all available bodies is critical for Iowa if they’re to beat the Badgers.
According to McCaffery, it’s likely that White will give it a go Saturday afternoon.
“We want him in the lineup. He wants to be in the lineup,” coach Fran McCaffery said of White. “I think there’s a good chance he’s probably going to try to do something. We’re going to see what happens when he gets out there.”
Iowa’s biggest problem in the first meeting was their sluggish start offensively, as they scored 17 points and shot 28 percent from the field in the first half. Faced with an 18-point deficit to make up, the Hawkeyes shot better in the second half (61.9%) but Wisconsin wasn’t far off (58.1%) and managed to score 47 points.
Avoiding a similar start is critical for Iowa, which is part of an five-team logjam in the middle of the Big Ten standings. The Hawkeyes are one of five teams with three conference losses, and this weekend should provide some clarity in regards to which teams can make a run over the final full month of the regular season.
After playing an average of 10.7 minutes per game as a sophomore, Iowa’s Gabe Olaseni earned an increase in minutes in 2013-14. Olaseni played 16.7 minutes per game last season, posting averages of 6.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game on a team that reached the NCAA tournament. Obviously the goal for most players in the offseason is to improve enough to warrant more opportunities, and that’s the case for Olaseni.
However there’s a bit of a road block in front of the rising senior on the form of starting center Adam Woodbury, and in a story written by Don Doxsie of the Quad-City Times moving to the power forward spot may be Olaseni’s best route to more playing time. But with that desire comes the need to show he’s capable of handling the responsibilities that may differ from one position to the other, and that’s something Olaseni’s aims to do this summer.
That would be another first. Olaseni never has played a second at any position other than center in a game at any level, but he’s excited at the prospect of being a four instead of a five.
“I think I can definitely play the four,” he said following a game in the Prime Time summer league. “I know I can guard fours. I just need to show offensively that I can space the floor and hit the mid-range shot, stuff like that.”
With Roy Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe having graduated there are two openings in the Iowa starting lineup, with Woodbury, point guard Mike Gesell and forward Aaron White being the incumbents. Who slides into those open roles? Olaseni may be one option in the front court, but also to be considered is junior forward Jarrod Uthoff.
In his first season as a Hawkeye, Uthoff provided 7.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game off the bench and from an offensive standpoint may be the best bet for that forward position especially when considering the loss of their leading scorer (Marble). The good thing for Iowa is that they have depth, as ten players averaged double figures in minutes last season and seven of those players will return in 2014-15.