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.”