Men's hoops faces Idaho State Saturday


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With point guard Cully Payne sidelined indefinitely with a hernia and guard Matt Gatens still feeling the effects of a torn hand tendon, there may be a concern about bench players being thrown into the Iowa basketball team's starting rotation.

It doesn't appear this is a concern for the coaching staff, though. The bench is playing well enough to, well, start right now.

Iowa has received sufficient production from its nonstarters so far this season, most notably freshmen Zach McCabe and Roy Devyn Marble, who are both averaging 9.7 points per game over the last three contests.

When it comes to team improvement, the bench players and starters are feeding off one another. A good bench means more motivated starters, and good starters means a bench getting better repetitions in practice.

"It helped me a lot, especially with Matt [Gatens]," Marble said about playing against the starters every day in practice. "And [Eric] May brings a more physical presence … I got a lot out of those two guys."

Marble is debatably Iowa's best bench player this season, a player coach Fran McCaffery praised effusively at Thursday's press conference as a "gamer" and someone who still practices the "lost art" of the midrange jumpshot.

But it's not all Marble.

Iowa's bench as a whole has scored more than the other squads' reserves in six of the team's seven games this year, with the exception being the season-opening loss to South Dakota State. And so far, it hasn't just been small margins — it's been by double digits in all six games.

As a whole, Iowa's bench has outscored opponents by a staggering margin of 223 points to 84 points, or an average of 31.8 points per game to 12 points per game.

The coaching staff has noticed this, too.

"I don't think there's any question about that," McCaffery said, and he went on to list some guys who were predicted to be non-factors at the beginning of the year that have earned some playing time as the season has gone on. "[Jordan] Stoermer, [Brandon] Stubbs, [Devon] Archie. Those guys, they've all produced."

McCaffery pointed out that even the walk-ons for Iowa basketball are able to challenge the starters defensively in practice, again continuing the progression of the better players on the team.

This weekend, the bench will be prominent as Iowa will have to try to solve a team from the Big Sky Conference.

Idaho State shouldn't be too much trouble for the Hawkeyes — except for one player. The Bengals have 7-foot center Deividas Busma, who averages 13.2 points and 7.4 rebounds a game. And with no one in Iowa's starting lineup over 6-7, there could be trouble guarding the big man.

However, Idaho State lost to South Dakota State on Nov. 23 by 32 — a team Iowa lost to by just 10 in the Hawkeyes' on Nov. 14.

For Saturday, the projected starting lineup is the usual starting five: Bryce Cartwright, Matt Gatens, Melsahn Basabe, Eric May, and Jarryd Cole. But with the bench playing as well as it is, don't be surprised to see a usual substitute get the chance to be on the floor for tip-off.

The team's leading scorer, Eric May, reflected this, saying that the starting five is never totally set — possibly part of the reason the bench is so motivated.

"It's whoever is playing well in practice, and that puts pressure on [the usual starters] which is good," he said. "That makes you go a lot harder in practice and work a lot harder."

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