Bolander: It’s a lock for Hawkeye basketball


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In an era of one-and-dones, the Iowa men’s basketball team will be in the NCAA Tournament next season, not because of its talent but rather its continuity.

You can book it. I guarantee it. It is a lock.

While marquee programs around the country have rosters flooded with 18-year-old kids attending universities on what are essentially one-year contracts, Fran McCaffery’s developmental system has the Black and Gold poised to not just compete in the nation’s toughest conference next year but have an outside shot of winning it.

I know, I know. Its seems outlandish and almost ludicrous to think a program just a few years removed from a 10- win season could turn things around this quickly. But when you begin to look at the facts and figures, the idea of Iowa competing in the upper echelon of the Big Ten is not all that unrealistic. Let’s face it; the days of simply competing for the conference’s respect are over. They have it.

The Hawks return their top five scorers from this year’s campaign. Ohio State and Michigan, the only other schools in the conference that can say that, have potential NBA lottery picks that have yet to make their decisions to bolt for the league or stay in school. In continuing to fuel expectations, the Black and Gold have more players with starting experience coming back to school, with eight, than any other program in the Big Ten.

Combine all of this with the fact that of the teams that finished above them this year, only a starting five featuring cold-blooded assassin — err, National Player of the Year — Trey Burke was younger than Iowa’s. You can almost see the stars aligning for a program that has seen attendance and revenue both jump in the three years since McCaffery took the reins in Iowa City.

The one knock you could make on the team was its lack of a go-to scorer, which is fair considering its best player scored just 2 points in two-consecutive conference losses earlier this year. Devyn Marble did everything in his power to dismiss that, though, dominating postseason play for the most part after averaging just under 19 points a game in the Black and Gold’s final nine regular-season contests. He just missed out on averaging the most points per game in a single season since Adam Haluska in 2006-2007. Coincidentally, that was the last time the Hawks went dancing in March.

After watching the Hawks fall on the road in Lincoln on February 23rd, I wrote the following:
“It seems that two steps forward, one step back will be the cruel reality for this year’s version of the Black and Gold on the hardwood. The collapse to Nebraska a crucial blow to the Hawkeyes chances of making the dance come March, to having the slipper finally fit, to change what it means to hear the words ‘Iowa basketball.’ ”

Fewer than two months later, the Hawks had reeled of eight of their next 11 and were ending their season in the mecca of basketball. It may not have been the NCAA Tournament, but the culture is changing in a dormant hoops community ready to erupt.

You can see it in the streets. You can feel it in the arena. Carver is slowly starting to roar again.

Either way you look at it, next year should be fun. Even the valuable minutes of Senior Eric May will be gobbled up by two of the last three Iowa Mr. Basketball’s in Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff, and incoming freshman Peter Jok.

Everything is set for Fran’s boys this time. Only one question remains. How will the hunters respond to becoming the hunted in 2014?

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