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Versatility key for Iowa

BY JACOB SHEYKO | OCTOBER 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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ROSEMONT, Illinois — There’s a common metaphor for basketball that compares a team to a puzzle. If said team adds a new player, he’s “another piece to the puzzle.” The metaphor works, for the most part. It stresses the importance of pieces fitting together to accomplish one goal: complete the puzzle. Or in this case, winning.

However, this metaphor assumes that each player fits just one mold, just as a puzzle piece fits into one unique spot.

This is not a good comparison to describe Iowa, because if most teams are puzzles, then the Hawkeyes are pieces of clay, molding to whatever role or position needed for a specific situation.

“I think we’ve gotten away from the 1,2,3,4,5,” head coach Fran McCaffery said Thursday at Big Ten media day. “I think it’s more like two guards, two forwards, three guards, two posts. We can go small, we can go big.”

Iowa’s biggest strength last season was its depth; this season the Hawkeyes return most of that. They lost three seniors but have gained several new faces who expect to see time right away.

This season, their biggest strength might be their versatility.

This versatility makes Iowa’s depth possible. And it starts with the frontcourt.

Wisconsin may hold the title of best frontcourt in the Big Ten, but Iowa has the most flexible. The Hawkeyes could throw out a lineup as small as Aaron White (6-9) playing center, to as tall as both Adam Woodbury (7-1) and Gabe Olaseni (6-10) patrolling the paint as a tandem.

“You look at the guys he recruits,” White said. “He doesn’t recruit guys who play one position or who stick into one mold. It fits into [McCaffery’s] system and what he wants to do.”

White has become the prototype for Iowa in terms of versatility. His presence predated the arrival of players such as Jarrod Uthoff and Dom Uhl, who all share similar skills and body types — lean, long, with the ability to run.

Because of that versatility, lineups such as the one featuring the “twin towers” — Olaseni and Woodbury — are possible.

“It’s an exciting thing,” Olaseni. “I think once the season gets going, we’ll see how well it can work. It’s good thing to have in the coaches’ back pocket.”

This versatility is a must in McCaffery’s system. Iowa ranked 10th last season in points per game with 81.5. Much of this was because of McCaffery’s fast-paced offense and frequent substitutions.

It’s a system that most players love to play in, but not everyone can adjust to.

“It’s a challenge,” McCaffery said. “But it’s only a challenge if you have players that are unwilling to accept that sort of atmosphere.”

The multi-position aspect to Iowa’s personnel also helps the Hawkeyes on the defensive end of the floor, which McCaffery notes as one of the main reasons for last season’s collapse.

In most games, there are obvious mismatches. Perhaps a big is too small to defend another big or a forward is matched up out of position, defending a guard on the perimeter.

With the Hawkeyes, they not only avoid these defensive mismatches, they have a greater opportunity to exploit them.

“It kind of depends on who you’re going against,” guard Josh Oglesby said. “Having a lot of lineups, you can go with to adjust to the opposing team is really beneficial.”

The number of lineups Iowa trots out onto the court will likely be tops in the Big Ten, if not close to top in the nation. Some may criticize it for not giving the stars enough time; some may think it doesn’t let players get into a rhythm.

Either way, the Hawkeyes aren’t going away from it any time soon.

“It’s just the kind of team we’ve had; it’s how we’ve recruited,” McCaffery said. “And I think over the long haul, it’s good for us.”

Follow @JacobSheyko on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis of the Iowa men’s basketball team.


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