Courts of Dreams: Iowans anticipating strong showing at Big Dance

By: Austin Anderson

Hawkeyes ready to redeem late season meltdown

The 4-9 record in their last 13 games of the 2013-2014 season has been categorized as a collapse for the Iowa Hawkeye men’s basketball team. After spoiling their 16-4 start with a loss to Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Hawks lost leading scorer, playmaker, catalyst and all Big 10 performer Roy Devyn Marble to the NBA.

Marble’s production will have to be replicated by committee. Junior Mike Gesell has improved in each of his first two seasons and will need to continue to reach his potential as one of the upper echelon point guards in the Big 10 in his third season.

Gesell along with Trey Dickenson, one of the top juco transfers in the country, will help lessen the blow from the loss of Marble in the backcourt.

Juniors Anthony Clemmons and Jarrod Uthoff will be the go to scorers from behind the 3-point line having combined to shoot nearly 69 percent through their first two games.

Junior Adam Woodbury is the big 7’1” presence in the middle that will have to battle with the likes of other premier Big 10 big men such as All-American Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin.

The four juniors in the starting lineup will all be vital to the success that the Hawkeyes have this year, but the power to take this team from a NCAA tournament participant to a potential Sweet 16 team lies in the hands of senior Aaron White. White took a backseat to Marble last season and often was known to disappear at times. If White asserts himself as the go to guy for the Hawkeyes and improves his shooting touch, Iowa will be lock for a tournament and will win their first game in the big dance since 2001.

Sweet 16 vets join key recruits in Final Four push

A Sweet 16 run is certainly something to be proud of, especially for a team that hadn’t been to that point in the tournament since 2000. But it’s hard not to play the “what if” game for the Iowa State Cyclones after they lost arguably the most important piece of their basketball puzzle in Georges Niang to injury in their first game of the NCAA tournament.

While it’s obviously a tough loss to swallow with losing all Big 12 players DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim, who was also the conference’s player of the year, the return of a healthy Niang has the Cyclones’ expectations higher than that of a season ago.

Niang has gotten a lot of love as a potential All-American, and rightfully so, but he wasn’t the only Cyclone receiving preseason awards. UNLV transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones was selected as preseason newcomer of the year in the Big 12 and would be the fourth straight Cyclone to win the award.

Head coach Fred Hoiberg has a history of getting key contributions from transfers and seems to have struck it rich again. Dejean-Jones led UNLV in scoring and assists last season while finishing third in rebounds. He’ll start at the guard spot opposite of sophomore Monte Morris and will hope to at least maintain his 13.6 ppg scoring average.

Hoiberg’s other big-time transfer won’t be eligible until December, but he gives the Cyclones a defensive presence protecting the rim that no Hoiberg coached team has had.

Jameel McKay originally signed with Marquette when he came out of college but decided to attend junior college at Indian Hills in Iowa. Due to transfer rules, he must sit out the first semester, but when McKay suits up for the Cyclones after Dec. 20, Iowa State will have a legitimate interior presence that will be vital in a deep tourney run.

Niang, Dejean-Jones and McKay are all integral parts of Hoiberg’s team, but the X-factor might be sophomore Monte Morris. With a 4.79 assist to turnover ratio last year that led the entire country, Morris will once again have the ball in his hands feeding his teammates. The progression of Morris into one of the conference’s top point guards will have Iowa State eyeing the Final Four when March rolls around.

Returning starters aim to bust Mach brackets

The UNI Panthers are known around the country for advancing to the 2010 Sweet 16 after an Ali Farokhmanesh dagger ripped the hearts out of the top ranked Kansas Jayhawks. It was one of the greatest moments in the history of the school, but in the four years since, the Panthers have yet to return to the big dance. With all five starters returning from a team that finished third in the Missouri Valley Conference a year ago, Ben Jacobson’s team is poised to get back.

It’s no secret that MVC powerhouse Wichita State is the conference favorite this year as they should be. It also shouldn’t be a secret that the McLeod Center will be packed on Jan. 31 when the Shockers come to Cedar Falls.

Among the five returning starters for UNI is All-MVC performer Seth Tuttle. His 15.4 ppg and 8.0 rpg paced the Panthers last season.

Paul Jesperson started 33 games for the Virginia Cavaliers two seasons ago before transferring to UNI. The 6’6” wing has come off the bench early but might make his way into the starting lineup before the season is over.

The Panthers have the potential to be one of the top shooting 3-point shooting teams in the country. The six leading scorers return from a team that shot 45 percent of its shots from beyond the arc and connected on 40 percent of them. Those numbers actually produced an offense that was statistically better than the MVC’s best Wichita State. With an efficient offense, the Panther defense was what really struggled. They allowed the second most points per game in the MVC a year ago, uncharacteristic for a Jacobson-coached team.

With Tuttle and the three point shooting considered, senior point guard Deon Mitchell might be the biggest determining factor for how well the Panther season goes. Mitchell, while being a good player, has also been known to be inconsistent over his four year career at UNI. If he improves his 3.4 assists per game to go along with his 12.1 points per game, pairing Mitchell and Tuttle could be the duo that knocks the door down on the elusive big dance.

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