DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A late season slide and the loss of its best player left Iowa with a lot of questions mark heading into 2014-15.
The Hawkeyes answered those doubts with a solid season that included their first NCAA Tournament win in 14 years.
Iowa (22-12), whose season ended with an 87-68 loss to second-seeded Gonzaga in Seattle on Sunday night, went 12-6 in the Big Ten and reached the NCAAs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in nine years.
It was also the season that saw senior Aaron White take his place among the great players in school history.
White made up for the absence of departed star Devyn Marble with one of the best seasons a Hawkeye has ever had.
He averaged 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds a game, leading Iowa to a six-game winning streak at the end of Big Ten that ultimately sealed an NCAA bid.
White finished his career second in school history with 1,859 points and third with 901 rebounds, becoming just one of 12 Big Ten players to surpass 1,800 points and 900 boards.
White, along with fellow seniors Gabe Olaseni and Josh Oglesby, served as a cornerstone for coach Fran McCaffery during an arduous rebuilding effort.
Five years into McCaffery’s tenure, Iowa has fully transitioned from a struggling program to one that can consistently compete in the Big Ten.
“I think that’s the thing that impresses me the most about this class is they were willing to, to some degree, believe in me and my staff. But I think more so believe in themselves that when we’re there, we’re going to go to the NCAA Tournament, because we’re going to prepare and we’re going to work and we’re going to recruit people in the next class, which they did, and then the next class, which they did. And that’s how you build a program,” McCaffery said.
Still, Iowa heads into the offseason with more questions than ever.
The biggest one? How to replace White’s production.
The Hawkeyes bring back guards Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons for their senior years.
Guard Peter Jok has a chance to develop into an All-Big Ten type player if he keeps improving like he did this season.
Forward Jarrod Uthoff will likely be the focal point of the offense, and center Adam Woodbury will have more responsibility than ever without Olaseni around.
Forward Dominque Uhl showed promise as a freshman and should see a big spike in playing time in 2015-16.
Brady Ellingson was cut short by injuries, but the Hawkeyes like his potential as a shooter.
At first glance, Iowa’s latest recruiting class doesn’t have anyone that appears to be ready for significant playing time as a freshman. But the Hawkeyes should have enough depth to let those players develop at their own pace.
Iowa had its ups and downs this season, losing to rivals Northern Iowa and Iowa State but beating North Carolina, Ohio State and Maryland among others.
The 83-52 blowout win over Davidson in the NCAA Tournament was the highlight for a program that has put itself on solid footing in the Big Ten a year after finishing with seven losses in eight games.
“It’s well documented. We weren’t very good when we first got here. We just — every day we just went to work, fighting, for one another, with one another,” White said.
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