Howe: McCaffery Building Depth

Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery wasn't left with many options last season when he took over the program. This fall, the roster is deeper and so is the competition for playing time.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - Fran McCaffery wasn't happy with the lack of hustle from Devon Archie. The coach stopped practiced Tuesday and let the senior know about it.

"Devon, I need you to run," McCaffery said. "Move. That's ridiculous. Gabe (Olaseni), in for Archie."

Last year, McCaffery was often handcuffed by a shortened roster. In his second season running the Hawkeyes, he has built the team up enough to provide competition at most positions.

McCaffery called Archie back into the action a few minutes later during Tuesday's workout at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He sent his message and moved on. The whole team learned a lesson - someone is ready to replace you if you're not getting it done.

Even with a a depleted roster in Year 1, McCaffery showed he'd play the hot hand whenever possible. It didn't matter what class you were in and or what you'd already accomplished.

McCaffery isn't a dummy. He knows who are his best players. He'll give them the benefit of the doubt to an extent. He's just not afraid to tinker as he plays the game in his head.

It's a refreshing change after watching his two predecessors at Iowa. Steve Alford played favorites with players and was too stubborn to realize what he initially thought was going to happen, was not happening. Todd Lickliter engaged players in head games that often made them resent him.

With Fran, you know where you stand. If you're playing, it's because you earned it in practice and in games. As an athlete, that's all you can ask for.

McCaffery said at Thursday's annual media day event that he would find out in practice, which starts Friday, how minutes will be divided among players at the 3-5 spots. Baring injury, it seemed like point guard Bryce Cartwright and shooting guard Matt Gatens would be seeing the bulk of the minutes at their respective positions.

"It just adds more to practice when you're competing," said Iowa junior Eric May, who is challenging for minutes at the three. "That's the way it's supposed to be. If you're not having competition for your spot, then I think something's wrong. It's going to push everybody to play their best."

McCaffery attempted to let May play through a slump last season. The Dubuque native started fast but struggled after an injury. Then the coach sat him down and brought him off of the bench.

The battle for minutes is an ongoing process.

"It's a competition that should never end throughout the year," May said. "I'm not saying that you should be uncomfortable, but you should be willing to push yourself every day to keep that spot."

Perhaps the most interesting position on which to keep an eye is the five. Jarryd Cole is gone to play professionally in Iceland after manning the center spot last season.

Senior Andrew Brommer was running with the first-team at Thursday's practice. McCaffery said Devon Archie, Gabe Olaseni, Melsahn Basasbe and Aaron White also were possibilities to play the five.

If he had his druthers, McCaffery would want seniors Brommer and Archie to show the production to soak up most of the minutes at center. They'll need to improve their consistency for that to happen.

"I would like to go in that direction, simply because that leaves Melsahn not having to play center," McCaffery said. "I'm not concerned with Melsahn being able to play at that position. I am concerned about him wrestling with (Jared) Sullinger and people like that and picking up two early fouls. We need him on the floor.

"So, we have some flexibility, but I don't know that I would say today that this is the direction we are going to go,. We'll have to figure that out over the next couple of weeks."

What happens at the five likely will affect what happens at the four and three positions. If the natural centers - Brommer, Archie, Olaseni - hold down that spot, Basabe, White and Zach McCabe can man the four. White and McCabe also can swing to the three, although McCaffery prefers them at power forward.

That would leave May and Devyn Marble battling at the three. Marble also can play both guard spots and goes into the season as the back-up point guard, McCaffery said.

It's been quite some time since Iowa enjoyed this much depth on the roster. And it doesn't include Cully Payne or Anthony Hubbard, who decided they'd like to play somewhere other than Iowa.

Question marks still surround the backup point guard position, not because Marble can't play it, but because he's more useful elsewhere on the court. The center spot also could be a concern if Brommer and Archie falter and Basabe is forced to the five.

By no means is the program on easy street. It's only Year 2 of McCaffery's reclamation project. But the coach has more pieces than he did a year ago, which will let him play more of his up-tempo style and insert the hot hand.

That's progress.

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