Miller Grab Bag

HN Publisher Jon Miller is like many of you during this time of the year...he can't wait to get to the bookstore to purchase the latest preseason college football preview and see what the outside world has to say about Iowa and the Big Ten race. Miller talks about his early findings, in addition to how he sees the Iowa basketball program taking shape this summer...

The first college football magazines of this year are hitting the newsstands, and the ‘outside world' views of Iowa football are always fun to read….

 

Until you realize that in some cases, such as with Lindy's and Athlon, they are not outside views; the team previews are typically written by people that cover the Iowa football beat.   Or at least, they provide significant contributions and input to the articles.

 

But it's the conference rankings and positional queries that can be as entertaining as anything else.

 

So when I purchased this year's Lindy's and Athlon mags recently, I went right to their Big Ten prediction pages.

 

Lindy's sees  Iowa finishing 4th in the Big Ten this year, behind Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State.  Athlon has Iowa finishing in 5th behind Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.

 

Predictably, both magazines cite Iowa's avoiding Michigan and Ohio State on this year's schedule as being a big contributor to their predicted finish.  It makes you wonder where they would tab Iowa if the schedule makers hadn't been so kind, doesn't it? 

 

Think about that for a second.  As it is now, a fourth or fifth place finish in the Big Ten doesn't sound so horrible after the past two seasons have seen Iowa go 13-13 overall and a combined 7-9 in Big Ten play.

 

Chew on that for a second; Iowa is 7-9 in Big Ten play over the course of the past two seasons.  I don't know how often that has been bandied about this offseason.  People have brought up the 13-13 mark, but not the Big Ten breakout.  Four of those nine losses have come at the hands of Ohio State and Michigan, if that is any consolation for you.   But three of the losses have come at the hands of Northwestern (twice) and Indiana.  Wisconsin and Minnesota make up the other two losses during that time. 

 

So the Hawks miss out on playing the Buckeyes and Wolverines, and the bottom half of the Big Ten appears to be very beatable this year…very beatable.

 

Stewart Mandell of CNN/SI said this of the Big Ten in a recent mailbag article:

 

"…the league has gone back to being top-heavy. Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State could all be top-10 teams, Penn State won't be far off, but then there's a pretty drastic drop-off. I do expect Iowa to do a bit of damage, but nearly half the teams the league (Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Illinois and Indiana) are basically irrelevant."

 

If Stewart has it right, those last five teams that he lists are all on Iowa's schedule, and all of those games are not only winnable this year, but are probably in the must-win category.  That is, if Iowa is going to rebound the way that the fans want it to.

 

Games at Penn State and Wisconsin will be very hard to win, with a roadie at Purdue being a big challenge as well.  

 

It's going to be a fun season to watch, because if Iowa holds serve at home, if it can go 1-2 in conference road games and if it can beat Iowa State in Ames, we are talking about a possible 10-2 season and a return trip to a January bowl game.

 

The good thing about that scenario is that it's not far fetched.  It's not a given, either, but we are not talking about incredible odds to see that happen.  A 9-3 finish seems quite attainable.

 

The best news of all is that we are roughly 55 days away from the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon event in Chicago, which for me is the unofficial beginning of the college football season.  That means we are under 90 days out from the season opener in Chicago against Northern Illinois.  That game will kickoff at 2:30pm on ESPNU, by the way.

 

Todd Lickliter has added a new player to his recruiting Class of 2008, or what will be considered his first ‘real' recruiting class as Iowa's head coach.   That leaves about 7 or 8 rides to fill in the next 17 months, one of the most important transition periods in Iowa basketball history.  Lickliter will have a chance to put his fingerprints all over this program in very short order.

 

The latest Hawkeye, 6-4, 180-pound shooter Anthony Tucker from Minnetonka, MN is considered to be one of the best shooters in the Midwest, according to my friend Van Coleman of cstv.com and hoopmasters.com.

 

We are beginning to see the future of Iowa's backcourt take shape, and it appears to be one that will be different from the Steve Alford era.

 

I said on more than one occasion during Alford's time in Iowa City that his teams couldn't shoot straight.

 

Sure, there would be a Luke Recker, Brody Boyd, Jeff Horner and an Adam Haluska along the way, but that's about it as far as shooters go.  Ryan Hogan was in the mix, but he was hampered by injuries.

 

Horner got hot over a 12-month period of his Iowa career where he hit better than 50 percent of his three's, but he could be streaky.  Haluska could go 2-11 from three one game then hit 5-8 the next game.  Such is the way with shooters.

 

But Lickliter's Butler teams have been more consistent, and more importantly, the majority of the players he puts on the floor can make jump shots.  That creates more space on the floor for the big men in the paint.  You extend defenses to chase you wherever the ball is on the perimeter, because the shooters can hurt you.

 

That's a scenario that I hope is shaping up in Iowa City.

 

Matt Gatens can shoot, as can Jake Kelly.  Jeff Peterson has the ability to shoot, and Anthony Tucker has the accolades right now. 

 

Grant Gibbs of Linn-Mar can also fill it up from the perimeter, and Iowa still wants him to be a part of their future.  If they could land Gibbs, we are talking about several sharpshooters taking aim from the outside.

 

The challenge will then be to find the right mix of big men to go along with them, a position that Lickliter hasn't had to recruit at a high level during his time at Butler.

 

But it's fun to be thinking about Iowa basketball during a time of year where, over the past several years, that topic has been buried…sometimes intentionally.


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