Big Ten Preview: Iowa

BuckeyeSports.com basketball writer Brian Polking continues his series previewing each of the Big Ten teams with Iowa, including an exclusive interview with assistant head coach Chad Walthall regarding expectations for the Hawkeyes under new head coach Todd Lickliter this season.

The Iowa men's basketball team finished last season with a 17-14 record and a solid 9-7 mark in the Big Ten.

That was last season.

With a new-look roster and new head coach Todd Lickliter, a repeat of last year's success won't be easy for the Hawkeyes.

Adam Haluska is gone along with his 20 points a game and his senior leadership. Last season's freshman phenom Tyler Smith has also departed, transferring to Tennessee. The two combined to score more than half the Hawkeyes' points last season and it will take a group effort to replace the missing offense.

"Really, I don't think we have a go-to guy," assistant coach Chad Walthall said. "We believe in collectively as a unit scoring points, and every night it could be somebody different."

While the coaching staff is expecting contributions from the entire roster, Walthall said it is still unclear who will be receiving a bulk of the minutes.

"We haven't discussed the (starters) yet," Walthall said. "It could change game to game. We have the philosophy that it's not really important who starts but who finishes, and we're still trying to get a feel on who plays well together."

The one lock for the starting lineup was junior guard Tony Freeman, Iowa's leading returning scorer from a year ago. Unfortunately, an injury will prevent Freeman from playing at the start of the year and force the Hawkeyes to rely on the rest of the players even more.

"I don't know if anybody getting injured helps anybody," Walthall said. "Tony is an integral part of our program and what we are trying to achieve. It will give somebody the opportunity to step forward for the next four to six weeks. It's not a good thing that he's injured, but it does give other players an opportunity."

Three true freshmen are among the players that will get the chance to make the most of the opportunity. Guards Jake Kelly and Jeff Peterson and forward Jarryd Cole won't have to wait to long to showcase their abilities at the collegiate level.

"I'm sure they'll all see minutes," Walthall said. "It's too early to tell how many at this point, but we very much appreciate their effort. They are doing the things necessary to improve on a day-to-day basis, but it's going to be a wait and see approach."

The lack of a dominant post presence in the Hawkeyes' frontcourt also opens up opportunities for a number of players. Senior centers Seth Gorney and Kurt Looby are the most experienced post players but won't have to carry the load by themselves.

"We certainly need people to step forward in the interior," Walthall said. "Those two are a big part of that equation, but there are two or three others that are also part of the equation in Jarryd, Cyrus Tate and David Palmer. Between those five players, I'm sure we'll see some good things."

Ultimately, the players that receive the most minutes will be those that adjust to and fit Lickliter's system. That system is centered on an efficient offense that creates high percentage shots and keeps turnovers to a minimum. The approach was successful for Lickliter in his time at Butler, but the Big Ten is not the Horizon League.

"I think those types of things work in whatever you're league in," Walthall said. "No matter what kind of basketball, what level, those are things that are very positive and equate to winning basketball. We hope that it will work and only time will tell."

Walthall said there is an adjustment period for the players, but added they have grasped the concepts of the system quickly.

"I don't think it has been difficult," Walthall said. "It's just a matter of continuing the teaching process of what we're trying to put in. The guys have been terrific. They have been very open to the system and very willing to learn. They're very coachable young men and have been receptive to Coach Lickliter's philosophy."

The Hawkeyes enter this season with a lot of unknowns. Still, Walthall said he expects the team to be successful this season as long as the players take things one day at a time.

"Just concentrating on today is really all we talk about and just trying to get better each particular day," he said. "We concentrate on what we can control and what we can control is what we do that day in practice. It might sound bland, but it has been successful and we will continue to do that."

IOWA AT A GLANCE

Last year's record:
17-14 overall, 9-7 Big Ten

Head coach: Todd Lickliter, first season

Career record: 131-61 (six seasons at Butler)

Record at Iowa: 0-0

Leading returning scorer: Tony Freeman, 7.5 ppg

Leading returning rebounder: Kurt Looby, 4.6 rpg

Season opener: Northern Colorado, home, Nov. 14

Big Ten opener: at home vs. Indiana, Jan. 2 (9 p.m. EST, Big Ten Network)


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