Hawkeyes confident 3-point shooting a strength
Coming off a season in which his team lost seven of its last eight games, Iowa senior forward Aaron White figured he'd have some explaining to do at media day Thursday.
He knew reporters still would be searching for answers for why Iowa mysteriously unraveled down the stretch.
But White wasn't ready to be questioned about his team's ability, or inability, to shoot from the perimeter.
In fact, White took offense to the mere suggestion that perimeter shooting could be perceived as a weakness for Iowa.
"Who's knocking that?" White fired back. "No. When you have guys like Pete, Jarrod, (Josh), Brady, Mike, (Clemmons), I mean we have shooters.
"I haven't heard that. But I don't agree with that if that is a knock that people are saying."
The guys to whom White was referring are his Iowa teammates: sophomore shooting guard Peter Jok, junior forward Jarrod Uthoff, senior shooting guard Josh Oglesby, freshman shooting guard Brady Ellingson, junior combo guard Mike Gesell and junior point guard Anthony Clemmons.
The Iowa players spoke confidently at media day and predicted that 3-point shooting would be a strength this season under fifth-year coach Fran McCaffery.
"You look at everyone from our (point guard) to our (power forward) can all shoot it pretty well," Oglesby said. "And we're shooting it real well this summer. We've been doing shooting drills and everybody has been shooting well.
"So yeah, I think the 3-point weapon is going to be key for us, too."
The 6-foot-9 White, who twice has made third-team all-Big Ten, is fully aware that his 3-point shooting ability is being questioned. He shot a team-leading 58.4 percent from the field last season, but only shot 25.8 percent from 3-point range, making 8-of-31 attempts.
"Everybody swears I can't shoot, but I know I can," White said. "Just because I haven't made them in a game doesn't mean whether we're practicing or playing pick-up that I'm not making them. So it's all about confidence and getting ready to shoot them when it comes game time."
McCaffery also has downplayed the suggestion that 3-point shooting could be a weakness for his team. He blamed poor defense more than anything else for last season's collapse, while addressing the subject at media day.
"That's why were 9-9 and not better than that," McCaffery said of the impact defense had on Iowa finishing .500 in the conference last season. "And I think that has to be the challenge for this team."
Defense certainly contributed to Iowa's woes last season. But it wasn't solely to blame for Iowa barely making the NCAA Tournament despite having been ranked as high as 10th nationally in the regular season.
The 3-point shot was at times a strength for Iowa last season, but more times than not the Hawkeyes struggled from long distance. Iowa made fewer than 30 percent of its shots from 3-point range in 13 games last season, finishing 5-8 in those games. Iowa also shot worse than 50 percent as a team in 26 of 33 games last season.
Missed shots, especially from 3-point range, often lead to baskets in transition for the opponent. Iowa's defense suffered from that on numerous occasions last season.
On the flip side, Iowa made more than 40 percent of its shots from 3-point range in 10 games last season, finishing 9-1 in those games. However, it only happened four times against Big Ten opponents — including twice in lopsided victories against lowly Northwestern — and just once in the last 13 games.
"We do have a lot of good shooters," said Uthoff, who was Iowa's most accurate 3-point shooter last season at 42.5 percent, making 17-of-40 attempts. "You're going to go through cold spells. There are going to be games where you're just off, and it's going to happen to every team in the country. I think we have good shooters, and I have faith in our shooters. I'm confident in us."
"I think we have enough shooters and enough people who are capable of hitting 3s. It's going to be a huge weapon for us."
Two of Iowa's most impressive victories last season came at home against Minnesota and Michigan by scores of 94-73 and 85-67, respectively. Iowa torched the Gophers by making 9-of-20 3-point field-goal attempts, and then shot even better against Michigan, draining 10-of-17 treys.
Northwestern turned the tables on Iowa by making 11-of-23 3-points shots during a 67-62 victory in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament last March. Iowa had defeated Northwestern by margins of 26 and 24 points in the regular season, combining to shoot 13-of-26 from 3-point range in the two games.
"It's the ultimate equalizer," Ellingson said of the 3-point shot.
Ellingson was a prolific 3-point shooter for Sussex High School in Sussex, Wis. He made 86-of-179 3-point shots as a junior, setting a school record for accuracy at 48 percent while leading his team to a 21-3 record and to its first conference title since 1979.
"The ability for us to stretch the floor and shoot is only going to help the other guys with penetrating and scoring and rebounding," said the 6-4 Ellingson. "The better we can shoot, the better off we're probably going to be."
"It's always been my strong suit, and I'm continually working at it and also working on other parts of my game to become a better all-around player."
The 6-6 Jok showed flashes from 3-point range as a freshman last season while appearing in 26 games. He made 16-of-46 3-point shots last season, including 2-of-3 during a 78-65 loss to Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Iowa only made 4-of-16 treys against Tennessee as a team.
"I feel like I've gotten stronger in the offseason, and I feel like I'm ready," said Jok, who recently was reinstated to the team after serving a suspension for twice being arrested since the spring, including for operating a moped while under the influence.
Jok and the 6-4 Oglesby are expected to be two of Iowa's top threats from 3-point range this season as the team moves on without all-Big Ten guard Devyn Marble, who led Iowa in 3-point field-goal attempts (149) and makes (52) as a senior last season. Oglesby missed 12 games last season with a foot injury, but he still finished second on the team with 31 3-point baskets, making 40 percent of his attempts.
It was a significant improvement from Oglesby's sophomore season when he only shot 26.9 percent from 3-point range.
Oglesby now wants to improve in all aspects of his game.
"Obviously, I feel like can do more than just shoot the 3," Oglesby said. "But when you are a 3-point shooter, you get a lot of people saying, 'You know, he's only a catch-and-shoot guy. He can only shoot 3s.'
"But I've worked a lot of my pull-game, my shot fake and trying to get to the hole and stuff like that."
The addition of junior-college point guard Trey Dickerson will give Iowa another threat from 3-point range. He averaged nearly 20 points per game as a freshman last season at Williston State College in North Dakota.
Whoever shoots the best from 3-point range between Dickerson and returning veterans Gesell and Clemmons could gain an edge at point guard. Gesell started all 33 games last season, but he only shot 31.5 percent from 3-point range, making 29-of-32 attempts.
Gesell said he worked hard on his 3-point shot in the offseason, building confidence along the way.
He also has been through the Big Ten twice now, as have many of his teammates. Gesell is confident that Iowa will improve its 3-point shooting this season, partly because the players have a better understanding of what is considered a good shot.
"You're going to have off nights when you don't shoot it well, and those are the nights when you have to get to the basket and get to the free-throw line," Gesell said. "And I think that's what we really understand this year, too. And I think that's why our 3-point shooting will be so good this year because we'll be taking better shots. We'll know how to handle the situation better."
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.