Brown: Uthoff ready to emerge from competitive masses
IOWA CITY, Ia. -- Jarrod Uthoff struggled to find a rhythm on the basketball court last season.
Every time the buzzer sounded, Iowa's forward was looking over his shoulder and wondering if he was coming out of the game. That happens when you come off the bench for a basketball team with an 11-man rotation.
Compounding Uthoff's search for minutes was the challenge of knocking off the rust from two seasons of inactivity. Not an easy thing to do. But now we're about to find out if the 6-foot-9 junior forward has rhythm. Because more minutes will be coming his way this season.
"I think it's going to do wonders for my game," Uthoff said at Iowa's annual media day Thursday. "I'll get in the flow easier. I'll be out there for a longer period."
Uthoff averaged 18.2 minutes and 7.6 points in his college debut, delayed a second year after he transferred from Wisconsin to Iowa. His production shrank in Big Ten play to 16 minutes and 4.9 points a game.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery still plans to use a deep bench this season, but Uthoff's days of looking over his shoulder are over.
"I just think it will help him with his confidence," said McCaffery, starting his fifth season with the Hawkeyes. "I think it will make him more aggressive. That's I want from him. He should average a minimum of 13 points a game with his talent. He's just got to be that guy that has a little more of an attack mentality."
Twenty-five minutes a game?
"I would absolutely be ready for that," Uthoff said. "I'm looking forward to that. Hopefully my name is called that much, and I'm playing well enough to get me out there that much."
Uthoff is part of a front line that, on paper, is second only to Wisconsin's in the Big Ten. Adam Woodbury is 7-1, Gabe Olaseni 6-10 and Aaron White 6-9. You can throw 6-8 freshman Dominique Uhl, someone McCaffery says will play a lot, into the mix as well.
But this team will ultimately go as far as the guards, and defense, will take them. Last season saw the Hawkeyes start 19-6, then lose seven of the last eight games. McCaffery said the Hawkeyes lost their way defensively. Teams averaged 80 points a game during the swoon.
The team made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006, but it felt like a hollow accomplishment. So a refocus on defense has been at the top of the to-do list heading into this season.
McCaffery lost three key figures from last season's 2013-14 team. Devyn Marble, Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe combined to play in 409 career games, make 244 starts and score 3,684 points.
The rotation may not shrink in their absence. Closer to 11, McCaffery said, than eight. Getting everyone to buy in will again be a challenge.
"Sometimes you say is it too cumbersome, is it fair to everybody?" McCaffery said. "At the same time, you have guys who deserve playing time."
An extended amount of those minutes will be gobbled up by Uthoff. McCaffery wants this in return: go make some buckets, make some plays and rebound.
Uthoff can shoot from the perimeter and put it on the floor, the kind of versatility McCaffery loves to recruit.
"It's going to be interesting to see, because he's a tough matchup," White said.
That versatility can be a blessing and a curse, because it can be hard to get the right matchups on the floor at the right time.
"It's a challenge, no question," McCaffery said.
White said that Uthoff is a better player than a year ago. His passing has improved. Now his production needs to follow suit.
"If we get it to him in the right spot, he's going to score for us," White said. "I'm looking forward to him stepping up and getting more minutes."
But does Uthoff have rhythm? We're about to find out.
BREAKING DOWN THE HAWKEYES
Coach: Fran McCaffery, 325-240 overall (18 seasons), 74-63 at Iowa (four seasons).
Last season: 20-13 overall, 9-9 in Big Ten (sixth).
Key departures: Devyn Marble (17.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1,694 career points); Melsahn Basabe (7.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1,119 career points); Zach McCabe (6.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 509 career rebounds).
Key newcomers: Trey Dickerson, 6-0 guard, Queens, N.Y. (Williston State College, N.D.); Brady Ellingson, 6-4 guard, Sussex, Wis. (Hamilton); Dominique Uhl, 6-8 forward, Franfurt, Germany (Point Pleasant Beach, N.J.).
November—2: vs. Northwood; 14: 2K Classic Regional v. Hampton; 17: 2K Classic Regional v. North Dakota State; 20: vs. Texas in 2K Classic; 21: vs. Syracuse or California in 2K Classic; 24: vs. Pepperdine; 26: vs. Northern Illinois; 29: vs. Longwood.
December—3: at North Carolina; 6: vs. Maryland-Baltimore County; 9: vs. Alcorn State; 12: vs. Iowa State; 20: vs. Northern Iowa in Big Four Classic; 22: vs. North Florida; 30: at Ohio State.
January—5: vs. Nebraska; 8: vs. Michigan State; 13: at Minnesota; 17: vs. Ohio State; 20: at Wisconsin; 24: at Purdue; 31: vs. Wisconsin.
February—5: at Michigan; 8: vs. Maryland; 12: vs. Minnesota; 15: at Northwestern; 19: vs. Rutgers; 22: at Nebraska; 25: vs. Illinois; 28: at Penn State.
March—3: at Indiana; 7: vs. Northwestern; 11-15: at Big Ten Tournament in Chicago, Ill.
RICK BROWN'S TAKE
After spending a week in the nation's Top 10 in January and being labeled a legitimate Final Four contender, Iowa crashed and burned by losing seven of its last eight games and barely hanging on to the school's first NCAA Tournament bid since 2006.
Putting that finish in the rear-view mirror is mandatory if coach Fran McCaffery's team hopes to record a third straight 20-win season for the first time since the last five seasons of the Dr. Tom Davis regime (ending in 1998-99).
McCaffery's fifth Hawkeye team has a bench full of versatile athletes who can be adjusted to the matchups on the floor. If players like Adam Woodbury and Peter Jok can play consistently like they did in Iowa's brief NCAA appearance last season, the Hawkeyes shouldn't have to wait eight seasons to return to the Big Dance.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.