Brown: Experience meets potential when Iowa visits Marquette

Rick Brown

MILWAUKEE -- Iowa’s men's basketball team hits the road for the first time Thursday, and the Hawkeyes are taking something very valuable with them. It’s called experience.

The Hawkeyes have it at the top of their lineup. Marquette doesn’t. And that should play a factor when the teams meet at 8:15 p.m. in the inaugural Gavitt Tipoff Games at the Bradley Center.

The Golden Eagles start two freshmen, part of a top-10 recruiting class, a sophomore and two juniors. That group has 70 career starts. Iowa center Adam Woodbury has 106 career starts. Point guard Mike Gesell has 99. Iowa’s starting five totals 290.

“I think experience is particularly important on the road,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “We played well on the road last year. And all those guys were right in the middle of it.”

The Hawkeyes won at places like North Carolina, Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan and Indiana a season ago.

“I think our team collectively is a group that knows what we do well, and individually what each guy does well,” McCaffery said. “I don’t think you’ll see guys trying to do too much. That’s what happens on the road. The crowd gets into it, the other team gets on a run and you try to do too much. That’s where experience will come in.”

Iowa’s journey to a fourth straight 20-win season starts in earnest Thursday, the kickoff to a demanding six-game stretch that includes three games at the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, Fla., next week and a meeting with Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at home Dec. 2.

When the smoke clears, we’ll have a better of idea if this team is a legitimate contender for a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. Experience at the top of the lineup is in Iowa’s favor.

McCaffery starts four seniors in Woodbury, Gesell, Jarrod Uthoff and Anthony Clemmons. Junior Peter Jok, who is expected to be back in the lineup after missing Sunday’s game with a sprained ankle, is also an experienced player.

The unpredictable part of this journey is the young but talented bench. Players like sophomore Dom Uhl, junior college transfer Dale Jones, redshirt freshmen Brady Ellingson and Nicholas Baer and true freshmen Ahmad Wagner, Andrew Fleming and Christian Williams.

“Having those experienced guys on the floor with some of the younger guys will help, too,” McCaffery said.

Marquette is big on potential, if not experience. McCaffery was one of dozens of Division I coaches who recruited 6-foot-11 forward Henry Ellenson, the cherry on top of the Golden Eagles’ recruiting class. He has skills that stretch far beyond the basket.

“He’s a go-to guy, and his reputation is well deserved,” McCaffery said.

Junior forward Luke Fischer, a transfer from Indiana, is another player McCaffery recruited.

“When you put he and Ellenson on the floor together, that’s two guys who can do a lot of different things,” McCaffery said. “That puts a lot of pressure on any defense.”

Ellenson averages 19.5 points and 9.5 points a game. Fischer is at 14.5 points and 10 rebounds. Marquette will also throw multiple defenses Iowa’s way, testing both its perimeter shooting skills and ability to handle pressure defense.

“This will be a great test for us to see how our guys perform under pressure, against a good team,” McCaffery said.

This is a test that Iowa needs. And passing it will be a positive step for the season ahead.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.

Iowa at Marquette

Time and place: 8:15 p.m., Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wis.

Television: Fox Sports 1

Radio: Hawkeye Network, including WHO-AM (1040)