By all accounts Iowa's men's basketball team performed much better in its scrimmage against Creighton on Sunday than it did last year in its 82-59 loss in Des Moines. After all, merely showing up would make the result a little closer.
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery is not allowed to talk about specifics in the scrimmage, which was closed to all spectators and media. But McCaffery touted his team's improved defense and effort against the Bluejays, who are ranked No. 16 by AP.
"It was a substantially better performance than the last time we played them, to say the least," McCaffery said.
"I was pleased with overall what we were able to accomplish. The beauty of a game like that is this: you play a game and you can do some situations. I'm not worried about subbing players in. I didn't start Devyn Marble in the second half because I wanted to get some other guys in there. If it was a regular game, I would have. That's kind of how you approach it.
"I don't know if he left some of his starters on the bench longer than he would have knowing this game was close, this type of thing. But it's not what that day was about. It was trying to figure out who can play, who's ready, who's not ready, what combinations might work from a lineup standpoint. Can we press effectively a good team, can we do that? We tried to press them last year and it was a non-factor in the game. It was a factor in the game on Sunday, very effective. That's a good sign."
Observers said Iowa guard Devyn Marble was better than ever and junior forward Zach McCabe has improved greatly, both with his outside shot and defense. Hawkeyes freshmen point guards Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons struggled, while freshman post Adam Woodbury competed against Creighton's massive Gregory Echenique.
"I thought Woodbury, from the very beginning, was banging with him and really made it hard on him, didn't back down from him physically," McCaffery said. "Woodbury is fearless. That's what you need to see. Let's face it, last year, Echenique had his way with us, absolutely had his way, could do whatever he wanted to do. That wasn't the case. He certainly played well, but he had to work a lot harder. We had a low-post presence in that game. That's going to be very important for us as we move forward."
Iowa senior Eric May recognized the team's progress, but also said the Hawkeyes have a ways to go.
"We still have got a lot of growing to do," he said. "We're a young team but it was good to see how far we've come. and just basic things like communication. We've worked on that a lot and defense, and you can see the steps going forward."
Iowa likely will rotate 10, maybe even 11 players, at least in early action. A high-player rotation has its positives and negatives, McCaffery said.
"The challenges are very simple: there's going to be a guy or two occasionally that thought he was going to play 28 minutes, 32 minutes, he plays 16 or 14," McCaffery said. "Are they going to be satisfied? Are they going to accept that role? Is that going to be a problem? That's a personal thing. Might be that they play eight in a particular game.
"The flipside of that is, you know, if they only play eight, are they going to be ready for the next game. Forgetting whether or not they were upset about it, am I giving them enough minutes to develop them? It's a two-sided issue there."
The positives include defensive improvement. Iowa ranked last defensively in the Big Ten last year, giving up 72.5 points per game. McCaffery said much of that was from fatigue. When he tried to rest his top offensive players, they'd struggle scoring points. So he gave up a little bit of defense for offense last year.
So far the starting lineup looks like: PG Mike Gesell, SG Devyn Marble, SF Eric May, PF Aaron White, C Adam Woodbury. White and Marble can move to other positions depending on match-ups, foul issues, etc. Zach McCabe, who also can play small forward, and Melsahn Basabe will play often in the post at 4 or 5, while Josh Oglesby will come off the bench to spell Marble or May. Freshman Anthony Clemmons is slated to back up Gesell, and sophomore Gabe Olaseni will spell Woodbury.
McCaffery said May -- the team's only senior -- has played "well enough to be in the starting lineup. He's doing everything you would expect him to do when he's healthy, but he's doing more off the dribble, shooting the ball well, really showing great leadership, playing like a senior."
McCaffery will make his decision on red-shirting players after Sunday's exhibition against Quincy. He said he's allowed to play freshmen and then red-shirt them, but not upperclassmen.
"Any decision on red-shirting will not be made until after Sunday's game," McCaffery said. "I don't plan on red-shirting anybody other than a freshman, unless of course they got injured, and hopefully that won't happen."
McCaffery said last week that 6-10 forward Kyle Meyer was the likely red-shirt candidate, but guard Pat Ingram also could be considered. Ingram missed summer workouts and suffered a foot injury early in the fall and is still trying to catch up in practice.
"He's not in the top 10 right now," McCaffery said of Ingram. "He's going to be good, though. It's just taking him a little longer. He's trying. He's really working at it."
Iowa's Jan. 6 game at Michigan has no time set and won't for a while, confirmed Big Ten senior associate commissioner Mark Rudner.BTN is slated to air three games that day -- Northwestern at Minnesota, Iowa at Michigan, Wisconsin at Nebraska -- and four of the schools are located in or near NFL markets. The NFL's wild-card playoffs are scheduled that afternoon, and the Big Ten wants ensure Wisconsin's game doesn't air concurrently with the Green Bay Packers' playoff game, for instance.