DES MOINES — In some respects, Iowa just wrapped up its best season in years. The Hawkeyes earned a spot in the Top 25 for the first time in nearly a decade and reached the NCAA tournament after an eight-year absence.
The ending was miserable.
Iowa completed its late-season tailspin on Wednesday night with a 78-65 overtime loss to Tennessee in the First Four of the NCAA tournament. It was the seventh loss in eight games for the Hawkeyes (20-13), who went from a trendy Final Four pick to largely forgotten in the span of a month.
Iowa certainly has the potential to compete for a strong Big Ten finish and another NCAA tournament berth in 2014-15. But the program has a lot of questions to answer in the offseason.
Iowa will lose a crucial piece in senior guard Devyn Marble, who grew from an unheralded recruit to one of the school’s best players in four years with coach Fran McCaffery. Marble finished fifth in school history with 1,694 points and was an All-Big Ten pick as a senior.
The Hawkeyes probably won’t have a scorer as talented as Marble next season and the depth they used to overwhelm certain opponents likely won’t be there, either.
McCaffery still has plenty to work with. Aaron White led Iowa with 6.7 rebounds a game and was second on the team in scoring. White will be a senior next season, and he’ll likely be asked to shoulder more of the scoring burden for the Hawkeyes.
Point guard Mike Gesell had a decent sophomore season, and shooting guard Josh Oglesby showed at times that he can provide the Hawkeyes with a much-needed perimeter threat.
But the most intriguing player in Iowa’s backcourt is Peter Jok, who showed flashes of innate scoring ability in non-conference play but sat largely on the bench during the Big Ten season. Jok broke out against Tennessee with 10 points in just 16 minutes, and he’ll play a lot more than that next season if his defense and overall consistency can catch up to his offense.