|Iowa F Aaron White will be counted on to lead the Hawkeyes this season. (US Presswire)|
Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes
Last year: 18-17 overall, 8-10 Big Ten (7th)
Coach: Fran McCaffery (two years, 29-37; 16th overall, 280-214)
Top newcomers: Gesell and Woodbury were top-75 recruits and were targets of McCaffery since he arrived in Iowa City. Gesell is known for his quickness and ball handling against the press and in traffic. Woodbury spurned an offer from North Carolina to start for the Hawkeyes.
Key loss: The Hawkeyes lost graduated G Matt Gatens (15.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.0 apg), their top player last season. The 6-foot-5, 212-pounder was versatile because of his size and length and could play multiple positions.
What you need to know: The Hawkeyes upset four top-20 teams last season and earned a berth in the NIT where they topped Dayton before losing to Oregon. But Iowa hasn't finished better than 124 in the RPI the past five years and with two top incoming recruits, expectations are high in a loaded conference.
Mark the calendar:
- Nov. 27 at Virginia Tech: The ACC-Big Ten Challenge has not been kind to the Hawkeyes. Iowa has lost six straight in the series since beating NC State 45-42 in 2005. The Hokies are rebuilding and have just eight scholarship players. It's time for the Hawkeyes to get back in this league rivalry.
- Dec. 7 vs. Iowa State: The Hawkeyes have lost three straight to their rivals and have taken a backseat in the state as the Cyclones claimed an NCAA tournament berth last season. Iowa State lost NBA first-round draft pick Royce White, but returns a talented core.
- Dec. 31 vs. No. 1 Indiana: What could be better than a shot at the top team in the country on your court to start Big Ten play on New Year's Eve? This slot screams upset. The Hawkeyes upset the Hoosiers in Iowa City 78-66 last year but lost 103-89 in Bloomington.
Biggest question: Can the freshman learn on the job? Gesell and Woodbury were starters the second they stepped on campus. But if they struggle to adjust to the college game or hit a freshman wall, it could derail a promising season. A lot is being expected of the dynamic duo.
Best-case scenario: Gesell and Woodbury make the Big Ten All-Freshmen team. Upsets over Michigan and Indiana, combined with a win over rival Iowa State finally give the Hawkeyes the resume they need to return to the NCAA tournament. The pieces are in place to turn heads across the league.
Worst-case scenario: Gesell and Woodbury struggle. Early losses to Iowa State and Virginia Tech kill any momentum the team built. A brutal Big Ten slate is more than the young Hawkeyes can handle as they slide under .500 and end a disappointing season at home in March.
Reality: The Hawkeyes have all the pieces, but McCaffery has a tall task making them all fit together. Iowa won't sneak up on anyone this year and the Big Ten is as good and deep as any conference in the nation. The difference between an NIT bid and an NCAA tournament berth is how the Hawkeyes fair the first six conference games -- vs. No. 1 Indiana, at No. 5 Michigan, vs. No. 14 Michigan State, at Northwestern, vs. No. 23 Wisconsin and at No. 4 Ohio State.
Season opens: vs. Texas-Pan American, Nov. 9, 9 p.m. ET
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from Big Ten bloggers Dave Carey and Mike Singer, follow @CBSSportsBigTen.