The Iowa Hawkeyes are off to their best start in years. They currently hold a record of 17-6 (6-4 Big 10) and look to be well on their way back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. Head coach Fran McCaffery has a lot to do with that. Since coming to Iowa City in 2010, McCaffery has greatly rebuilt the basketball program while completely changing the Hawkeye culture as well.
After successful stops at UNC Greensboro and Siena, McCaffery earned the reputation of a quality coach who was capable of turning around struggling basketball programs. Iowa was certainly struggling and then some. The fiery 54-year-old inherited a team that won a combined 38 games in the three seasons prior to his arrival. Fans weren’t coming out to Carver Hawkeye Arena, and frankly, why would they? The Todd Lickliter era was an utter disaster, and Iowa faithful desperately needed and wanted a new voice to guide their beloved Hawks.
McCaffery has swiftly and effectively improved the Hawkeyes year after year. The team has continually gotten better under his tutelage and increased their win total by seven games in each of the past two seasons going from 11 in 2011 to 18 in 2012 to 25 and an NIT runner-up finish in 2013. Although reaching the NIT final was a nice bonus, last season was considered a disappointment by some as the team lost so many close games and probably should have been in the NCAA Tournament.
That disappointment and frustration seemed to disappear after Iowa won at Ohio State earlier this season. McCaffery’s bunch had finally gotten over the hump by beating a quality opponent in an extremely tight game. Roy Devyn Marble was emerging as a serious candidate for Big 10 Player of the year, and Aaron White, Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury were only getting better. Questions no longer persisted about whether or not Iowa was going to qualify for the NCAA Tournament; but rather, the attention shifted to just how far this team could go.
Big 10 Champion? Sleeper to reach the Final Four? Iowa’s ceiling was at an all-time high, and many of the pundits were praising the team’s depth and versatility. That win at Ohio State was the official signal that Hawkeye basketball was back. And McCaffery was responsible for leading the charge.
But recently, the common theme we saw occur so frequently last season has began to a reappear. The Hawkeyes have now lost three out of their past five games all to quality opponents. They dropped a road game to Michigan by eight and have lost two straight at home to Michigan State and Ohio State by a grand total of eight. So has anything really changed? Has this team in fact gotten over the hump, or was that first Ohio State game just an anomaly? Let’s not forget, the Hawkeyes blew two big opportunities earlier in the season against Villanova and in-state rival Iowa State as well. They had the lead late in both of those contests.
So why is this trend continuing? Are the Hawkeyes simply not poised and disciplined enough to handle late-game situations? We know they’re talented enough, and they’ve proven to have the players to compete with anyone.
In my estimation, it all comes back to McCaffery. If this Iowa team is going to evolve to the next level, they need Fran to hop aboard with them. The veteran coach has a history of epic meltdowns on the sideline, and his team has seemed to follow his lead. McCaffery’s demeanor while coaching can at times be described as borderline maniacal. And just last night, ESPN’s Mike Tirico referred to the Iowa coach’s sideline behavior as “childish and embarrassing.”
The Hawkeyes are more than capable of making a deep run in next month’s NCAA Tournament. With focus, poise and discipline, they’ll be an extremely tough out for any team in America. I hope McCaffery realizes that, because unless he changes he’s going to hurt his team again with another costly technical foul or two. Additionally, it’s flat out embarrassing that a Division 1 coach and leader of men has to be restrained by his own players from attacking an official. I’ve seen Zach McCabe have to hold him back more than once.
Iowa is good and has the potential to be great. They’ll reach the next level once Fran can consistently act like a man.
Matthew Sturgeon is a College Basketball Columnist for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @OfficialSturg27