After the Todd Lickliter experiment failed miserably (38-58 in three seasons), the Iowa Hawkeyes turned last March to a coach with a polar opposite style of play — Fran McCaffery.
The quick demise of Lickliter in Iowa City was a bit surprising considering his success at Butler — two NCAA Sweet 16’s and a national coach of the year award in six seasons — but his 22-loss season in year three, an inability to keep players in the program and waning fan interest ultimately sealed his fate.
Enter McCaffery, who spent the previous 11 seasons at UNC Greensboro and Siena.
At Siena, McCaffery compiled a 112-51 record and reached the NCAA Tournament in his final three seasons. (Something you might not have known: He was also once the youngest head coach in Division I back in 1985 when he took the reigns at Lehigh.)
Unlike Lickliter, who slowed the game to a near unwatchable pace at times, McCaffery will look to push the tempo in a conference that’s not exactly known for such a style. The reality, however, is that until McCaffery is able to fill the program with a respectable level of talent, the new up-tempo Hawkeyes will likely struggle mightily regardless of their pace of play.
A quick roll call of the talent currently amassed in Iowa City is not particularly impressive. Aaron Fuller, who would have been the Hawkeyes’ best returning post player, transferred to Southern Cal. Forward Brennan Cougill was declared academically ineligible before the season. And Iowa’s top two recruits, Ben Brust and Cody Larson, both opted for releases from their National Letters of Intent. Brust ended up at Wisconsin and Larson at Florida.
So what remains for McCaffery to work with? Junior guard Matt Gatens, who was the team’s leading scorer last season, is back. As are sophomore guards Cully Payne (8.7 ppg) and Eric May (9.0 ppg) along with senior forward Jarryd Cole (8.1 ppg). Beyond that, Hoosier fans won’t likely recognize many of the Iowa faces on the floor come Feb. 5 at Assembly Hall.
Bottom Line: The road bumps will likely be plentiful once again for Iowa, which opened the season with a home loss to South Dakota State. Pomeroy predicts four Big Ten wins, which might be generous, and another 22-loss season.
Quotable: “You know, they’ve been great. They want to play that way. I think most athletes want to play that way. The critical thing there is understanding how to play that way, because you can run and quick shoot the ball and turn the ball over and you really haven’t improved very much. And I think our fans are smart enough to recognize if we’re playing faster, then we better have a plan behind it. We better make good decisions on the break. And I think the first three or four days of practice, to be honest with you, was absolute mayhem. We were going so fast, kicking the ball all over the arena and not making good decisions.” – McCaffery at Big Ten media day on his players adjusting to a faster style of play.