Men's hoops anxious for year two with McCaffery

BY BEN SCHUFF | OCTOBER 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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If history is any indication, all Fran McCaffery needs to turn a program around is two years.

In his two previous head coaching jobs — at North Carolina-Greensboro and Siena — McCaffery's teams posted significantly better records in his second year than his first.

The current Hawkeye head coach led both UNC-Greensboro and Siena to 15-13 records in his first season at each school. In year two, the Spartans improved to 19-12 and made the NCAA Tournament; the Saints went 20-12, but missed the tourney.

While the Hawkeyes don't quite have the same starting point in the win-loss column — Iowa finished 11-20 last season — they expect to make the same year-two system improvements on the court as McCaffery's past teams have.

"[Last year,] we talked about playing up-tempo [and] we talked about changing defense," McCaffery said. "A lot of those things take time to teach, particularly with a young team."

Now, he said, there's less of a need for that learning curve. Players and coaches both said during the team's media day on Thursday that a year of experience with McCaffery's system creates a level of comfort that wasn't present last year.

Assistant coach Andrew Francis, who spent three years coaching with McCaffery at Siena, described the players' first year as one in which they progressed throughout the season — but said "they just weren't used to [the system] yet."

"When you're out there, you don't want to think too much," Francis said. "That's what we were doing last year, to make sure we were doing things right. When you start to play like that, sometimes that can hold you back from really achieving what you can do. This year, there's a greater comfort level because they understand what to expect."

Senior guard Matt Gatens expressed similar feelings of having a better understanding of McCaffery's system now that the team has played in it for a full year.

When asked how much of a difference being comfortable with the system can make, Gatens said, "It's huge."

"[Now], you don't have to think about as many things. You can just think about the game and how to win."

During his half-hour press conference on Thursday, McCaffery discussed what year two could look like — he'd like to see his team playing at a faster pace and pressing a little more.

Several players, including Gatens, Bryce Cartwright, Melsahn Basabe, and Roy Devyn Marble, also mentioned something else that would be new to the Hawkeyes — the NCAA Tournament.

That's the hope for year two of the Fran McCaffery era.

"I believe so and everybody in that locker room does," Gatens said when asked if the team is good enough to reach the tournament. "Our attitude is different this year. We all believe. We've had team meetings where we've talked about it — that's our goal. To get to the NCAA Tournament."

Follow DI men's basketball reporter Ben Schuff on Twitter.

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