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Iowa men's basketball improved national perception in 2012-13

BY IAN MARTIN | APRIL 08, 2013 5:00 AM

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Fran McCaffery’s rebuilding process began with 10 wins the season before the coach came to campus. It was a 25-victory campaign in 2012-13. Also measureable is attendance, which went from record lows for Carver-Hawkeye Arena during Todd Lickliter’s tenure to numeous sellouts this past season.

Beyond the quantifiable, the Iowa basketball team has also worked to regain respect.

The Hawkeyes weren’t exactly a feared opponent in recent Big Ten seasons, with an empty arena and an average of five conference wins per year under Lickliter. The 2013-14 edition of the team, though, won’t sneak up on anyone.

“Iowa is going to be a great team in the next couple years,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said in the wake of Iowa’s 74-54 loss to his squad in the NIT championship game on April 4. “Everyone is going to know how good they are.”

Drew’s team dominated Iowa in the NIT Finals, but the rest of the NIT was positive national exposure for the Hawkeyes β€” all of their victories aired on some ESPN channel. Additionally, Iowa defeated two ACC teams in away and neutral environments, even though it has lost seven-consecutive games in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Pre-selection Sunday, virtually all bracketologists placed Maryland as closer to making the NCAA Tournament than Iowa. Yet, the Terrapins weren’t within more than 4 points for the final 30-plus minutes of the two squads’ NIT semifinal matchup on April 2. The Hawkeyes outshot Maryland on offense from both the field and free-throw line, in addition to turning the ball over 10 fewer times.

Iowa’s strong play in Madison Square Garden, the NBA’s most famous arena, even made another major conference head coach take notice.

“Iowa was great tonight,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said after the game. “They made plays, they made free throws, they made big shots when they had to make it. They were ready to play.”

The Hawkeyes have gained notice not just for their improvement in the win column, but their style of play. Fran McCaffery implemented a transition-heavy style since changing zip codes, resulting in more alley-oops and tired opposing defenses.

It’s both crowd and aesthetically pleasing, especially when done successfully. In conference this season, just two of Iowa’s nine losses came by double-digits. Only current championship contender Michigan truly blew out the Hawkeyes, 95-67, on Jan. 6 in Ann Arbor.

One of the two coaches to beat Iowa by more than 10 points in conference play is Indiana’s Tom Crean. Yet the Crimson and Cream coach β€” who beat Iowa by 13 in Bloomington in early March β€” is seemingly the first to offer praise.

“I like watching Iowa play,” he said after the Hoosiers beat the Hawkeyes in Iowa City on Dec. 31, 2012. “They play so hard, they’re competitive, [McCaffery] mixes lineups, he’s got a lot of versatility.”

The Black and Gold’s head coach is tempered when talking about next year, but he knows his players realize that no longer will Iowa be the team to earn an upset victory. Instead, they look to become the team hoping to avoid an upset.

“[The 2012-13 season] makes us optimistic,” McCaffery said after the NIT loss. “It makes us hungry, it makes us recognize what’s before us.”


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