McCaffery’s personal ties amplify already anticipated matchup between the Hawkeyes and the Irish


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The Iowa men’s basketball players won’t have the opportunity to catch their breath after finishing second in the grinding, three-day Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas this past week. 

This evening, the Hawkeyes will square off against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

The anticipation of the matchup — which is high, as demonstrated by the limited tickets available for it — will be amplified by the strong personal ties Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery has with Notre Dame.

McCaffery, who is in his fourth year at the helm at Iowa, spent 11 years (1988-99) at Notre Dame as the team’s assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.

“It’s funny because I was a little bit surprised at first, because I don’t know that I or anyone else was thinking about Notre Dame as an ACC member,” McCaffery said. “They just joined [the conference], and then you’re thinking of the ACC, who we’re going to get, you think of the traditional ACC teams. It’ll be a great game for our fan base.”

McCaffery spoke highly of his time with the Irish during Monday’s teleconference. The fourth-year head coach went as far to say his time in South Bend was as valuable as any experience he’s gained during his career, and he credited that time for his success at other institutions.

“To have the opportunity to coach at Notre Dame was something I thought was obviously going to dramatically impact my career,” McCaffery said. “It was something I wanted to do; it was an experience I wanted to try. In my first year, I’m preparing scouting reports to coach against Bobby Knight, Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, and Rick Pitino. You know, those kinds of games were played regularly. And there was no better way to prepare to be where I ultimately am now.

“I would say that to be successful at North Carolina-Greensboro, Sienna, and ultimately here at Iowa, it’s a result of the experience I got when I was at Notre Dame.”

The importance of McCaffery’s stint at Notre Dame didn’t stop with basketball, though. During his tenure there, McCaffery began dating Margaret Nowlin, a former player and assistant on the Notre Dame women’s team.

The two eventually married, and they have had four children together. The game for Margaret, the coach said, presents a unique situation. But the Notre Dame alumna won’t be conflicted, because she’s dedicated to efforts of her husband at Iowa.

“[Margaret] had a great experience at Notre Dame,” McCaffery said. “She loves that institution. She’s still really close to the women’s program there, but in terms of the game itself, it won’t have that much different of an impact. She recognizes how good they are; it’s a prominent opponent. But she’s a Hawkeye through and through.”

Notre Dame is a very tough matchup for the Hawkeyes. In addition to the fatigue factor that may play against Iowa, the Irish move the ball extremely well and average the second-most assists (21.0) per game in the country.

The play of the Fighting Irish on the perimeter, plus the recently shaky free-throw shooting from Iowa’s Devyn Marble, could loom large tonight. The Hawkeyes missed seven free throws during the Nov. 30 loss to Villanova, six of them were by Marble.

In total, Marble finished the tournament just 15-of-27 (55 percent) from the line during the Battle 4 Atlantis. The senior remains confident in his ability, though, and doesn’t think the issue will continue moving forward.

“Free throws, I struggled with that the whole tournament,” Marble said following Iowa’s loss on Nov. 30. “But I think down the stretch, as I continue to work on that, it won’t be a problem. I usually make my free throws.”

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