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Men's hoops eyes biggest challenge of McCaffery Era

BY RYAN PROBASCO | JANUARY 28, 2014 5:00 AM

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During his press conference with various members of the media Monday afternoon, fourth-year head coach Fran McCaffery seemed relaxed, determined to give the impression that today’s matchup against Michigan State was just another stop on Iowa’s grueling and tiring Big Ten schedule.

“I try to keep an even keel,” he said. “We try to have a very consistent and businesslike approach to every game in terms of game plan, practice. Were pretty regimented in that regard.”

But despite the act, it was easy to tell McCaffery knows this is the type of game fans and followers of the program looked forward to when he was hired in March 2010.

There’s no question this is the biggest and most anticipated game of the season and of
McCaffery’s tenure at Iowa, and he knows what the Hawkeyes are going to be up against. 

“I think from a consistency standpoint, they’re a program that I think every coach in this league understands if you’re going to win a championship, you’ve got to go through Michigan State. Plain and simple,” McCaffery said.

The Spartans will step on the court this evening without two of their biggest contributors in Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson.

Payne has been hobbled by a foot injury, and Dawson broke a bone in his hand punching a table out of frustration.

Iowa guards Devyn Marble and Mike Gesell will be asked to stop, or at least limit, the effectiveness and production of the nation’s most talented backcourt — Gary Harris and Keith Appling.

To achieve that, Gesell and McCaffery both stressed the need to protect the basketball Tuesday. Turnovers were a key component in Iowa’s 3-point loss to Izzo’s squad in Carver last year, highlighted by Iowa’s 10 in the second half.

“Michigan State does a tremendous job of ratcheting up its intensity when it needs a stop,” Gesell said. “That’s something that we need to respond to. I think last year, both of the times we played them, we weren’t able to match that. And it led to some mistakes.

“We’re going to get after them defensively; we’re going to do what we do. We’re going to press, try to bother them, and get them out of their rhythm.”

McCaffery may say the game isn’t more important than any other on Iowa’s schedule, and he won’t reminisce about how far his program’s come the past four years.

But whether he likes it or not, his players are amped to another level to play in a game of this magnitude on ESPN.

Preaching a business-like approach is what coaches are supposed to do leading up to these types of matchups. But having a calm demeanor will never be a characteristic of McCaffery’s coaching style or his teams’ identities.

And as McCaffery has said before, it’s OK to play basketball with a little reckless abandon.

“I’m excited just talking about it right now,” senior forward Zach McCabe said. “They’re a tough team, and it’s not going to be easy.

“The best part about it is it’s going to be a grind game. And I think our team is well-prepared for that.”


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