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Rick Brown: McCaffery got the win he needed vs. Iowa State

[ 0 ] December 8, 2012 |
<img class="size-full wp-image-115599"

src=”http://hawkcentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/fran-defense.jpg” alt=”” width=”366″ height=”410″ /> Iowa coach Fran McCaffery gets defensive Friday against Iowa State

IOWA CITY, Ia. – No one needed Iowa’s 80-71 victory against Iowa State more than Hawkeye coach Fran McCaffery.

McCaffery’s rebuilding efforts have moved forward in each of his previous two seasons as Iowa’s coach. Year 3? Fans wanted to see more steps in a winning direction, which seemed like a daunting task before the season started.

The Big Ten Conference is loaded this year, meaning it’s not an automatic that Iowa will reach the eight league wins it did last season or beat four top-25 teams. Just take a look at Iowa’s start to the league season: No. 1 Indiana at home. At No. 3 Michigan. No. 19 Michigan State at home.

That tough league slate – Ohio State (No. 7), Illinois (No. 13) and Minnesota (No. 14) are also ranked – blurs the line between perception and reality.

Would this team make another step, with the 2013-14 season looming as the real breakthrough mark in the rebuilding process? The non-conference schedule was to be a true measure of that. And Iowa came into Friday’s game with Iowa State just 1-2 in games that were considered true tests – a win against Western Kentucky and a loss to Wichita State in Cancun and a loss at Virginia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Wichita State is ranked 24th in this week’s Associated Press poll. Virginia Tech is two spots out of the top 25.

So it was no embarrassment to lose to them.

But McCaffery needed a big non-conference win to show progress. He got it Friday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. There’s no question the Hawkeyes needed this one more than the Cyclones did. Iowa State’s rebuilding project has moved at a faster pace under coach Fred Hoiberg, with a 23-win season and NCAA berth in 2011-12.

Iowa was labeled the Big Ten’s sleeper team by many before the season started. An NCAA berth? A long shot, likely. But why not dream? And Friday’s win was a step in the right direction.

It was McCaffery’s first victory against the Cyclones in three tries. And it came at a time when Hawkeye fans needed a lift. Iowa lost at home to Iowa State in football. The Cyclones are going bowling; Iowa isn’t. And Iowa State has had some top in-state football recruits say yes in recent weeks.

McCaffery is an in-your-face coach. During Tuesday’s one-sided victory against South Dakota, he screamed at freshman center Adam Woodbury to “shut up.” He also directed his wrath at Melsahn Basabe after he committed a silly foul 80 feet from the basket. McCaffery was more animated, especially in the huddle, in Tuesday’s game than he had been all season.

Why? McCaffery was already coaching for Friday’s game. He knew it was that important.

Next up for the 8-2 Hawkeyes is a Hy-Vee Big Four Classic matchup with Northern Iowa on Dec. 15. Then comes non-conference games against South Carolina State on Dec. 19 and Coppin State Dec. 22. Indiana follows on New Year’s Eve.

Iowa should head into conference play with double-digit victories. Iowa won 10 games in the 2009-10 season, and only 11 in 2010-11 after McCaffery took over for Todd Lickliter. The Hawkeyes have headed into Big Ten play with double-figure victories just once since 2005-06, the last time Iowa was in the NCAA Tournament.

Progress can be fickle and hard to measure beyond wins and losses. On Friday, Iowa delivered a dose of progress. McCaffery needed a win. And he got it.


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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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