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Harty: NCAA Tournament is ultimate goal

[ 0 ] October 9, 2013 |

Unless it’s Aaron White or somebody else who’s willing to admit it, forget about what members of the Iowa men’s basketball team say publicly about whether this season can be a success without making the NCAA Tournament.

The answer to that question is no, as White so willingly admitted at the team’s annual media day event Wednesday. He wasn’t bragging or saying something outlandish. He was just stating the obvious about a team that returns nine of its top-10 scorers, its top-four rebounders and its three assist leaders from last season’s team that won 25 games and finished runner-up to Baylor in the NIT.

“Not making the NCAA Tournament, I don’t think you can have a successful season with the amount of talent we have,” said White, a 6-foot-8 junior forward who made third-team all-Big Ten last season, as well as the all-Big Ten Freshmen squad the season before. “We have enough experience. We have enough talent that there is no reason that this team shouldn’t be in the NCAA Tournament.”

Returning to the Big Dance for the first time since 2006 and contending for a Big Ten title for the first time since 2006 are really all that’s left on Iowa coach Fran McCaffery’s to-do list. Winning the NIT would be a step up from last season’s runner-up finish for the Hawkeyes, but it wouldn’t be a big enough step to complete the rebuilding process.

Nothing against the NIT, but it’s a been-there-and-done-that proposition for White and his cohorts — two years in a row, for that matter. Most of the prognosticators agree and have picked Iowa to make the NCAA Tournament this season. It seems like a safe pick barring a rash of injuries.

White deserves credit for speaking the truth because everybody associated with the team feels the exact same way. It’s just that some of the players won’t admit it publicly. That’s fine, too, because they’re just being careful and following McCaffery’s example.

McCaffery stopped short of saying this season would be a failure if Iowa didn’t make the NCAA Tournament.

“I think you can always have success,” said McCaffery, who is entering his fourth season at Iowa. “I think, obviously, we’re looking at that being the next barometer, clearly. That’s the next logical step, but if you look at it, it seemed like we had last year, and we just missed. You win 25 games and you’re not going to say it’s a failure. I think what we have to be able to do is look at your program and say can you consistently win at this level in this league with the competition being what it is.”

A soft-nonconference schedule combined with finishing 9-9 in the Big Ten cost Iowa an NCAA Tournament bid last season. The players considered it a snub and used the success in the NIT to support their claim.

Iowa has a tougher nonconference schedule this season and will face Big Ten powers Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin twice during the regular season, allowing more chances for signature wins.

“If we were 10‑8 in the league, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re automatically in,” McCaffery said. “It probably does, but you just never know. I do think we’ve addressed some of those issues with regard to our nonconference schedule. I don’t know when you look at our double plays this year if it would have mattered who we played in the nonconference. There are your opportunities.

“If you want to get in, you’ve got to go beat some people. We’re playing a lot of teams in the top 10 twice. We’ve got a tremendous amount of opportunities to take care of business. And, obviously, we’ve done that here, and now we’ve got to do a little better job on the road.”

Senior forward Zach McCabe also went on record Wednesday saying it’s the NCAA Tournament or bust for Iowa this season, while senior guard Devyn Marble was more guarded in his optimism.

“I wouldn’t say it’s an (NCAA) Tournament-or-bust type of season, I wouldn’t say that,” Marble said. “We just want to get better and continue to compete. And that is a goal to make the NCAA Tournament and it’s going to stay a goal and expectation for this team throughout the season.

“But you don’t want to say it’s that or bust. You don’t want to say the season is a disappointment because of that because you never know what can happen.”

Marble brings up a good point because there are no guarantees in sports. That’s part of the fun, unless injuries are involved.

But you can guarantee that every player on the Iowa team will consider this season a failure if it doesn’t include an NCAA Tournament appearance. And they’re right to feel that way.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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