clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Overreaction Monday: Is Fran McCaffery a Great Iowa Coach or the Greatest Iowa Coach?

Fran McCaffery has had some phenomenal success while at Iowa. Does that make him one of the great Hawkeye coaches, or the greatest? The numbers won’t lie.

Iowa v Gonzaga
Defensive stance Fran is certainly the best Fran.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Life as an Iowa sports fan is a roller coaster. The highs and lows come over several years, but also within seasons. This Iowa basketball season has seen particularly quick turns from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. With such a volatile ride, it can be easy to lose track of reality. But one thing you can always trust is numbers. Number never lie.

Baseball has always been a numbers game. In fact, perhaps no sport has been more about the stats than baseball. But with each passing year, the other major sports embrace the numbers more and more. That includes basketball, of course. So let’s talk about some Hawkeye hoops numbers to see if we can make sense of this up and down year and what that may mean for Fran McCaffery as Iowa’s head man.


That’s how many points the Hawkeyes scored on Friday night. While that seems like a huge number compared to the 24 the North Carolina State Wolfpack managed on Saturday, it’s actually 8 below Iowa’s season average. It was a good offensive showing, but not their best.


That’s how many points John Beilein’s Michigan Wolverines managed on Friday. That’s notable for a couple reasons. First, that’s 13 fewer than Iowa’s opponents have averaged this season. That’s pretty crazy when you think about how much better the defense has been this year vs. last year.

Beyond that though, it’s 12 fewer than the Wolverines came in averaging. The Hawkeyes stepped up in a big way in a big game.

Most importantly though, 59 is fewer than 74. Fifteen fewer, to be exact. By my math, that’s a Hawkeye victory.


That’s what Michigan was ranked when they entered Carver-Hawkeye Friday night. That’s like, really high.


That’s how many games the Hawkeyes have now won on the season. That’s 3 more than they had all last season. That’s pretty impressive when you consider this team is playing with only freshman Joe Wieskamp as an addition to last year’s group after losing Dom Uhl to graduation, Brady Ellingson to transfer, Ahmad Wagner to football, Jack Nunge to redshirt and Cordell Pemsl to injury.

It’s also inching in on a number of wins that would likely be good enough to get the Hawkeyes into the NCAA Tournament. That’s obviously not the only goal of the season, but it’s one of them and it’s getting very, very close.


That’s Iowa’s new NCAA NET ranking following the win on Friday night. That’s the official metric the committee will work from (though not the only one) come March. It’s obviously plenty high to get into the tournament. Barring a total meltdown down the stretch, this team will be dancing.

As for some of those other metrics, they also look good. The Hawkeyes are sitting at 22nd in KenPom as well. They’re also 26th in Sagarin. Those are both predictive measures, but both indicate Iowa is playing for seeding at this point, not a seat at the table.


That’s where ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had the Hawkeyes seeded Friday morning when he released his most recent, full bracket. That was before the big win against Michigan that evening.

Perhaps more interesting than the 6th seed is the fact Lunardi has Iowa playing the first two rounds in Des Moines. That would be..... fun.


That’s the number of games Fran McCaffery has won in his time at Iowa. It’s a lot. Not yet through his ninth season, that puts him at just under 19 wins per season here. Both the total number and the per season average will rise as this season goes on.

Not to totally put the cart before the horse, but looking at Iowa’s remaining schedule, Fran is likely to end his ninth season with the Hawkeyes at somewhere around 175 wins (inclusive of the BTT and NCAAT). That would be nearly 19 and a half wins per year.

Again, that is a lot. Especially at Iowa.


That’s where Fran ranks all-time at Iowa this morning. Second. Tied with the great Lute Olson.

Olson is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball coaches to ever live, largely based on his success at Arizona. But Lute was also a tremendous coach in his time at Iowa. Though not here nearly as long as the great Dr. Tom Davis, Olson is held in nearly the same regard. Perhaps because he didn’t stay long enough for Iowa fans to demand more, or perhaps because he made it to 5 NCAA Tournaments and a Final Four during his time in Iowa City.

Now Lute finds himself tied in the wins column with Fran McCaffery. Olson, like Fran, coached 9 seasons at Iowa. Fran now has 9 more regular season games to take sole possession of second place.

While Fran is clearly behind the likes of Olson and Davis in terms of NCAA tournament appearances, he has time to make up ground. McCaffery has only taken the Hawkeyes to three tournaments, but that is almost certain to increase to four in March - one fewer than Olson and five fewer than Davis.

Fran also took over from deeper depths than either Olson or Davis. Davis, right or wrong, often has his accomplishments diminished by the fact his early success was achieved with incredible talent left over from the George Raveling era. Olson, while certainly not reaping the rewards of a great recruiter like Raveling, didn’t quite have the same hurdles as McCaffery when he took over.

While the Dick Schultz era was not a good one for the Hawkeyes, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone to argue it was worse than the Todd Lickliter era. Not with the changes in the recruiting world between the early ‘70s and late ‘00s.

So with nearly a third of the season remaining and Fran McCaffery poised to take sole possession of second place all-time at Iowa in wins, it’s hard not to wonder if perhaps he shouldn’t be in the discussion for greatest coach in Iowa history. Where would his record be if he had inherited a roster full of 4- or 5-star players instead of what Lickliter left behind? How many wins will he accumulate if he sticks around 4 more years like Davis?

If you trust the numbers, it’s likely to be somewhere north of 250 wins. While that’s less than Davis’ 269, it would place McCaffery in the conversation. Again, that would be after resurrecting the program from the ashes rather than hitting the ground running.

That’s just McCaffery the basketball coach.


That’s how much money the University of Iowa Dance Marathon raised this year. It’s an amazing amount for an amazing cause.

And it touched McCaffery, who’s had a son (and future Hawkeye) battle cancer.

Fran McCaffery is a great Iowa coach. He may leave here as the greatest. Regardless, by all accounts he’s a great man.

One last number for good measure.


That’s how much money a pair of Hawkeye football players raised for the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.

Logan and Landan Paulsen are known as the goofy, fun-loving twins on the depth chart of Iowa’s offensive line. They are also known for their long, flowing locks and their shaggy beards.

Did I say are? I meant were.

That’s tremendous stuff.

Almost as tremendous as Austin DeSanto putting Nebraska in their place, after one of their wrestlers blew a kiss at the Iowa bench earlier in the match.

If that doesn’t sum up the Iowa/Nebraska rivalry perfectly, I don’t know what does. Don’t let your mouth (or, hand + mouth, I guess) write checks your body can’t cash.

Happy Monday. Go Hawks. Enjoy another week in the polls and the rest of a great basketball season under one of Iowa’s greatest coaches.