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Fran Speaks: Rutgers

Can Iowa make it back-to-back wins over ranked opponents?

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time ever, the Rutgers men’s basketball team will step onto Carver as a ranked team, coming into Iowa City with a 14-4 record and a No. 24 ranking to show for it.

Iowa, ranked No. 19 itself, is coming off an impressive home win over a Michigan team the Hawkeyes have had troubles with in the past. Tonight offers an opportunity for the Black and Gold to build on their NCAA résumé, and get some payback after taking an L at home to the Knights a year ago.

Here it from Fran the man himself:

Q. You think the fact that some of their players came in here and won last year has any bearing on mental, or is that overrated?

FRAN McCAFFERY: I think they have proven they’re a mentally tough group and they’re used to playing in this league now, been in the league for a while. I don’t think that’s much of a factor.

Ya hear that? Fran says Rutgers is ️ ️OVERRATED ️ ️OVERRATED

Q. What’s been the secret to Steve Pikiell’s success at Rutgers?

FRAN McCAFFERY: I don’t think there is anything secret. He’s a really good coach. He’s been doing this for a long time and knows what he’s doing. I think he came in with a plan and wanted to build it the right way. Wasn’t trying to do it very quickly. He got the guys he wanted to play the way he wants to play, and he’s got a group that’s buying into what he’s teaching.

It has been impressive what they’ve done, but keep in mind they were kind of bounced around as a program. They were in the Atlantic 10, the Big East, and back to the old Eastern 8 or whatever it was back in those days.

I think they found a home now in terms of being able to recruit to a Big Ten program. A little bit unique being back east for that, but they’ve got a great home court advantage. Nice facility. They upgraded. Their athletic director has done a great job raising money and getting some facility upgrades for them, so it’s all happening together.

What might not be overrated, however, is Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell. Buttgers has already matched its win total from last year with two months left in the season, and will certainly surpass his season-highs since being in Piscataway, where his teams won 15 games in 2017 & ‘18.

I look forward to him taking over for Steve Prohm in 2022 and then leaving Iowa State for the Timberwolves job in 2025.

Q. You played CJ all 20 minutes in the second half the other night. What does that say about the faith you have in him as a freshman?

FRAN McCAFFERY: Yeah, a couple times he was tired and we were able to use the media timeouts to get him recovered. He recovers pretty quickly. He’s just a guy that I think you feel like in a game like that he’s got to be on the floor as much as possible.

Like to have gotten as least a minute or two, but just didn’t work out that way.

It’s nothing short of astounding to consider the adversity this Iowa team has faced with injuries to Jack Nunge, Jordan Bohannon and Pat McCaffery and is still able to win against top talent. CJ Fredrick appears to be the straw that’s stirring the drink right now, and while Iowa needs everyone to stay healthy the rest of the year, it was depressing to watch a Fredrick-less team after his injury against Penn State a couple weeks ago.

Q. Have you given any thought to starting Bakari?

FRAN McCAFFERY: You give thought to a lot of different things. I think I’m comfortable with what we’ve got going on right now.

Right now I’m giving thought to what’s for dinner.

Time for a Joe Toussaint appreciation thread!

Q. Joe Toussaint has had some ups-and-downs this year as a freshman. How do you keep his confidence high?

FRAN McCAFFERY: The first thing is you can say whatever you want say to him, but you keep him in the starting lineup and tell him you have confidence in him and watch film and point things out that he needs to do better. He’s accepted it and trying to get better. He practiced really well.

The thing about him, he’s always going to play defense. So even if his offense is not what it would be in one game to another, his defense is always really consistent. He competes. He’s going to push the ball and he’s going to get in the lane and he’s going to find people.

He’s just got to cut back on few of his turnovers, and I have no doubt he’ll get that done.

Q. He doesn’t seem to hang his head —

FRAN McCAFFERY: You’re right, he doesn’t hang his head, but he’s not happy if he makes a mistake. He’s a competitor, and he recognizes that he’s capable of maybe doing something better in that case. He’s just got to be able to get to the next play, and he’s doing a pretty good job of that.

Q. How did you get Joe (Toussiant) out of New York?

FRAN McCAFFERY: Well, I think there is always a lot of factors that enter into recruiting, not the least of which is you have somebody like him whose recruitment sort of continued to get more and more involved, the more opportunities he had to play in front of people. He’s on a very high profile AAU team at high profile events. I mean, you’re playing in Peach Jam, that’s a big deal.

So everybody is there looking at you. More and more people recognize, Hey, this guy is really good. You can see that with his success he had on his high school team, which was also a very high level.

But I think when it was all said and done, we were really trying to find somebody in that position that would complement the other pieces that we had. We really felt like he was the perfect fit for that, so we made that known to him. Coach Francis had a prior relationship, as I did, with his AAU people. The coach in particular. Terrific guy. Rock solid high school program and really good coach. Just good people.

They were looking for the right situation. I think he wanted to play at the highest level, felt like he could, and little by little, more high level programs got involved.

When he came out here and visited, he really fell in love with it. He essentially committed on his visit.

Sure, JT makes some frustrating plays at times, but Fran is right: he’ll always play defense and he’ll always be giving his 110. He’s going to develop into a great player down the road, and I look forward to reaping what Fran is sowing in Mr. Toussaint.

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