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Free-For-All Friday: Iowa Athletics’ Great Winter, The Purdue Collapse and Fran McCaffery’s Culpability

We started the week pretty excited about Iowa athletics. A blowout loss at Purdue ruined our week. How much blame does Fran McCaffery deserve for our sour mood?

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Iowa
How much blame does Fran McCaffery deserve for Iowa’s blowout loss at Purdue?
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Another week, another roller coaster ride for Hawkeye fans. We were riding high following the big home win over Illinois with a rocking Carver. We touch on the tremendous run Iowa athletics is having across the board.

Then we watch the hoops team get destroyed at Purdue and wonder aloud how much blame Fran McCaffery deserves and whether the season is salvageable. Buckle up. It’s Friday and it’s a free for all.

JP: Jerry, we’re out of rhythm my man. First we hold out for a week because some of us (ok fine, me) got lazy in a holiday-shortened week. Now I, scratch that, we have no excuses. It’s game day. It’s national signing day. It’s the middle of the week and we haven’t touched base in five days. What. Is. Up. My dude?

Jerry: I don’t know about you, but I think that you and I, and really The Pants as a whole, have helped curate one of the best home court advantages four our winter sports teams this season. I know we too often go back to the well on fan engagement at Carver, but since that snow storm (and dominating performances from our basketball/wrestling teams), Carver is, dare I say it... ROCKING!

It’s weird to say, JP, but this has been one of the most fun winters I’ve ever had as a Hawkeye fan. I get to rub all of the Penn State jobbers nose in Iowa’s restored dominance with wrestling on a daily basis and our basketball team is currently slotted for a 5-seed with plenty of opportunity to continue their trend upwards with a few more big time Big Ten wins.

It surely is a great time to be a Hawkeye.

As the boots on the ground in IC, I need to know the vibe around the community. Obviously, as a New Jersey resident, I don’t get to campus as much as I used to, but I’m curious on what the buzz is like around town? Are people rocking basketball jerseys in the snow? Are people fake wrestling in the Ped Mall while passerby’s give a traveling motion and scream “TWOOOOOOOO”? Are people cheers-ing at DC’s to Bluder Bunch? Paint me a picture buddy!

JP: Well, I am technically boots on the ground, but let’s be honest – I’m a father of three kids under the age of five so my finger isn’t exactly on the pulse of the community the way it was say five years ago. I’m getting old, man!

But I will say this: there are no hoops tickets to be had on the remaining weekend games. Tickets have been tough to come by on the wrestling front. Everyone I’ve talked to who attends women’s hoops games has said they’ve been as full and as loud as they recall and this comes after the tremendous turnout to see Megan Gustafson a season ago. I’ve gone out and purchased tickets to take my two oldest boys to our (yes, our – I’ve never been as sad as that is to type) to the Oklahoma State dual. I spoke with my dad over the weekend while we attended the Illinois game (for the record, we have never lost to Illinois when I attend with my dad so feel free to hit my Venmo to help me keep getting tickets) and he, like me, was scrambling on Friday night to tune into the Penn State dual. He has never watched a wrestling dual in his life. My father-in-law is a big outdoorsman, but not at all into college sports. He’s texted my wife asking for the channel for Iowa hoops each of the last 4 games. It’s safe to say fans are IN on Hawkeye sports this winter.

And it’s with good reason. All the major sports at Iowa are doing REALLY well. We’ve had short spurts of this before (January 2016 comes to mind, when both football and men’s basketball hit the top 5 in the same month), but this may be the most the athletic department has been hitting on all cylinders since the ‘80s. Wrestling is #1 in the nation. Men’s and women’s hoops are both top-20 nationally. Football finished in the top-15. And to top it all off, Gary Barta not only has managed to not stumble into a major lawsuit in the last year, he’s now the head of the College Football Playoff Committee. I mean, seriously, everything is coming up black and gold these days.

Naturally, the Hawkeye fan in me assumes things are moments away from crashing down around us. Is that nuts? Is it nuts to think this is the best spot we’ve been in for the last 30+ years? Can the department sustain this or are we speeding toward a bridge that’s out?

Jerry: *Note to the reader*

JPinIC is now SOLELY responsible for the Purdue collapse. Not the players. Not Fran. Just JPinIC. He just had to speak this sentence into existence: “Naturally, the Hawkeye fan in me assumes things are moments away from crashing down around us. Is that nuts? Is it nuts to think this is the best spot we’ve been in for the last 30+ years? Can the department sustain this or are we speeding toward a bridge that’s out?”

Come on buddy! Why? Why did you have to go there. We were being so positive about Carver and our fanbase giving these amazing athletes the proper support they easily deserve and then you just had to ask about a Winter Sports Wide Franbruary Skid. Unreal.

This brings me to a question I’ve pondered quite a bit...after games like Purdue, do you want to blame Fran McCaffery and why does it seem like the echo chamber always does? Purdue literally played like they were trying out for the And-1 Mixtape Globetrotters and everyone freaked out as if this was a wider issue. Have we all not been watching what this incredibly undermanned team has done this year? It’s basketball, people get hot, teams get hot, and sometimes, these 18 and 19 year old kids don’t play well.


JP: You know me well enough to know the answer to that question. I’m a firm believer in the mantra that players play the games. Coaches make big decisions and they can cost teams games and can win teams games, but by and large it’s the players that win and lose games. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always tended to be more in the camp of don’t fire Kirk and Fran after every season.

But at the end of the day, Fran didn’t lose that game for the Hawkeyes. Purdue was shooting lights out and the game was over before it started. Could he have taken some more timeouts? Sure. Would that have changed the outcome. Not a chance. Could he have not started the game in zone? Sure. Would that have changed anything? Nope.

But JP, the defense is so bad under Fran and we can’t win on the road!!!

I just checked and it turns out the defense wasn’t any better a week ago when we were talking about Fran as Big Ten Coach of the Year. Fran’s teams play bad defense for the same reasons air raid teams play bad defense in college football. When you get up and down and score a ton of points, you force your defense to spend more time actually playing defense. Guys are going to be more winded. The defense is going to break down more often. It just is.

That wasn’t a problem when teams were shooting a totally pedestrian 32% from deep. When they shoot 56%, you get the results we saw on Wednesday. The defense wasn’t noticeably worse from Iowa. There was actually some very good defense for long stretches, which Purdue being forced to work the ball for 29 seconds and then settling for a three-pointer with a hand right in the face. And they sank them.

Of course, that came with a 4-minute scoring drought to start the game, which gave Purdue a lead we were never coming back from with their hot shooting. It is what it is and there’s not a thing Fran or anyone else could do about it. Tip the cap, move on.

And can we just stop with this narrative that Fran can’t win on the road? Winning on the road is tough. It’s especially tough in the Big Ten where the conference is typically strong. It’s as tough as it’s ever been this year. Great teams are getting run off the court on the road this year. That includes Maryland (by 18 at Iowa), Michigan State (29 at Purdue), Illinois (21 at Arizona), Penn State (32 at Ohio State) and on and on and on. This isn’t unique to Iowa or Fran.

Don’t forget, it was little more than a week ago Iowa was the only team in the conference with a winning record on the road. But now, the Hawkeyes get blown out once and we’re questioning whether the head coach can win a road game? Stop. Just stop. You sound silly.

This is a good team. It’s a gritty team. They have a good coach who has resurrected this program from the ashes. He has his flaws, but they didn’t cost this team anything in West Lafeyette. I fully expect this group to bounce back, pummel Nebraska this weekend and carry on with the season as expected, lest we forget both Vegas and every advanced stats site expected Iowa to lose Wednesday. Everything we hope for the rest of this season is still in front of us. The sky is not falling.


In the words of my arch nemesis Aaron Rodgers, R-E-L-A-X. This team is light years ahead of what any of us ever anticipated and that was BEFORE the JoBo news. They still have only lost one home game at the beginning of the season. They have a player of the year and a coach of the year candidate. One of the best assist/turnover point guards in all of college basketball and swaggy wings that are getting so much valuable minutes.

This is a tremendous season no matter how you slice it with or without one of the best offensive performances you’ll see out of a college basketball team in the Purdue game.

Sometimes you have it. Sometimes you don’t. But this season, despite all of the chaos and injuries, Iowa’s had it the majority of the time. And that’s because Luka and Weezy and Connor and CJ and Kriener refuse to let this ship sink despite every reason to let it.

I know I’m all over the board here, but look at the Chicago Bulls the last several years. They have continued to be struck by injuries season in and season out and the coaching staff and front office continue to use that as an excuse for why they aren’t winning at the level they have told us they would. Iowa hasn’t done that. Their is a mental fortitude inside this program that means EVERYTHING. These guys obviously love playing for Fran McCaffery and with each other.