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Counting down Fran McCaffery’s teams at Iowa

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He’s been here 10 years, let’s dive into each one of his teams to figure out who was the best (by my metrics)

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

As weird as it feels, today would have been the first day of the offseason if not for COVID-19. Whether the Iowa Hawkeyes would have played until yesterday is a fool’s errand (unless you’re Evan Miyakawa), but the off time has given some distance to compare the various teams Fran McCaffery has put together.

Since it’s a beautiful round number, we’ll break this guy into a separate post per year, spanning 10 weeks. But before we get there, let’s dive into some tenure-spanning views I find interesting.

KenPom Ratings

Ken Pomery’s site has produced ratings as long as I can remember and has season-level data going back into the 90s. While it is not the be-all-end-all, it does provide a solid baseline view for where each Hawkeye team stood throughout each season as more in-game data was developed. A view I have long appreciated is the game-by-game trend I’ve developed and largely kept in house. Here it is so we’re all reading from the same sheet of music:

Data via kenpom.com

So what does it say? There’s a clear break in Fran’s squads between “good, not great” (2013-2016, 2019-2020) and “abject mediocrity” (2011-2012, 2017, 2018) but the bunches are worth sorting out. Here’s how they finished in each season’s context:

10: 2012 - 18-17 (8-10); NIT 2nd Round; KenPom #101 (AdjEM: +7.2)
T-8: 2011 - 11-20 (4-14); N/A; KenPom #88 (AdjEM: +7.1)
T-8: 2018 - 14-19 (4-14); N/A; KenPom #88 (AdjEM: +8.2)
7: 2017 - 19-15 (10-8); NIT 2nd Round; KenPom #71 (AdjEM: +10.5)
6: 2019 - 23-12 (10-10); NCAA 2nd Round; KenPom #37 (AdjEM: +16.1)
5: 2013 - 25-13 (9-9); NIT Runner-up; KenPom #29 (AdjEM: +17.9)
T-2: 2020 - 20-11 (11-9); INCOMPLETE; KenPom #23 (AdjEM: +18.7)
T-2: 2015 - 22-12 (12-6); NCAA 2nd Round; KenPom #23 (AdjEM: +19.1)
T-2: 2016 - 22-11 (12-6); NCAA 2nd Round: KenPom #23 (AdjEM: +20.2)
1: 2014 - 20-13 (9-9); NCAA First Four; KenPom #22 (AdjEM: +20.4)

Maybe the rankings tuned out how you might have expected them to from a statistical level but that is just a piece of the puzzle in determining how good each team was. That coloring is going to impact where they ultimately rank, in my eyes.

Expectations

As part of this series, we’ll reexamine what each iteration was faced with coming into the season. How did the narrative of each season come to pass and does a squad’s ability to perform to those expectations carry weight today? How did the high points of a season (looking at you 2014 and 2016) affect the fall into anonymity on the national stage. Do teams like 2013 and 2015 get overlooked when stacking up the whole of Fran McCaffery’s tenure?

All will play a role when deciding where a team is ultimately ranked.

Moments

An understated part about college basketball is how just one team, of relevance, ends their season with a win. Everybody else, save the winners of the NIT and other postseason tournaments, ends it with a loss. In the recap of each season, we’ll take the highs - and the lows - into consideration when balancing the team’s place over the last 10 years.


So settle in. We’ve got you covered over the next 10 weeks, which will take us into June, just in time for the countdown to Hawkeye football season (should it begin on time).