Over the course of 10 weeks, we’re counting down Fran McCaffery’s squads as head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Below are links to previous iterations in the series:
- #10: 2017-18
- #9: 2010-11
- #8: 2011-12
- #7: 2016-17
- #6: 2018-19
- #5: 2019-20
- #4: 2012-13
- #3: 2015-16
After a run to the NIT finals, the Iowa Hawkeyes returned all but Eric May’s seven starts. As a result, they entered the season with the highest KenPom ranking of Fran McCaffery’s tenure at 15, though they didn’t enter the AP Top 25 until the third week of the season.
Things started pretty well, with just two non-conference losses to good Villanova and Iowa State teams. Were they games they were leading down the stretch? Of course they were. So they were certainly opportunities missed but nothing unusual. (Ok, Nova’s 21-2 run in the second half was a bit unusual)
After storming to 8-4 in conference and losses to only teams in KenPom’s top 20, the Hawkeyes were in solidly second place. Then...this happened:
Iowa was then forced back to Iowa City and lost three games in six days. Things were never the same.
They finished 9-9 in conference, lost to a bad Northwestern team in the conference tournament and were forced into the First Four against a similarly strong (statistically) Tennessee Volunteers.
Inside The Hall dubbed it the first time the Hawks faced expectations under Fran:
The pieces are in place for Iowa to finish in the top half of the Big Ten and also return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006. White and Marble are potential All-Big Ten players, but what could make or break the season is the development of Gesell and Woodbury [...] Few teams in the Big Ten will have the quality of depth Iowa will possess
(note, he did not find inner peace)
The Statistical Profile
(all ranks vs. McCaffery teams)
Record: 20-13 (6th), 9-9 (T-5th)
Offense: AdjO - 120.2 (1st); 81.5 PPG (1st)
Defense: AdjD - 99.8 (6th); 70.3 PPG (5th)
Iowa’s best offense under Fran. And they did it while shooting a three point shot on 27.5% of field goal attempts, 300th in the country. They did all of it against the third best conference schedule - the five teams ahead of them had the five easiest conference schedules.
Their offense continued to be sustained by a low turnover percentage and league high offensive rebounding and free throw rates. That’s the Aaron White (and Gabriel Olaseni!) effect. Though they lost only Eric May, their in conference defense dipped from 4th to 8th.
What separates this team against past iterations is: they were in every game. Not a single regulation loss was more than 10 points. Yet they just could. not. close. games. Down the stretch was the twilight zone. Iowa let second half leads and high win probabilities slip away time and again in the final 8 games.
Does that make the team better than their record?
|Roy Devyn Marble||sr||112.8||0.273||17||3.2||3.6||0.42||0.349||0.714||30.2|
|Jarrod Uthoff||rs so||119.5||0.187||7.6||4.6||0.8||0.5||0.425||0.817||18.2|
- Much like the #3 season, Iowa had the same starting lineup for all but two of their games. Starters played in nearly 20% of the final five games as a single unit. Devyn Marble was Fran’s first All-Big Ten First Teamer.
- Without a doubt Iowa’s deepest team and probably the strongest bench of Fran’s tenure: Uthoff, Olaseni, Josh Oglesby at his best, Jok & Clemmons in very limited minutes. Take me back to the days of Olaseni vs. Woodbury debates in crunch time.
- To further understand how weirdly the minutes were dispersed, Iowa had two starters (Woodbury & Basabe) who didn’t even reach 20 minutes per game.
The Low Point
Just another Big Ten tournament loss against a bad team! (We deserve to watch the NW version of this)
It pushed Iowa into the First Four games and solidified the partially correct “Fran Fade” narrative which plagues Iowa to this day.
In actuality, it probably was the NCAA tournament loss to Tennessee. Despite the trials and tribulations and Fran’s mind being elsewhere, Iowa still had a freaking chance to get into the 64-team tournament. Yet they couldn’t. They allowed a 17-3 run at the absolute wrong time, with nobody’s hands steadying the wheel.
Please, no more Tennessee
Honorable mentions: no others to discuss since Iowa’s losses were to decent teams
The High Point
Iowa blew out Michigan just before going on their losing streak.
To be honest, all I remember are the blank stares of the very talented kids losing control of too many games for this high point to mean anything, though.
Honorable mentions: chance to go 9-4 against Indiana
The What If
Ben broke down the what if of a win against Tennessee incredibly well but lets take a look at: what if the beam doesn’t fall?
If Iowa is allowed to play against Indiana that night - a team going the opposite direction of the hot Hawkeyes - it’s fair to reason that Iowa gets the win. A win with all else equal, takes Iowa to 10-8 in conference and may have changed their luck in the bracket, taking OSU’s slot, where they face a Purdue team they beat just a week or so prior.
Even a loss to that Purdue team (with a win against Indiana) does not force Iowa into that play-in game.
Ultimately, it probably does not change the type of draw Iowa gets into the Sweet 16 so the Tennessee “what if” is the cleanest hypothetical. But still, that freaking beam.
While the 2016 team reached the highest highs, the 2014 team always seemed to me to be the most talented of Fran’s tenure. Multiple ball-handlers, excellent rebounding to make up for suspect outside shooting, assembly line to the free throw line. They also had the length to contest passing lanes and shots which could gear up the defensive end.
Yet they, like many other Hawkeye teams before or since, lacked “it.” That thing you need in tight games to take control and come out on top. Fran was too ...energetic and didn’t allow the team’s personality to build organically.
The placement of this team as #2 is built on three things: the absolute potential of the best players operating at their best, their depth, and the best offense Fran has constructed despite having such limited shooting.