Lately, the Big Ten Tournament has been where Iowa basketball’s dreams under Fran McCaffery have gone to die. So here’s a switch:
What about the Hawkeyes’ nightmares?
Barring a scenario bonkers enough for a movie script, Iowa’s worst season (13-18 overall, 4-14 Big Ten) since 2010-11 will end in New York City this week, the historic lights of Madison Square Garden putting a lid over one of the league’s most curious dumpster fires.
Year 8 of the McCaffery Era has already produced the program’s most league losses since 2010-11 — 14, matching the total of McCaffery’s first season as coach — and the worst defensive performance by an Iowa side in 25 years. The 78.5 points per game allowed by the Black and Gold are the most by a Hawkeyes squad since the 81.7 points surrendered in 1993-94.
The Hawkeyes open as a 12 seed against Illinois (4-14, 14-17) in the Big Ten’s opening salvo Wednesday afternoon at MSG , a venue in 2013 where Iowa danced all the way to the NIT championship game before falling to Baylor, 74-54.
On one hand, a tourney setting is a clean slate after a brutal nine weeks, a fresh start for everybody. Hey, w hy not us?
On the other hand, there’s one very salient, very painful reason why not: the defense. Or lack thereof. Iowa went into its regular-season home finale Sunday ranked No. 309 out of 351 Division I programs in defensive efficiency, allowing opponents a charitable 1.082 points per possession.
March — win-or-go-home March — is no place for charity. It’s ain’t crazy about teams that can’t guard the stinking basketball, either.
What’s at stake
Pride and sanity, mostly. Although not necessarily in that order.
Bright spots such as freshman big man Luka Garza have proven to be few and too far between. McCaffery’s job security was broached at a recent news conference, a topic that the coach, as you might expect, was not particularly, umm, thrilled to have to address.
Land of 10’s Scott Dochterman reported last month that McCaffery had signed an extension in November — unannounced by the school at the time — that shot his buyout up to $10.2 million after this season.
In other words, Fran’s probably not going anywhere anytime soon. Unfortunately, many Iowa fans could say the same thing about this program right now.
What needs to happen for Iowa to reach the NCAA Tournament
As Tom Berenger proffered in the movie Major League, there’s only one thing left to do, kids: Win the whole expletive thing.
On the plus side, the Hawkeyes already won on the home floor of opening-round partner Illinois, something not even Bracketville-bubblers Nebraska can claim. Of course, the winner of the 12/13 tilt gets fifth-seeded Michigan, which held Iowa under 70 points twice while sweeping both meetings in league play. When it comes to the Friday quarterfinals, if the Hawkeyes somehow make it there, as the song goes, hell, they’ll make it anywhere.
The bottom line
With the opening round of the league tourney tipping Wednesday, there’s a chance that the Hawkeyes don’t play a single game in March — something that hasn’t happened to an Iowa team since 1938, when future Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick was one of the Hawkeyes’ forwards.
Iowa is riding a four-game Big Ten Tournament losing skid into Manhattan. In McCaffery’s first seven seasons, he’s produced a one-and-done in five conference championship brackets and sports a 2-7 career record in the league tourney.
Usually, Hawkeyes fans rue an early exit from the Big Ten Tournament. This winter? This winter might be the rare, merciful exception.
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