Oct. 14, 2011
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — More size. More depth. More experience.
Those are three areas University of Iowa head men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery said the 2011-12 Hawkeyes have improved over his first edition, which finished 11-20 overall and 4-14 in the Big Ten Conference.
McCaffery gathered with media yesterday in the Feller Club Room inside the refurbished Carver-Hawkeye Arena. You could say McCaffery’s program is refurbished, too. A program that knows it has to make its home court somewhat of a hostile Death Valley for opponents.
“It’s just really hard to win on the road and that’s why I talked about making sure that Carver became that kind of place for everybody that comes in here,” McCaffery said. “We saw that we played much better at home. Our crowds were phenomenal and attendance is up again, and I think our fans are excited about how we play. What we have to do is get off to a good start, play well at home, and then show that we have enough toughness to go on the road and take our style and make it successful.”
Iowa was 8-8 in home games last season, including a 67-65 win against No. 6 Purdue in the Carver-Hawkeye Arena finale. There are other encouraging signs: two of the Hawkeye losses came in overtime and eight came by a margin of two 3-point field goals or less.
Getting off to a fast start will be crucial, McCaffery said. Iowa plays 11 of its first 14 games in Iowa City. There is a good mix of pre-Big Ten tests mixed with contests where the Hawkeyes should be weighty favorites.
“We saw that we played much better at home. Our crowds were phenomenal and attendance is up again, and I think our fans are excited about how we play. What we have to do is get off to a good start, play well at home, and then show that we have enough toughness to go on the road and take our style and make it successful.”
UI head coach Fran McCaffery
“We have some games at home where we can figure out how much different we are going to be this year and I can figure out how I’m going to work my freshmen in,” McCaffery said. “We also have the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, we have the in state games that are going to be very difficult. So we have plenty to keep us tested prior to the Big Ten schedule.”
While last year’s Hawkeyes played faster, it still wasn’t as fast as McCaffery would like. Helping pick up the tempo this season are seven letterwinners and returning starters Bryce Cartwright, Matt Gatens, Melsahn Basabe and Roy Devyn Marble. Gatens (12.6 points per game), Basabe (11.0) and Cartwright (10.9) all averaged double figures in points a year ago. Cartwright and Gatens are guards, another noteworthy fact.
“When you have senior guards I think your expectations are always going to be a little bit higher,” McCaffery said. “I feel like those two guys have to play like senior All-Big Ten-caliber players, and they both can. I don’t necessarily mean first team, but they have got to be in contention for all Big Ten honors.”
Having senior guards isn’t as important as having healthy senior guards. So far that is the case.
Cartwright welcomes the pressure and high expectations of his final season.
“That means great things are coming,” Cartwright said with a grin. “Now that I’m in this position, I have to make the most of it.”
There is also something to be said about starting the second season under McCaffery and his staff. In three previous “Year Two’s” McCaffery has compiled a winning percentage of .587.
“I feel a lot more comfortable,” Gatens said. “We know what to expect, we know what’s going on, what the coaches expect, what they want from us and now we can go out and lead these younger guys and get them right on track with us right away and get some wins.”
There are 11 freshmen and sophomores on Iowa’s roster.
Iowa will hold an open practice Saturday on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena beginning at 12:30 p.m. The Hawkeyes host Northwest Missouri State in an exhibition game Sunday, Nov. 6, at 3:30 p.m.