McCaffery Builds Program, Not Just a Team

March 29, 2013


Use whatever initials you like, if it’s a men’s basketball tournament, University of Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said his Hawkeyes are capable of making a run deep into any competition.

Iowa is on its way to the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament on April 2 in New York City’s Madison Square Garden, but it could easily be an NCAA Elite Eight appearance in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis or the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

“There’s very little difference in the teams you’re playing,” McCaffery said Friday during a news conference in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “If you make a long run in this tournament (NIT), we could easily have made a long run in that tournament (NCAA). We have a team capable of making a run no matter which tournament we went to.”

Regardless of the bracket, on Tuesday a young Hawkeye team will play for a fourth time this postseason. The NIT run began with a 68-52 win against Indiana State; that was followed by a 75-63 win against Stony Brook, before a 75-64 quarterfinal victory on the road at Virginia of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“Virginia should have been in (the NCAA Tournament),” McCaffery said. “They’re better than teams that got in, there’s no question in my mind. Same thing for Maryland, same thing for us. The fact that we’re getting an opportunity to play more with a young team is a very good thing.”

Like the Hawkeyes, Maryland won its first two postseason games at home (Niagra and Denver) before winning in the quarterfinals on the road (at Alabama). The Terrapins are 25-12 overall.

“There’s very little difference in the teams you’re playing. If you make a long run in this tournament (NIT), we could easily have made a long run in that tournament (NCAA). We have a team capable of making a run no matter which tournament we went to.”
Fran McCaffery
UI basketball coach

“(Maryland’s 7-foot-1 center Alex Len) is tremendous and anybody that prepares to play Maryland better be thinking about what you’re going to do with him,” McCaffery said. “But they have a lot of weapons. Dez Wells is playing as well as anybody in the country right now, (Nick) Faust is tremendous, (Pe’shon) Howard. They’re going to play a little faster than some of the teams that we’ve played recently. This could be a game in the high 70s, in the 80s, with the way we both play.”

Wells leads Maryland in scoring at 13.2 points per game, followed by Len (11.8) and Faust (9.3). Len averages 7.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots per game. During the 58-57 win at Alabama on March 26, Len scored a team-high 15 points with 13 rebounds and five blocked shots.

Len won’t be the only shot-blocker in Madison Square Garden. The Hawkeyes continue to add to their school-record total of 178 blocked shots in a season, led by junior New York native Melsahn Basabe with 45 and sophomore Gabriel Olaseni with 36.

“If you said to me that (the blocked shot record) was going to happen, I would have said to you that that means Gabe Olaseni has developed in a way that he has been on the floor blocking shots,” McCaffery said. “For us to have that record, he has to be right in the middle of it.”

Friday’s news conference was held exactly three years from the day McCaffery was announced as the Hawkeye’s head coach on March 29, 2010. He inherited a team that went 10-21 in 2009-10. Under McCaffery, Iowa went 11-20 during his first season. The Hawkeyes were 18-17 last season and played two games in the NIT; they head to New York City this season with a mark of 24-12.

“We expected to build something special,” McCaffery said. “You never say it is great that we have 24 wins. We’re not at any point in time going to stop continuing to work every day on all aspects of the program, because we’re not just building a basketball team, we’re building a program.”

McCaffery did not provide a specific update on the condition of Mike Gesell’s aching right foot, other than to say that nothing has changed with Gesell’s condition. Against Virginia, Gesell played eight minutes with seven points, two steals, and an assist.

The Iowa-Maryland game follows the other NIT semifinal between Baylor and Brigham Young, and is expected to tip off at 8:30 p.m. (CT). The game will be televised on ESPN2 with Bob Wischusen, Bill Raftery, and Dan Dakich calling the action.

The Hawkeye Huddle will be held Tuesday, April 2, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. (ET), at the New Yorker Hotel (481 8th Avenue and 34th Street), one block from Madison Square Garden. All Hawkeye fans are welcome to attend the free Hawkeye Hoops Huddle, presented by the National I-Club and the UI Alumni Association.