Iowa and Fran McCaffery’s winter of discontent

Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way quickly.

The 2017-I8 Iowa basketball team is not good, appears to lack chemistry, is under-achieving and is going to finish at or near the bottom of the Big 10 standings.

A disappointing non-conference season – low-lighted by head-scratching losses to Louisiana and South Dakota State – combined with the team’s worst start in the Big 10 since Fran McCaffery’s first season have sucked much enthusiasm and hope out of Hawkeye basketball fans.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Sure, there were vague worries about not having a “true” point guard and how to replace the remarkably productive Peter Jok. But surely a team returning four starters from a top-half-of-the-conference, near-miss, almost NCAA Tournament caliber team would, at the very least, be highly competitive under its seasoned coach.

Coach McCaffery in a moment of relative calm, considering the circumstances. Photo courtesy Hawkeye Report.

Instead, Iowa is Rutgers-level uncompetitive and quite likely to be underdogs at fellow conference-winless foe Illinois on Thursday night in Champaign.

It looks to be a long winter of discontent in the Hawkeye state, with the only thing turning colder than the temperature likely to be fans’ feelings about the head Hawk in charge.

The discontent is not unwarranted. I do, however, feel the level of vitriol directed at McCaffery may be a bit premature.

Unlike the last time his Hawkeye squad started the conference season 0 and 5 in 2010, the Iowa program has plenty of raw material to work with and a recent history of NCAA tournament appearances. Keep in mind, the 2011-12 team bounced back to win 18 wins the following season and 25 the season after that.

When you look at his coaching tenure overall, McCaffery has notched 10 seasons with 20 or more wins out of the 22 he’s coached. It seems unlikely, then, that a turnaround isn’t possible. Talk of his seat warming up at Iowa is certainly premature, but significant progress, including a return to at the very least the NCAA tournament bubble has to be in play next season, or that seat heater will go from off to simmering.

Here is what I think needs to happen to get the program back on the right track and McCaffery back in the good graces of Hawkeye fans:

· Joe Wieskamp has to be the real deal. Iowa doesn’t get Top 50 basketball talent in its own backyard that often, and when it does, often can’t close the recruiting deal. So just landing the Muscatine phenom was a huge step one. I hate putting so much weight on the shoulders of a freshman, but unless fans see some signs of life and soon, things could get even grimmer. Fortunately, from folks I’ve talked to that follow Eastern Iowa basketball religiously, Wieskamp has the skill set to be a difference making talent early and often. For Fran’s sake, this better come to pass.

· Fran needs to chill. Look, busting clipboards, screaming at refs and blowing up at players who make dumb mistakes is something you can get away with when you are winning games and garnering tourney bids. When you lose, it just can’t happen and won’t be accepted. I don’t know if he needs to enroll in a mindfulness course during the offseason or take up a relaxing hobby like crochet, but McCaffery needs to find a way to control his rage. Now, I will take explosive passion over the sad sack, lackluster, head-in-hands routine we got from our last coach any day. But I can’t believe Fran’s obvious and continued anger and frustration is having a positive effect on anyone on a losing team. Fix it.

· Addition by subtraction and find some more guards. Whether through gentle suggestion or out-and-out Creaning, the Iowa roster needs to be rejiggered. We can wail and gnash our teeth forever about how and why Iowa ended up with too many big men and too few backcourt players, but that ain’t gonna fix what’s broken. This offseason needs to see a couple players move on and a full-court press on guard help that can make an instant impact. Period. I don’t care who and I don’t care how, but it has to be done.

If significant progress can be made in these three areas, I really believe we will look back on the 2017-18 season as a wonky aberration in an otherwise successful job at Iowa authored by McCaffery. Much like many successful coaches – including our esteemed and likely College Football Hall of Fame-bound Kirk Ferentz – McCaffery seems to be pretty stubborn. But he’s not stupid.

The first Fran plan brought Iowa back from the brink, resulting in three straight tournament appearances. We are now looking at back-to-back setbacks, which no one enjoys. But if we’ve learned anything from following Iowa football, it’s that deep valleys can be followed quickly by high peaks.

It’s time to start climbing.

A Bad bet and bad basketball could lead to bleeding eyes

So where do you suppose one shops online for an extra-large Nebraska cheerleader uniform anyway?

I wish I was asking because I’m buying someone a gag gift for Christmas, but alas, my big mouth and lack of basketball smarts just may have gotten the best of me.

In this space less than two months ago, I lambasted the Big 10 media for having the audacity to pick the Hawkeyes to finish 8th in the conference this hoops season. How could a team returning four starters, the Big 10 Sixth Man of the Year and a pair of all-Big 10 freshmen possibly regress so much, even when you consider they lost a superstar like Peter Jok? I was so adamant about the ridiculousness of this affront that I made this bold proclamation:

I will go on record right now (seriously, print and save this column) saying if Iowa indeed finishes eighth or lower I will attend Iowa’s last home game in Carver Arena in a Nebraska cheerleader uniform and let Tom Kakert post a pic of it on this webpage.

Saturday, as my wife and I sat in Carver watching Iowa get tantalizingly close to hot-shooting Penn State over and over only to throw a ball away, commit a dumb foul or take an ill-advised shot on the way to a dispiriting loss, the reality hit me like a blast of frigid water.

I might actually have to make good on this bet.

I might also go with vertical stripes; I hear they are slimming.

Watching Iowa play basketball, I am flummoxed and confused wondering how a team that showed flashes of brilliance at times last year has fallen so far. Peter Jok was a heck of a basketball player,but at no time last season did I ever feel like the Hawkeyes were a one-man-band basketball team.

I’m guessing that my biggest mistake was not listening to those who insisted guard play would be a gigantic problem for this team. Yes, I know that great guard play is the engine that drives excellent college teams. However, Jordan Bohannon was one of those aforementioned All Big 10 Freshman players and I still think the kid is going to be a star on the Big 10 stage. But clearly, he needs help.

It hasn’t helped that he is missing fellow point guards Christian Williams and Connor McCaffery to a transfer and mononucleosis, respectively. And although he plays primarily small forward, the absence of a healthy Nicholas Baer also is putting padded pressure on Bohannon. Most of all, though, it seems obvious now that the presence of the sharp-shooting Peter Jok took a ton of pressure off Bohannon and he’s struggling mightily to cope with that now. He is clearly pressing and there is no cavalry coming to save him anytime soon.

That said, despite his stellar sharpshooting and addition of the dribble-drive to his arsenal as a senior, Jok was never an A+ defender. In fact, it is probably pretty charitable to call him anything more than a capable defender. And horrendous defense is the Achilles Heel killing this current Hawks basketball team.

It almost seems like a case of a collective sophomore slump, with the actual sophomores in particular struggling to regain the confidence they showed as freshmen. With a lack of upper classmen leadership and their fellow young players struggling, the current crop of freshmen look a bit lost as well.

Particularly alarming, though, were the spurts of apparent laziness and lack of hustle during the Indiana game. While it’s understandable that the recent run of poor play has frustrated Iowa players, there is absolutely no excuse to not give 100 percent, no matter the game circumstances. That is the only way to break a slump or build for the future.

All the problems and frustrations aside, I’m still extremely bullish on the Fran McCaffery blueprint for the Iowa program and optimistic for the future. I and many others may have been a bit premature to expect this group to compete at the top half of the conference this soon. But with the recruits currently in the pipeline and the raw talent already on the floor it’s hard not to anticipate big things.

We are just going to have to add a heaping helping of patience on top of the optimism.

And maybe see Torbee in a crimson and cream cheerleading

Torbee puts the Big 10 media on blast for “disrespect”

Imagine, if you will, that you are an ink-stained sports scribe for the Toledo Blade, or the Fort Wayne Gazette or the Peoria Journal. Your assignment is to predict which Big 10 basketball teams will finish where in what is likely to be the best conference in college basketball.

It’s a tough job, requiring you to weigh previous results, exiting and incoming personnel, recruiting rankings, coaching history and many other factors. But it’s a required exercise, and now the sorting begins.

Here is Team A’s blind resume to consider:

  • · Previous year’s team finished tied for 4th in the conference race
  • · Four of five starters return, though the lone exit was 1st team All-Big 10
  • · Two of the returners were on the conference All-Freshman team
  • · Team returns conference’s 6th Man of the Year
  • · One of only 3 conference teams to post winning conference record each of past 5 seasons
  • · Starting point guard was 1 of 2 freshman in college basketball with 175 assists and 84 3-pointers
  • · Team returns 77.6 percent of its scoring


Sounds pretty good. This team is predicted to finish ……………………….


If you are an Iowa fan, you know that Team A is your beloved Hawkeyes. And if you have been following the preseason college basketball news, you will know that eighth is exactly where the Big 10 media predicted Iowa to finish the 2016-17 conference season.

If this doesn’t put a Rodney Dangerfield-sized chip of disrespect on every Hawkeye player’s shoulder, I can’t imagine what will.

I will go on record right now (seriously, print and save this column) saying if Iowa indeed finishes eighth or lower I will attend Iowa’s last home game in Carver Arena in a Nebraska cheerleader uniform and let Tom Kakert post a pic of it on this webpage. If Nebraska cheerleader uniforms come in that small of a size, that is.

Now I’m not saying that Iowa is a Final Four caliber juggernaut poised to rampage through a very deep, very talented Big 10. But with what it has coming back – and a relatively soft unbalanced conference schedule – it is extremely difficult for me to see any possible way they don’t crack the top five or six at worst.

Add in some eye-opening and unusually optimistic insider rumblings about the elevation of Tyler Cook’s game, Jordan Bohannon’s growth at the point and two big-bodied, big time freshman and the Hype Train might be taking on passengers early and often.

I write this with the full disclosure that I have done next to zero research on Iowa’s conference opponents. I am way too invested in this year’s football season to waste time perusing Wisconsin’s roster or Illinois’ incoming recruits. But I know a good basketball team when I see it, and Iowa is going to have a good basketball team this season.

And while we are feeding coal into the aforementioned Hype Train’s boiler, how can any Iowa basketball fan not be super stoked about Fran McCaffery’s recruiting? Two of his 2017 recruits – Connor McCaffery and Luka Garza are four star recruits and they will be combing with four star, #40 nationally ranked Joe Wieskamp in 2018. After that, more four star, Top 100 types are either committed or in the pipeline, giving Iowa fans more hope for the hoops future than they’ve seen in ages.

So I tell you Mr. Chicago Tribune, Mr. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Ms. Columbus Post-Dispatch know-it-alls: Don’t eat too much at your post-game spreads this season. Because Iowa is going to be serving a huge, heaping pile of crow to you come March.