The Iowa men’s basketball team has never started 0-6 in Big Ten Conference play in the program’s history. However, the Hawks likely have not played against five top 25 teams during those first six games before either.
And even if they had, this Iowa team is much younger and much less experienced than any other Iowa team which began a season with a new head coach.
“I think the losing can wear on you if you let it,” McCaffery said. “I don’t let it. We just keep plugging forward. As long as I feel like my guys are coming with a great attitude every day, working hard, trying to get better, trying to listen to what we ask them to do, trying to follow the gameplan; then I feel like we are making progress.”
Iowa may not be making progress in the eyes of the fans, but McCaffery continues to stay positive even when the program hits a point it has never been before. That may be the real reason why McCaffery is the right man for the job in Iowa CIty.
“Well, I can tell you it is a lot easier if you are in first place in the conference, having been there I can tell you that,” McCaffery said. “But one thing I have found over the years, is the difference between the team in first and the team near the bottom is a lot smaller than it may appear.
“Ohio is 19-0 and maybe some people think they are light years ahead of us. But we had them here (Carver Hawkeye Arena. We had them. We did not win, but we were right there.”
Perhaps Iowa’s best chance to claim a Big Ten Conference win could come Sunday. The Hawks take on a team also rebuilding in the Indiana Hoosiers. And a team with a relatively new coach in Tom Crean.
The Hoosiers are 10-9 overall and 1-5 in league play. The team’s only win in league play came against Michigan, a 1-5 team which Iowa also has not played yet.
However, the Indiana fans and media think the Hoosiers may have turned the corner. The win against Michigan came just two games ago and Indiana lost at nationally ranked Wisconsin 69-60 most recently but may have played its best game of the season.
“I like Indiana’s team,” McCaffery said. “They are playing hard. They have some good pieces. And that was evident certainly the other night on the road at Wisconsin.”
Indiana is led by 6-foot-8 forward Christian Watford, who is averaging 16 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Guards Verdell Jones III and Jordan Hulls are also averaging in double figures. Jones III is averaging 13 points and 3.6 assists per game, while Hulls is scoring a 10.3 per game clip. Hulls has been much more aggressive lately and is shooting 51 percent from 3-point range.
The Hawkeye fans did not expect much when the season began. The excitement over new coach McCaffery was there, but the realistic expectations are that this team is much too young and not quite talented enough to play with the nationally ranked teams in the conference — Purdue, Michigan State, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio State.
But not many fans thought the Hawks would not win a single game in league play. That still may not happen, especially since the Hawks have yet to play the other bottom-tier teams such as Indiana, Michigan and Penn State.
“I think we are improving in a couple of areas,” McCaffery said. “I think we are getting much more production from more guys on the floor. Obviously, we need that production to come on the same nights.”
That production could come Sunday at 3 p.m. at Carver Hawkeye Arena. And getting that first win in the Big Ten Conference could help the baby Hawks regain some confidence they had earlier in the season.
The key for Iowa at this point is consistency.
It cannot have Eric May score 16 points one night and then not score another night. The Hawks cannot have Jarryd Cole put up double-double numbers on a Tuesday and then play 10 minutes and score just two points the following Saturday. Those are things that cannot happen if this team wants to win games.
Melsahn Basabe has had his moments on this team. But the success of the squad this season will go as far as the perimeter guys will take them. That list includes Matt Gatens, May, Bryce Cartwright and even freshmen guards Devyn Marble and Zach McCabe.
“Basabe got some things opened up for him early because teams were pressing the guards at the top,” McCaffery said. “Now the gameplan is changning and Basabe is getting more attention. To his credit, he is adjusting to that, but the bulk of our double figure scorers are on the outside, so they are going to continue to defend the perimeter against us.”