NEW YORK CITY — For two of the last three winters, the Hawkeyes have been knocking on the door. But Jim Jackson wonders if this year could be the one that sees coach Fran McCaffery and Iowa finally walk through it.
“You talk about an Iowa with experience, you would think that they would take that big jump,” the Fox Sports 1 analyst told Land of 10 during Big Ten men’s basketball media day at Madison Square Garden. “But once again, it’s all about continuity, consistency, staying healthy.
“All those things play [a role] and dictate where you end up at the end of the year. But they have as good a chance as anybody to compete and win a title.”
The Hawkeyes (19-15, 10-8 Big Ten last season) lost the Big Ten’s leading scorer from 2016-17 in Peter Jok (19.9 points per game), but return 85.7 percent of their minutes from the previous campaign and 76.7 percent of their points.
The scribes aren’t as bullish on Iowa, which hasn’t won a regular-season Big Ten hoops title since 1979. In an unofficial poll of 28 league writers released earlier this week, the Hawkeyes were picked to finish eighth, between Wisconsin and Indiana.
“I’m not going to say they’re a sleeper,” Jackson noted, “because they’re always in the mix.”
‘As we’ve seen with Iowa in the past, they start out great and fade near the end of the year. And you scratch your head, because the talent is there.’
— FS1 basketball analyst Jim Jackson on the Hawkeyes
Jackson says he’s curious to see how the Hawkeyes close out the regular season, given that Iowa plays three of its last five away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena with visits to Ohio State (Feb. 10), Michigan (Feb. 14) and Minnesota (Feb. 25).
“Sometimes people say they’ve underachieved in regards to the amount of talent they have, but not being able to put it together,” said Jackson, the former Ohio State and NBA guard.
“So I think the biggest thing for Iowa this year is finishing out the season. As we’ve seen with Iowa in the past, they start out great and fade near the end of the year. And you scratch your head, because the talent is there.”
McCaffery’s teams have posted a .648 winning percentage and played in three NCAA tourneys since the fall of 2012. But the Hawkeyes have a 28-25 combined record (.528) in February and March pre-tourney games over that same stretch: 19-16 in February (.542) and 9-9 in March (.500).
“I think that’s their biggest challenge and goal this year,” Jackson said, “is completing the season all the way through and being able to compete for a title.”