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Iowa coach Fran McCaffery answers questions at a news conference.

Weighing Iowa coach Fran McCaffery’s recruiting prowess against results

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Thanks, Mike, for the question. For background, Fran McCaffery took over a men’s basketball program that was stuck in a crater and until this year, he elevated it to an annual Big Ten contender. This is McCaffery’s eighth season, so it’s fair to evaluate his Iowa career in cumulative fashion.

Some people who don’t like McCaffery talk about his teams making only three trips to the NCAA Tournament. I throw out McCaffery’s first two seasons, simply because he had to dig out of a huge hole. When Tom Davis took over for George Raveling, Davis inherited the most talented team in Iowa history. McCaffery inherited perhaps the least talented.

Over the last five years, McCaffery’s tenure includes three NCAA Tournament trips and two near-misses. That’s not bad. However, in two of those NCAA Tournament seasons, the Hawkeyes were ranked in the top 10 and never advanced past the second round. That’s a letdown for a fan base that wants some sort of validation, especially when compared with rivals Wisconsin and Iowa State.

McCaffery has recruited at a high level the last few years and into the future. The 4-star players on the roster this season include center Luka Garza and guard Connor McCaffery. Next year, 4-star guard Joe Wieskamp might be the best recruit in 20-plus years. Forward Patrick McCaffery is a 4-star recruit for 2019. That’s quite an assortment of talent for a program that struggled to gain many high-caliber recruits until 2012.

But the play on the floor belies those recruiting wins. Iowa has been unable to compete defensively the last two seasons. Last season, it was partly the lack of a rim protector and a solid on-ball defender that hampered the Hawkeyes. This year, it’s the lack of good positioning in the post, overhelping on dribble-drive penetration and not rotating quickly enough to guard perimeter shooters. In other words, Iowa ranks last in Big Ten scoring defense.

It’s easy to question McCaffery’s bench tactics, especially when they don’t work. He doesn’t call timeouts in late-game situations because he doesn’t want the the defense to make proper adjustments. Iowa’s rotation is so deep that it’s easy to forget about players on the bench. You wonder if the blowups are counterproductive. Overall, I think McCaffery is a good coach who has done a good job with the program. Perhaps this is McCaffery’s mulligan year, just as when Tom Davis’ squad finished 12-16 overall and 4-14 in the Big Ten in 1989-90.

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