IOWA CITY, Iowa – Fran McCaffery enters his sixth season as the Iowa men’s basketball coach with a pattern of success on the line.
Iowa has improved in each of McCaffery’s first five seasons as head coach. A losing season in Year 1 was followed by a winning season that included a victory in the National Invitation Tournament in Year 2. The Hawkeyes advanced to the NIT title game in McCaffery’s third season and to the NCAA Tournament in Year 4, where they lost in the first round to Tennessee.
Iowa continued its ascent last season by finishing third in the Big Ten at 12-6 and by winning an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 2001.
So, if the current pattern of success continues, a trip to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999 awaits this season.
That’s a tall order, but Iowa has enough talent, enough experience and probably enough depth to make it happen. It’s hard to know for sure about Iowa’s depth with six first-year players on the roster, including five freshmen.
McCaffery will unveil his sixth Hawkeye squad at the team’s annual media day event Wednesday afternoon at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
With four returning starters, including three seniors, Iowa is built for success this season. Fifth-year senior Jarrod Uthoff is a star in the making as a 6-foot-9 small forward, while 7-1 senior center Adam Woodbury is a stabilizing force in the paint and the team’s emotional leader.
Combine them with senior guards Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons and junior shooting guard/small forward Peter Jok and you have a battle-tested lineup that should be able to hold its own against any team in the conference.
Iowa wouldn’t be my pick to win the Big Ten regular-season title, but anything less than a third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance would be a huge disappointment.
Last season was big because it was the last stand for seniors Aaron White, Gabe Olaseni and Josh Oglesby. They all climbed aboard early in the rebuilding process and then helped lay the foundation under McCaffery.
This season is important because it’s the last stand for Woodbury, Gesell, Clemmons and Uthoff. It’s important because of what each one them has brought to the program, but also because they make up nearly one-third of the roster.
It is way premature to say that the 2016-17 season will be a rebuilding project for McCaffery, but the roster will change significantly, along with Iowa’s size and level of experience compared to this season.
That’s why it’s important to get the most out the upcoming season.
It’s important to ride the seniors to the promised-land, which in their case, is the NCAA Sweet 16 or bust.