With Fran McCaffery, it’s always about moving forward
IOWA CITY, Iowa – In Fran McCaffery’s world, the only thing that changes from game to game is the strategy for each opponent.
The circumstances, whether good or bad, don’t impact the process of moving forward.
The Iowa men’s basketball team is in the midst of a scheduling quirk in which it only has two days to prepare for Sunday’s home game against Michigan after having had nine days to prepare for its previous game against Michigan State this past Thursday.
In addition to winning in East Lansing, Mich., for the first time since 1993, Iowa also solidified its position as a Big Ten contender with the 76-59 victory over Michigan State, improving to 4-0 in the conference and 13-3 overall.
McCaffery was asked Friday on a teleconference what the challenges were to getting his team ready for such a quick turnaround.
“Exactly what they were before,” McCaffery said. “Nothing changes from game to game. It’s no harder. It’s no easier. It’s the same level of intensity going into the next game that you had for the previous game and then the ones after that.
“There is no special formula.”
McCaffery always stresses to his players the importance of living in the moment. He might lose his temper while coaching every now and then, but his demeanor is always the same after a win or a loss.
Thursday’s victory over Michigan State was just minutes old when McCaffery began talking about moving forward to the Michigan game on his post-game radio show. His message was to enjoy the rare victory at the Breslin Center and be proud of the achievement, but also to flush it.
“I think moving forward will be critical, but at the same time, it’s always critical,” McCaffery said. “It’s such a long season, it’s such a long journey that if you get too hyped up about one victory or get too down on yourself after one loss, it can affect the next month, forget about the next week.
“So I think a key for us will be to come out on Sunday with the kind of focus and determination knowing that we may not make nine threes in the first half. We have to do the other things that we do to help our team win. And I think we have the maturity and the intelligence to make that happen.”
McCaffery was referring to the nine 3-point baskets that Iowa made in the first half against Michigan State. Iowa led 47-25 at halftime and didn’t let the Spartans creep closer than 13 points in the second half.
The 3-point shot is also a major part of Michigan’s offensive attack under head coach John Beilein as shown in Tuesday’s 70-67 victory over third-ranked Maryland in Ann Arbor, Mich. The Wolverines made 12 3-point baskets and prevailed despite playing without star guard Caris LeVert for a third consecutive game because of a lower leg injury.
“You make 12 threes, you’re probably going to win,” McCaffery said. “So you’ve got to recognize they’re going to have multiple three-point shooters on the floor at any given time.
“They’re getting quality post play and they’re getting good play out of the point guard position, and obviously, a phenomenally well-coached team. So when you’re playing Michigan, you have to have a really good plan and you have to be able to make adjustments as the game goes on. And you have to compete and execute because they’re not going to beat themselves.”
One of Michigan’s top perimeter threats is 6-foot-8 Division III transfer Duncan Robinson. He entered Tuesday’s game against Maryland leading the Big Ten and was second in country in 3-point shooting at 55.7 percent.
In his only season at Williams College, Robinson averaged 17.1 points per game and led the Ephs to the Division III national championship game. Robinson then contacted several Division I schools about transferring before settling on Michigan.
The Wolverines had an advantage in that Robinson’s coach at Williams, Mike Maker, was an assistant under Beilein at West Virginia. Robinson decided to transfer after Maker accepted another coaching job after last season.
“He presents a lot of problems for anybody that’s going to play them,” McCaffery said of Robinson. “I knew how good he was when he transferred. I knew all about him.”
McCaffery was familiar with Robinson due to McCaffery’s connection to Siena, where he served as head coach for the previous five seasons before taking the Iowa job in 2010.
Siena, which is located in Albany, N.Y., is less than an hour from the Williams campus in Massachusetts. McCaffery also described Maker as a friend.
“I gave Mike a hard time,” McCaffery said. “I said, `why didn’t you call me, too?’ Because Mike knew what he had.”
McCaffery said he didn’t try to recruit Robinson when he became available.
“That was a done deal,” McCaffery said. “Mike knew he was putting him in a good place with a good person.”