IOWA CITY, Iowa – Even if he did care about Iowa’s seed in the NCAA Tournament, Fran McCaffery is in no position to complain and he knows it.
The Iowa men’s basketball team got what it deserved on Sunday, which is a No. 7 seed and a matchup against No. 10 seed Temple in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament South Region on Friday in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Iowa did enough to secure a berth in the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive season during its improbable climb up the polls in December and January.
But it also failed enough down the stretch, losing six of its last eight games, to where it had little to no leverage when it came to being placed in the 68-team field.
“I don’t really think much about seedings at all,” McCaffery said when asked on Sunday to comment on Iowa’s seed.
McCaffery had plenty to say about 67-year old Temple coach Fran Dunphy, who is one of 24 active Division I head coaches with at least 500 career victories. Dunphy is in his 10th season as the Temple head coach and has been a part of Big 5 Basketball in Philadelphia for the last six decades as a player and coach.
Dunphy starred at La Salle as a player (1967-70) and served on the Explorer staff as an assistant coach before embarking on a 17-year stint as the head coach of the Penn Quakers (1989-06). He became the first person to serve as the head men’s basketball coach at two Philadelphia Big 5 institutions when he was replaced Hall of Fame coach John Chaney as the Temple coach on April 10, 2006.
“I’ve coached against Fran Dunphy, who’s a really good friend,” said McCaffery, who was born and raised in Philadelphia and is a former star point guard for the Penn Quakers. “He’s one of the most successful college coaches of our generation if you look at it.
“So it’ll be a very-well coached team. They defend.”
So we have the Fran versus Fran storyline to add some spice to Friday’s game.
Iowa also will make its third consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since a three-year stretch from 1990-93.
And we have McCaffery preparing to face a school that’s located in his basketball-rich hometown. McCaffery also coached in his first NCAA Tournament game against Temple in 1988 when he was coaching at Lehigh.
But let’s not fool ourselves; the only storyline that really matters is where Iowa stands now compared to barely a month ago and whether the players and coaches can end the skid before it’s too late.
From being a projected No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and playing in the comfort of Des Moines, to now being a No. 7 seed and playing in Brooklyn, N.Y.; that’s how much the situation has changed for Iowa in barely a month.
The same team that had within its reach the luxury of playing barely 100 miles from its own campus now has to travel halfway across the United States in search of redemption.
The same team that climbed to as high as third in the national rankings is now only the fifth highest seeded team among the seven Big Ten teams that made the NCAA Tournament.
The same team that was in position to make history in January is now making its fans paranoid by losing six of its last eight games.
The same team that played with purpose and poise in December and January is now showing little of either in March.
You could go on and on to illustrate just how dramatic Iowa’s fall from grace has been this season.
But it’s not over, and that’s the good news.
Iowa’s four senior starters have one more shot at redemption, which at the least would have to be making the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999.
That would mean winning back-to-back games, which Iowa hasn’t accomplished since defeating Penn State and Illinois on Feb. 3 and Feb. 7, respectively. Iowa would face the winner of Friday’s game between No. 2 seed Villanova and No. 15 seed North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday if it gets past the Owls.
Advancing to the Sweet 16 wouldn’t erase Iowa’s late-season collapse, but it would change how fans look back at the season. Fans would have nearly a week to bask in the glow of winning on a grand stage.
It also would help to strengthen the legacy of the senior class, which has taken a beating over the past month.
“I don’t need any more motivation,” said senior point guard Mike Gesell, who became Iowa’s career leader in assists this season. “Every time I step on the court I’m self-motivated and I just want to win. And I’m going to do everything I can to help my team win.
“It’s a lot of fun to be able to my senior year go to the NCAA Tournament and have a chance to make some noise.”
It would only be noise, though, if Gesell and his cohorts last through the first weekend.
Just to get past the opener won’t be easy, considering Temple has won 10 of its last 13 games.
The Owls, a member of the American Athletic Conference, are 21-11 overall and won the AAC regular season title with a 14-4 league record. Temple advanced to the semifinals of the AAC Tournament before losing to eventual champion Connecticut.
This will be Temple’s 32nd appearance in the NCAA Tournament after not making it in each of the past two seasons.
That’s an impressive statistic, but means little for this game because the current players for Temple had little to do with the previous success.
Iowa did nothing to inspire confidence with its third consecutive one-and-done in the Big Ten Tournament.
But the NCAA Tournament has a different vibe, especially for the seniors. There is no such things as another chance in the NCAA Tournament.
Lose and you cruise.
“Some teams they lose in that (Big Ten Tournament) and they don’t get another chance,” said Iowa senior center Adam Woodbury. “So we’ve got another chance to go out and prove who we are and we’re excited about the opportunity.”
Based on what’s happened this season, it’s hard to know what Iowa is at this late stage besides an enigma heading in the wrong direction.
That would all change with two victories in the NCAA Tournament.