By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – There was a point in this season when Connor McCaffery looked reluctant to shoot from 3-point range, and it was easy to understand why.
The son of Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery was a missed 3-point shot waiting to happen, and with each miss, his confidence took a hit.
But then with absolutely no warning, and with no reason to think that he would change since perimeter shooting never has been a strength for fifth-year senior Connor McCaffery, he started making 3-point shots at a rate never seen before.
He made 5-of-9 shots from 3-point range in Monday’s 82-61 victory over Northwestern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and has made 16 of his last 26 shots from 3-point range.
That is a dramatic change from the first 19 games this season when Connor McCaffery only shot a combined 4-of-25 from 3-point range.
He now believes that almost every shot he takes from 3-point is going in the basket, and that’s a key development for No. 24 Iowa as it tries to best position itself for postseason play.
“There’s probably like two that didn’t feel great off the hand, but other than that, those other seven I felt pretty good,” Connor McCaffery said of the Northwestern game.
So what’s the difference now compared to just a few weeks ago when the basket had to look smaller than a shot glass?
“I think it’s just a little bit of mental, I think it’s just like a mindset,” Connor McCaffery said. “I definitely have been a player over the span of my career, and it still even showed tonight sometimes, I’m always thinking pass first. That’s just how I am. That’s how I’m wired. And I don’t think that is ever going to change.
“But it definitely comes down to being more aggressive and thinking about it more and attacking offensive areas of my game where I can shoot, pass, dribble or whatever.”
Iowa, which plays at Michigan on Thursday, didn’t have to rely on Connor McCaffery to make 3-pointers before this season because he used to play alongside multiple 3-point shooters, including Jordan Bohannon, Joe Wieskamp, C.J. Fredrick and Luka Garza.
However, Bohannon is all that remains from those four players, and even he has struggled from 3-point range at times this season despite being the Big Ten’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals made.
Iowa had been plagued by a lack of productivity from 3-point range for much of the season. But that has since changed, thanks largely to Connor McCaffery’s sudden hot hand, and Iowa has now won seven of its last eight games.
If Connor McCaffery stays hot from the perimeter, defenses would have to account for him and that would create more space for Bohannon to shoot on the perimeter.
Connor McCaffery at 6-foot-5 can guard multiple positions because of his size and strength, He also can play both guard positions and is arguably the best passer on the team, especially in regard to feeding the post.
Until recently, however, he was a liability as a 3-point shooter and defenses dared him to shoot from behind the arc.
But now defenses are paying a price for daring him to shoot.