Rosemont, Ill. – Fran McCaffery got squashed Thursday.
“They asked (Tom) Izzo about bench decorum, and he throws me under the bus,” McCaffery said at the Big Ten’s annual media day.
Izzo did have some fun with Iowa’s third-year coach. Asked about new bench decorum rules that will be in place this college basketball season, the Michigan State coach said, “I told Fran he can’t throw any more chairs so it’s going to be hard on him, but the rest of us should survive just fine.”
During a time out in a one-sided loss at Michigan State last season, McCaffery used a chair to challenge his team’s toughness. He slammed it to the ground, an act that drew a reprimand from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany.
McCaffery, who later signed the chair that was auctioned off as a fundraiser for the Hawkeye baseball team, made a point Thursday of saying he didn’t throw the chair. He slammed it.
Izzo said he understands McCaffery’s motive.
“I like that he gets angry, you know?” Izzo said. “You don’t doubt the passion of Fran McCaffery. “
McCaffery’s Hawkeyes, 18-17 in his second season, carry the tag of Big Ten darkhorse heading into the season.
“I think I’d be foolish not to embrace that,” McCaffery said.
Iowa hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2006, which sits as the next step in the rebuilding process. The Hawkeyes are in a similar predicament to Michigan.
John Beilein left West Virginia in the spring of 2007 to rebuild the Wolverines. The initial goal was to finish sixth or seventh in the Big Ten, and get in the NCAA Tournament.
“At West Virginia people said, “How are you going to beat Syracuse, or Connecticut?” Beilein said. “I said, “We don’t have to beat them. We just have to get to sixth or seventh in the league.’ And then all of a sudden you can take off.”
Michigan ended an 11-year NCAA drought in 2009, going 9-9 in the league. The Wolverines took a step back in 2010, but returned to the NCAAs again
in 2011 and shared a piece of the regular-season Big Ten title with Michigan State and Ohio State last season.
Indiana is the preseason pick to win the Big Ten this season, with the Wolverines picked for second and Ohio State third. The Big Ten only releases the top three teams. Hoosier sophomore center Cody Zeller, whose parents are both Iowa natives, was named the preseason player of the year.
“You can never get comfortable with where you’re at,” Zeller said. “When you get comfortable, that’s when everyone is going to pass you. I just keep trying to improve.”
A preseason media poll that picked teams one through 12 was released earlier this week. Iowa was picked for seventh. McCaffery hopes the Hawkeyes can follow Beilein’s blueprint for success at Michigan.
McCaffery acknowledges that the fact that people are talking about his team, albeit in a darkhorse role, is a positive sign.
“Any time they talk about us in that light, it’s respect for our players,” McCaffery said. “You want respect for your guys. They work extremely hard. We recruited them. We sold them on the idea that we could be good.”
Getting a lot of mention Thursday were junior guard Devyn Marble and sophomore forward Aaron White.
“Both those kids are really good players,” Beilein said. “And underappreciated so far.”
A climb up the Big Ten standings will improve their stock, and put Iowa in NCAA contention in a season when the conference is expected to flex its muscles nationally.
“Top to bottom, there’s no match in all of college basketball,” McCaffery said.
BIG TEN PRESEASON POLL
1. Indiana; 2. Michigan; 3. Ohio State (only three teams released)
PRESEASON ALL-BIG TEN TEAM
Cody Zeller, Indiana (unanimous); Trey Burke, Michigan; Aaron Craft, Ohio State; Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State; Tim Frazier, Penn State.
PLAYER OF YEAR
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball