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Iowa men can stand tall with a beefed-up basketball schedule

[ 0 ] May 19, 2013 |

Iowa men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery says next season's basketball schedule will be “substantially tougher. But that was by design.” (Press-Citizen file photo)

No more baby steps. Iowa’s 2013-14 basketball schedule will be a man-sized challenge.

“Substantially tougher,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “But that was by design.”

McCaffery took a cautious approach to scheduling last season, knowing he’d have two freshmen in his starting lineup. And two — Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury — turned into three — Anthony Clemmons — for half the season.

Iowa ended up in the Big Ten’s first division, in sixth place alone, after a 9-9 league mark. But two teams that finished behind the Hawkeyes, Minnesota and Illinois, got NCAA bids because of stronger nonconference success. Iowa settled for a runner-up NIT finish, which did provide valuable experience.

The 25-13 record was a clear sign or progress, despite a nonconference schedule that saw Iowa play five teams with season-ending RPIs between 304 and 340. With a majority of Iowa’s team back, it’s time to see if the Hawkeyes are ready for a return to college basketball’s spotlight.

“Now we’ve got more experience,” said McCaffery, entering his fourth season at Iowa. “We’ve got a junior and senior class. We’ve got to play people. We could lose, because we’re playing really good teams. But you’ve got to play them, and you’ve got to challenge them. We wouldn’t want to be sitting there on the bubble next March and say, “Well, we didn’t play a tough enough schedule.’”

In Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology, released last week on ESPN.com, Iowa improved from a projected No. 7 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament to a No. 6. There’s good news and bad news there.

“What’s the bad news?” McCaffery asked.

Iowa could play as many as 16 games next season against teams in Lunardi’s projected NCAA field.

“Well, that’s probably a good thing,” McCaffery said.

Last season, Iowa played Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan just once. The Hawkeyes play all three twice next season. Those three, and Wisconsin, are in most preseason Top 25 polls. Iowa also plays the Badgers twice next season. The Hawkeyes play Indiana just once, but it’s on the road.

Iowa will get three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. Kansas is ranked by everyone. Tennessee and Villanova are also rated in at least one preseason Top 25. So is Notre Dame, Iowa’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge foe Dec. 3 in Iowa City.

There’s also a game at Iowa State, and Lunardi has the Cyclones making the Big Dance for a third consecutive season. Iowa will play Drake in the Big Four Classic at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, and the Hawkeyes have a home game with Nebraska-Omaha.

That leaves six slots to fill, and some of those teams will have inflated RPI numbers. McCaffery said he’s been trying to schedule a home-and-home series against a BCS conference school with one of those dates.

“I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” McCaffery said. “It still could. But we don’t have anybody on the hook.”

McCaffery’s first Iowa team was 1-7 against Top 25 teams. That improved to 4-4 in 2011-12. But the Hawkeyes were 0-7 last season. Iowa, also rated in several preseason Top 25 polls, will have plenty of opportunities to beat rated teams in 2013-14. And McCaffery is confident his team wants to embrace that challenge.

“Yeah, I think they do,” McCaffery said. “We’ll find out.”

McCaffery has said that he would improve the schedule as his team got better, and he’s standing by his word.

“You have to do what you said you were going to do,” McCaffery said. “You have to gradually upgrade the program, upgrade the schedule. Those kids came here wanting to be challenged with a schedule. Here it is. Let’s go play it.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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