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Rick Brown: Can McCaffery make 11-man rotation work in Big Ten?

[ 0 ] October 31, 2013 |

ROSEMONT, Ill. – It’s about time for the rubber to meet the hardwood. Time to find out if Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery can really make an 11-man rotation work this season.

A lot of people are interested to see if it will work. Including people wearing Iowa uniforms.

“I’m curious,” Hawkeyes forward Aaron White said at Big Ten Conference basketball media day Thursday.

He’s not alone.

“Everyone is,” point guard Devyn Marble said. “I don’t know. This is tough. I don’t know how he’s going to do it.”

But do it, McCaffery repeated Thursday, he will. He said all 11 players in the rotation are capable of scoring double figures in a game. Not a reach, really, since nine of them already have. Six have scored at least 20 points in a game, and Iowa returns players who have scored in double figures a combined 198 times in their careers.

The only guys in the rotation who haven’t scored in double figures are the two who have never played a Division I game —Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff and freshman Peter Jok.

“And it won’t take them long,” McCaffery said.

And here’s a Halloween theme for you. McCaffery has brought the Hawkeyes program back from the dead.

“Good for Franny,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Bad for me.”

How has McCaffery made Iowa relevant again?

“First of all, he’s a very good coach,” Izzo said. “But he’s also demanding. And he’s got some good players. I wouldn’t say he’s knocking down everyone’s McDonalds all-Americans. But those players are juniors and seniors now, some of them.”

Izzo noticed the way Iowa fans bailed on the program and quit coming to Carver-Hawkeye Arena when things got tough starting in 2007.

“I was disappointed in Iowa,” Izzo said. “I’ll probably get ripped for that. But Iowa was one of the few schools that seemed to support their school no matter what. It seems like there was a lull there. That cost them a couple of wins.”

The fans are coming back now. So are the victories.

“All of a sudden it’s all starting to come together,” Izzo said. “And he’s built it the right way.”

Those back on the bandwagon will see an Iowa team with a wealth of combinations. But can McCaffery go 11 deep and keep everyone happy?

“What normally happens as the Big Ten season gets here is you get down to 10, maybe nine,” Izzo said. “But the way Franny plays, maybe he can do it. I had a couple of years where I went 10. Went to the Final Four (with 10) in 2005. It makes for great chemistry and camaraderie, I’ll tell you that.”

McCaffery’s last game at Siena was a first-round NCAA loss against Purdue. Coach Matt Painter has watched Iowa start to evolve into that team he played in 2010.

“He’s still working toward that, but (McCaffery) plays a lot of people,” Painter said. “And it’s an exciting brand of basketball. I think they’re an NCAA team. And I think they’ll be a hard out, with the way they play.”

John Beilein, who coached Michigan into the NCAA title game last season, said there are challenges with going 11 deep.

“It’s difficult to do, sometimes, getting people in rhythm,” Beilein said. “It’s also hard playing five or six. People have won in every way. It’s what Fran sees in his team, and thinks it will work.”

Ohio State coach Thad Matta has no doubt in McCaffery.

“Some coaches are better at it than others,” Matta said. “His style of play would allow him to do that. Obviously he’s set in that now. He’s probably preparing for it every day.”

Rick Brown, a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year, covers Hawkeyes football and basketball for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.

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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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