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Bryce Miller: Fran McCaffery’s inner fire inspires, but Sunday’s outburst roasted Iowa

[ 0 ] January 5, 2014 |

MADISON, Wis. – This was no slow burn. This was full eruption, in finger-flailing, spit-flying, suit-jeopardizing glory.

Shortly after the Big Ten Network cameras drifted to commercial about eight minutes into the second half Sunday night against No. 4 Wisconsin, Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery came unglued at midcourt.

So, for that matter, did the lead … and the momentum against the unbeaten Badgers … and an improved shot for one of those five-star victories in the dead of winter that warms the hearts of NCAA selection committee members in March.

Iowa lost 75-71 to Wisconsin at the Cold, er, Kohl Center, in large part because of a seismic shift that arrived as McCaffery departed.

The Hawkeyes led 41-39 when two calls involving Gabe Olesani — one no-call as he misfired under the basket, another whistled on the junior center as he transitioned back on defense — rocketed the coach into orbit.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, second from left, argues a call during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Wisconsin, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in Madison, Wis. McCaffery was ejected from the game and Iowa was charged with two technical fouls. Wisconsin won 75-71. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, second from left, argues a call during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Wisconsin, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in Madison, Wis. McCaffery was ejected from the game and Iowa was charged with two technical fouls. Wisconsin won 75-71. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

The moment dented Iowa’s chances after Iowa had outhustled and outworked Wisconsin for almost three-quarters of the game.

McCaffery was asked if the pair of technicals that led to his ejection cost his team the game. Calmly, McCaffery said, “No.”

Why do you feel that way, another questioner posed?

“You’re getting into an area I’m not allowed to go,” he said.

Those kinds of not-allowed-to-go-areas, just for coach-speak clarification, are the guys with the whistles dangling around their necks.

As the team huddled for the start of the timeout, McCaffery launched an episode of enraged theater.

One set of words earned a technical foul. Then, when he waved an arm that many watching on TV felt made inadvertent contact with a second official, the crossing paths triggered the ol’ heave-ho.

“What I feel bad about is getting the second one,” said McCaffery, who said there was no contact with an official. “I think the first one, I think it’s safe to say, I went after that one a little bit.”

When the wreckage cleared, Wisconsin had sprinted in front with four free throws from Ben Brust. A minute later, the 7-0 spurt put the Badgers up for good and guaranteed the best start in a century — dating back to a group of cardinal-splashed peach basket magicians who finished 15-0 in 1914.

What it meant: Iowa’s lost nine games in a row to ranked teams, dating back to last season.

What it also meant: Iowa, now 12-3, has only lost to teams currently ranked — in games played away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Are a trio of losses to teams with a combined 41-1 record encouraging? Or maddening?

It’s a healthy dose of both.

Iowa fell, in no small part, because of a complete flip-flop in shooting success. Iowa watched its percentages plummet from both 3-point range and the field overall, while Wisconsin shook off a chilly start.

The Badgers victimized Iowa’s perimeter defense, though, in the second half — going 6-for-9 from 3-point range for a goofy-hot 66.7 percent.

Iowa won the effort-and-hustle statistics of rebounding (42-35), second-chance points (23-7) and points in the paint (36-12), but lost a game-altering stat: coach-fueled energy swings.

For much of the game, the Kohl Center felt sleepy and slumbering, given Iowa’s impressive start in one of the toughest places to win in the nation. As McCaffery walked to the tunnel, though, accepting a hand-slap from a lone Iowa fan buried in a corner of red, the volume knob had snapped and the place jumped to full-throat.

“The momentum was shifting, clearly, for a variety of reasons,” McCaffery said. “Some of which is under our control, some of which
is not.”

One fan’s fiery defense of a team is another’s bone-headed, hot-headed mistake in judgment. The fire is part of what drives McCaffery and undoubtedly what has helped turn around a program snoozing through a hefty chunk of the last decade.

ESPN analyst Dan Dakich tweeted: “See how National media used terms like. “abandoned” .. So dramatic.. Iowa kids feel anything but. “Abandoned”

In December 2011, though — the last time McCaffery was ejected — a tight game against Northern Iowa turned into a 20-point blowout. The coin has two sides, and there’s inherent risk to find out which way it might land after the whistles arrive.

There will be nights that the red-hot glow of McCaffery’s cheeks ignites the burners and muscles Ohio State, Michigan State or Wisconsin to the far side of the win-loss column.

On a frigid night in Wisconsin, though, the fire singed rather than stirred.

Bryce Miller can be reached at 515-284-8288 or brmiller@dmreg.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

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