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Harty: McCaffery keeps Hawks on track with cool attitude

[ 0 ] February 8, 2014 |

 

Iowa fans have seen enough of Fran McCaffery to know that sometimes he gets carried away with his emotions during the heat of the moment.

From tossing a chair at Michigan State in 2012 to getting tossed from a game at Wisconsin in early January, McCaffery’s meltdowns always are center stage for everybody to see.

But it’s what we don’t see from McCaffery behind the scenes that helped to fuel Saturday’s 85-67 victory over Big Ten leader Michigan before an announced crowd of 15,400 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Much will be written and said about Iowa making 10 3-point baskets during Saturday’s game and about its defensive effort, which included holding Michigan to 42.3 percent shooting from the field.

Equally as important, though, is what didn’t happen between Tuesday’s 76-69 loss to Ohio State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and the start of Saturday’s game. Nobody on the team panicked or doubted themselves because McCaffery wouldn’t allow it.

“People see him kicking and screaming at us sometimes, but he knows when he needs to yell at us or stay even keel,” senior forward Zach McCabe said. “He’s just a great coach.

“Any time you have a (coach) that stays even-keel with you after a tough loss, usually you’d think a coach would yell at you, but I think that helps us a lot getting ready for the next game.”

McCaffery is similar to Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz in that neither gets too high after pivotal wins nor too low after costly losses. It’s all about living in the moment and embracing the grind, one game at a time. Every coach claims to live in the moment, but some do it a lot better than others.

It’d be easy to explain Saturday’s victory as Iowa being desperate after suffering two consecutive home losses, sort of like a wounded animal fighting back. That wasn’t the case, though, according to McCaffery, who was asked after Saturday’s game if he sensed any desperation with his players.

“I thought they had great focus,” McCaffery said. “In no way, shape or form is there anything close to desperation.”

While fans and the media over-react to the outcome of each game, McCaffery just moves on to the next challenge. He’s sort of like an old mule with blinders on, to borrow a line from former Iowa football coach Hayden Fry.

It gets old hearing coaches talk about the one-game-at-a-time approach, but it’s really the only practical way to handle an 18-game schedule in a conference that has so much parity.

Fans were devastated after Tuesday’s loss to Ohio State because it was Iowa’s second home loss in a row and because it dropped the Hawkeyes three games out of first place in the Big Ten. Iowa (18-6, 7-4 Big Ten) now trails Michigan (17-6, 9-2) by just two games in the Big Ten standings with seven conference games remaining.

So the chance for Iowa to win its first conference title since 1979 is still alive, but that doesn’t matter to McCaffery. All that matters to him right now is next Saturday’s game at Penn State. McCaffery would cherish a Big Ten regular-season title forever, but he also knows the best way to achieve that goal is to stay in the moment and stay positive.

McCaffery refuses to think his team can’t shoot from 3-point range and he was rewarded for his confidence Saturday.

The break in the schedule will give his players a chance to catch their breath after playing three games in seven days. It’ll also give McCaffery time to put Saturday’s emotional win in perspective.

“We couldn’t go back and re-do the Ohio State game as much as we wanted to,” sophomore center Adam Woodbury said. “We had to look forward and get the next one. We have to forgot about this one now and go to Penn State in a week and just keep it rolling.”

Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State are the only teams in the Big Ten that haven’t lost back-to-back conference games this season. That’s a tribute to the Iowa players, but also to McCaffery’s ability to get everybody to live in the moment.

Senior guard Devyn Marble had no problem living in the moment Saturday because not only was he coming off a subpar performance against Ohio State, he also was facing his home-state school and probably the favorite to win Big Ten Player of the Year 6-foot-6 sophomore Nik Stauskas.

Marble helped to limit Stauskas to just 10 points on defense, while also scoring 26 points, including 22 in the first half. Marble made six 3-point baskets, which is twice as many as Iowa had as a team against the Buckeyes.

“I just wanted to be aggressive,” said Marble, who missed all three of his 3-point shots against Ohio State. “I was upset with the performance individually and as a team that we came out with against Ohio State. Our lack of energy was unacceptable. I just told the guys to come out and play hard.”

Marble also has a head coach who constantly tells him to respect the journey and the destination will take care of itself. It’s easy to benefit from such sound advice.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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