Behind Enemy Lines: Fran McCaffery

Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - 8:36pm

Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey has had to deal with a young and relatively inexperienced team this season.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey has had to deal with a young and relatively inexperienced team this season. Buy this photo
Ryan McLoughlin/Daily

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery stepped to the podium at Big Ten media day and proclaimed this was “the deepest team we've ever had.” 

Perhaps he meant it at the time, but the results have hardly bore that out.

The Hawkeyes come to Crisler Center Wednesday at just 12-15 overall and 3-11 in Big Ten play, good for 11th in the conference — with no major role to play for the rest of the year but spoiler. This season will mark the first time since 2010-11 that Iowa has won fewer than eight conference games.

Still, the offense that McCaffery praised at media day is still capable of bunching points, with guard Jordan Bohannon and forward Tyler Cook providing a formidable inside-out scoring punch.

The Daily sat down with McCaffery at Big Ten Media Day to discuss his projections for the season and his relationship with Michigan coach John Beilein:

The Michigan Daily: You lose Peter Jok, but return 77% of your scoring 86% of your minutes, do feel like you guys are being a little overlooked?

Fran McCaffery: It’s really irrelevant to me — and I mean that sincerely — what the projections are. We have a good team. What we have to do is play well, we have to play together. We have to play better defense. You can talk about that stuff and get hung up on it if you want to, but it’s a waste of time.

TMD: You’ve been high on your offense…

FM: We’re going to score. We can score.

TMD: What do you think you guys are doing defensively that can help you improve?

FM: The critical thing is we’ve got to be more connected. We weren’t connected last year in transition — because we’re going to be in transition a lot. We run. If you run, you’ve got to run back. You’ve got to get matched up. We really weren’t connected. When you play fast, sometimes that happens, we’ll just go down and score, start trading baskets. Then you can’t get the necessary stops in crunch time. So instead of winning a five-point game you lose a three-point game. For us, we have to be connected on the defensive end. That’s indicated in rebounding — second shots are what killed us. Second shots are what killed us. Second shots lead to high-percentage shots and uncontested threes, right? That’s what they lead to. Even if we play solid defense — not even great defense — but rebound the first miss, then we can run. We’ll be a lot better than last year.

TMD: Who do you think is sticking out most defensively, grabbing rebounds in practice?

FM: For us, it’s been a lot of different people. (Freshman forward Luka) Garza is a phenomenal rebounder, might be our best. Cook is rebounding better. (Nicholas) Baer has always been a good rebounder. Ahmad Wagner, Cordell Pemsl, those guys, Dom Uhl. Cordell has really been good.

TMD: How has Garza adjusted so far?

FM: Really good. Think about it. We go oversees and play four games. Ten years ago we weren’t allowed to bring our freshmen, but now we can bring our freshmen. We practice, everything’s new — how we play ball screens, terminology, how we run the break — everything’s new. He’s gotta pick it all up in a couple of weeks and then we go play. We play four games, he plays half the game. He played 20 minutes a game four times, he averages 22.5 and 10.5. Those are staggering numbers, I don’t care who you’re playing against.

TMD: I read you talked to John Beilein about coaching your son...

FM: I did. More than once.

TMD: What was that conversation like?

FM: I’ve talked to him a lot about it. First of all, I really have a lot of respect for him, known him for a long time, got to know his wife. Unless you talk to someone who’s going through it — he just said, the greatest thing was that I got to see my son everyday. You take that for granted, unless they’re somewhere else. He said there were times when he didn’t play as much and it was uncomfortable, but that kid competed and was really a good player for them. Connor (McCaffery) will do the same as Patrick (Beilein) for me.