IOWA CITY — Fran McCaffery has won conference tournaments before. Five times, to be exact.
He said there’s no way to really predict how a team is going to do in the postseason. There’s no pattern. It doesn’t matter whether you go in on a six-game winning streak or having lost five of the last six games.
He said the parameters for winning tough, hard-fought games against familiar opponents three or four days in a row don’t have a lot to do with what came before.
“You want to be fresh,’’ McCaffery said Tuesday as he prepared his Iowa basketball team for this week’s Big Ten Tournament in Chicago. “You want to be together, which we are, and playing confidently. And you're going to have to have some guys make shots. When it's all said and done, people have to step up and make shots under pressure …
“It’s an opportunity to do something special, everybody recognizes that on a big stage, and the important thing is to stay together and remember what enabled us to be successful in the first place and not get out of character.’’
The Hawkeyes (21-10, 12-6 Big Ten) are the No. 5 seed and will play Thursday at 1:30 p.m. against the winner of today’s game between No. 12 Nebraska and No. 13 Penn State. If they win that game, they would play at the same time Friday against No. 4 Purdue.
But the first order of business is to win that first game, something they’ve done only twice in the past eight years.
Last year, they stumbled into the tournament with five losses in their last six regular-season games and stumbled right back home after losing to 11th-seeded Northwestern.
While McCaffery insisted the mood doesn’t feel dissimilar this time around, his players sense a difference.
“There is kind of a different mood about it …’’ senior guard Josh Oglesby said. “Just to be able to go into the Big Ten Tournament with a winning streak is a lot better than last year.’’
The Hawkeyes have won their last six games, eight of the last 10. They have won more games on the road than any Iowa team in 28 years.
“We have a lot of confidence coming in,’’ forward Jarrod Uthoff said. “I think last year we lost several games in a row and our confidence wasn’t where it needed to be.’’
McCaffery won conference tournaments at three lower-level Division I schools before coming to Iowa, doing it at Lehigh in 1988, at UNC-Greensboro in 2001 and at Siena in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
He said not all those teams were on a roll going into the postseason. The 2001 Greensboro club lost three of its last four regular-season games. The 2008 and 2010 Siena teams staggered a few times in mid-February.
“I remember the last day of the season in ‘88, we lost by 100 (actually only 12) and then won three games, played great,’’ McCaffery said. “So I think there's a lot more put into that than there probably should be.’’
A No. 5 seed never has won the Big Ten tournament. In fact, the only team ever to win it after playing on Thursday was the 2001 Iowa squad, which went all the way as the No. 6 seed. The No. 1 or No. 2 seed has won 13 of 17 years.
But the Hawkeyes’ recent run has some experts thinking they have as good a chance as anyone to derail regular-season champion Wisconsin.
“We’ve got to do what we do, play to our strengths, try to limit our weaknesses,’’ center Adam Woodbury said. “We’re definitely capable of it. We’ve got some great teams in our league but I don’t think anybody is unbeatable.’’
Forward Aaron White, who has averaged 21.2 points per game in the six-game winning streak, echoed McCaffery’s thoughts: Just do what go them here.
“Just keep playing our own brand of basketball,’’ White said. “Stay active on defense, move the ball on offense. I don’t think we need to do anything that special, just play our own brand.’’