IOWA CITY — When a college basketball team is thinking it can win 20-plus games and make the NCAA tournament, then it goes out and wins 14 and doesn’t sniff any sort of tournament, a lot of things can happen.
Feelings get hurt, egos get bruised, fingers get pointed.
It all happened to the Iowa Hawkeyes last season and it had to be a humbling experience.
“I hope it was very humbling,’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Monday at his team’s preseason media day. “That's the plan. I mean, couldn't be satisfied with it, anybody … The critical thing is to take ownership of it and recognize that change has to be made to a man. That's coaches, players, everybody, starters, subs. We all have to be in it together and recognize that every day, we've got to be better.’’
McCaffery likes what he has seen since the end of Iowa’s worst season since 2010-11, his first year on the job. He suspects a 14-19 campaign that came to a grinding halt on March 1 is serving as a whip to prod his program forward.
“We certainly don’t want to have a year like we had last year,’’ said Bettendorf’s Nicholas Baer, the only senior on the roster this season. “I’ve been impressed with the way we’ve responded.’’
McCaffery said he has seen signs of that ownership and urgency that he wants.
“I would say most of the time,’’ he said sternly. “I want it to be all the time.’’
The players have seen it, too. Junior forward Tyler Cook saw it last summer when he withdrew his name from the NBA draft and decided to play another season at Iowa.
“When I got back to campus after my (NBA) workouts, our first spring workout the intensity was through the roof, the focus was through the roof …’’ Cook said. “After that day, I knew we had what we needed to have to make a change … Since then we’ve had good days and we’ve had bad days. It’s our job to minimize the bad days.’’
Cook said he thinks the tough times of last season will be invaluable this season when adversity rears its ugly head again, as it inevitably will.
“Nobody likes to lose,’’ Cook added. “We definitely didn’t like to lose. It was tough to go through, but I’m thankful that we went through that. It’s another notch under our belts, another experience that we have.’’
On paper, the Hawkeyes certainly appear to be equipped for a turnaround season. They return their top nine scorers from last season, comprising 94.5 percent of the points the team scored. Add in Muscatine freshman Joe Wieskamp, the highest ranked recruit of the McCaffery era, and the return to health of guard Connor McCaffery, who played in only four games last season, and it appears to be a team loaded with talent and experience.
The only health question at this point is sophomore center Luka Garza, who underwent surgery on Sept. 7 for the removal of a cyst on his abdomen. And Garza is vowing to be back in playing shape in time for the Nov. 8 season opener against UMKC.
“I think these opening weeks of practice have been very competitive so far and I think we’re all trying to figure out how to play with each other again,’’ Baer said. “Obviously, when you return your top nine scorers and you throw Joe Wieskamp in the mix, there’s going to be some competitive practices.’’
As for that ownership thing, McCaffery didn’t exclude himself. It was an off-season of introspection and self-evaluation for him.
“He’s really taken a step back and looked at the situation and said ‘OK, what do we need to do? What do we need to do better? What was good? What was bad?’’’ Connor McCaffery said of his father.
Fran McCaffery said it was necessary that he point some of those fingers at himself “because if you don't, what you're saying is, ‘It's everybody else’s fault,’ and I think that's foolish and unfair.’’
Asked what he had changed about his coaching, McCaffery admitted he has had to put more emphasis on defense, something that was a glaring shortcoming a year ago.
“I've always been an offensive coach,’’ he said. “We're going to put points on the board. We're going to run. We're going to attack, and essentially, we're going to out-score you. Most of the time, that's worked.’’
Last year, it didn’t. The Hawkeyes averaged 79.7 points per game but gave up 78.7. In Big Ten play, they allowed 83.1.
Asked if he feels there is added pressure on him or the players to win more games this season, McCaffery shook his head.
“I would think that they would feel pressure to win every year, and I think that's the plan,’’ he said. “You start the season, you feel like you have a good team; we're supposed to win. Let's go win. Let's put it together. Let's compete together. Let's understand how each of us can help the other.’’