Mann: Troubling trend emerging for McCaffery at Iowa

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Kyle Mann, [email protected]

INDIANAPOLIS — Fran McCaffery snapped at a reporter following his team’s 68-66 loss to Illinois on Thursday, after a question regarding a play call in the closing seconds of a tight game.

“It’s none of your business what the play call was,” McCaffery said.

And maybe as just some sports journalist, it’s not. But what seemed apparent was that McCaffery doesn’t want to have to answer for his mistakes.

The Hawkeyes have now been beaten in their first Big Ten Tournament game in three straight years, seeded No. 5 twice and No. 6 once. Heavily favored to win in each instance, the losses are piling up and what once could seem to be an anomaly is beginning to resemble a trend.

What’s worse is that not only is this a repeat performance insofar as a Big Ten Tournament collapse, but an entire season that has done a complete 180.

The Hawkeyes sat 19-6 midway through February of the 2013-2014 season, only to finish the regular season by losing five of its last six games. They then went one-and-done in both the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.

On February 7, 2016, the Hawkeyes sat 19-4 and were in the discussion not only for a Big Ten title, but for a number one overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Six losses in eight games later, McCaffery and the Hawkeyes leave Indianapolis empty-handed, and maybe it’s time to start wondering if there’s a larger problem looming in the program.

While the team self-destructed, McCaffery urged reporters that his Hawkeyes had simply run into some good teams but wasn’t really suffering from any larger issue. Players followed suit, offering up plenty of “we’re taking strides’s” and “we’re getting better’s,” but mysteriously, nothing ever got better.

Iowa hasn’t won consecutive games in over a month, hasn’t scored 80 points (which used to be its average) in exactly a month, and what’s more worrisome is that they really seem to think nothing’s wrong. If there is, they certainly don’t have any answers.

Jarrod Uthoff has never been overly endearing to media members, at least to say that he speaks bluntly and often can come off as a bit of a smart-ass. He speaks in spurts, but the man got a 4.0. He may rather tell you he speaks ‘succinctly,’ but one thing not up for debate is that he speaks intelligently, which made his reaction after the game even more startling.

When asked what it was that hindered the Iowa offense, Uthoff didn’t give credit to the Illinois defense. He didn’t even present that ‘hey, maybe we just had an off night.’ No, instead he gave the question a few seconds to marinate, thought, and slowly sputtered: “I don’t know.”

Note something about student-athletes: they are trained and taught how to handle the media. In general, there’s a P.C. answer for everything, and certain messages or ideas that the team wants to avoid or focus on. If they meet a question they don’t have an answer essentially scripted for, they try.

They don’t say “I don’t know.”

“I don’t know” is a sign of withdrawal.

When asked why this Iowa team is suffering an eerily similar collapse to that of 2013-2014, the responses have been, in short, “this is a different year, we’re a different team.” Today, however, Peter Jok offered up nothing, which tells us something.

“I don’t know what it is,” Jok said. “I really can’t answer that.”

It was no longer an instant dismissal. It was a premise that Jok at least recognized to be legitimate, and he can’t explain it. Depending how things pan out in the NCAA Tournament in the coming weeks, the Hawkeye community may turn their focus to the man who’s supposed to be steering the ship.

“Everybody struggled tonight, that was unfortunate,” McCaffery said, as if it was a random stroke of bad luck.

But then, worst of all, he said the same damn thing he said after losing his chance at a Big Ten title to Indiana by three points at home on March 1.

“What I was proud of was the fight they showed to come back and tie the game,” McCaffery said. “Because it certainly didn’t look like we were going to tie the game.”

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