Iowa men’s basketball team ‘clicking at the right time’ entering March

The No. 24 Hawkeyes have won seven of their last eight games and are in the running for a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament with two regular season games left to play.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa guard Connor McCaffery shoots a 3-pointer during a men’s basketball game between No. 24 Iowa and Northwestern in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats, 82-61.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Every senior seemed to make a lasting memory during the Iowa men’s basketball team’s final home game of the season.

Connor McCaffery scored a season-high 17 points and drained a career-best five 3-pointers, then embraced his father, Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery, who started to do something his son has rarely seen him do: cry. After hearing ‘Put in Austin’ and ‘Play Ash’ chants throughout the night, Austin Ash entered Iowa’s 82-61 win over Northwestern in the game’s final minutes and knocked down a 3-pointer from the logo. Ash dribbled out the clock as the student section chanted, ‘Austin’ in appreciation for the sharpshooter’s contributions. Jordan Bohannon made four 3-pointers to move into second place in NCAA history among Power Five players with 435 triples. The sixth-year senior kissed the TigerHawk logo displayed at midcourt before leaving the Carver-Hawkeye Arena floor one last time.

Even Keegan Murray, who is only a sophomore, dropped 26 points, 18 rebounds, three assists, two steals, and two blocks on Senior Night, which could be his last home game as a Hawkeye if he declares for the NBA Draft after the season.

But as Bohannon and the rest of the seniors entered the tunnel after the game, they weren’t feeling too sentimental.

“A lot of people were saying, ‘Great career’ as I was walking off the court,” Bohannon said. “And I was like, ‘There’s still a lot left here.’ There are still a lot of games to be played and a lot of memories still to be made.”

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Judging by Iowa’s play of late, there is a chance there are plenty of good memories to be made.

The No. 24 Hawkeyes (21-8 overall, 11-7 in Big Ten play) have won seven of their last eight games by an average victory margin of 18 points. Iowa’s 7-1 record during the month of February was its most wins in that month since 1981. The team’s only loss last month was a five-point defeat at home to Michigan, who the Hawkeyes will play in Ann Arbor at 8:07 p.m. on Thursday.

“They’re playing great right now — really clicking at the right time,” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said about Iowa on Monday. “You can see their confidence right now is sky high. They’re not a team anybody wants to play right now. They’re probably as hot a team as there is in the conference. They’re peaking at the right time.”

The “Fran Fade” narrative around the Hawkeyes has failed to show up this season. Because of its hot play of late, Iowa is a No. 7 seed in ESPN bracketology guru Joe Lunardi’s latest projections.

After Ohio State’s loss to Nebraska on Tuesday, Iowa is currently the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, which would provide the Hawkeyes with a double-bye to start the postseason. The two teams are tied in the standings, but Iowa owns the head-to-head tiebreaker. If the Hawkeyes win both of their final two regular season games, at Michigan and at Illinois, they would be guaranteed to earn a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 4 seed. In that scenario, as the fourth seed, Iowa would open postseason play next Friday against the winner of the No. 5 seed vs. No. 12/13 seed game.

If Iowa loses its final two games of the regular season, it could slip all the way down to the No. 8 seed in the conference. Three teams entered Wednesday within one game of Iowa in the Big Ten standings. Splitting the next two games could result in Iowa getting the No. 4 seed or failing to secure the double-bye, depending on how other conference games go.

The Hawkeyes know what they can accomplish over the last two games of the regular season, and how winning can help set them up for the start of March Madness.

“I think we’re ready,” Connor McCaffery said. “Obviously two tough games leading into the Big Ten Tournament, and everyone knows that. We know we’re going to have to play well and we could go up there, play well and lose. But we know that we’re still using these days to get better. The end goal is the NCAA Tournament, and we expect to go in and win.

“I’m excited. That’s why we come here and play the games.”