Opinion | The Iowa men’s basketball team lived and died by the 3-point shot this season

The Hawkeyes shot 41.5 percent from long distance in their 19 wins this season and 24.3 percent in their 14 defeats.


Matt Sindt

Iowa forward Patrick McCaffery talks to reporters after a men’s basketball game between Iowa and Auburn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama on Thursday, March 16, 2023. The Tigers defeated the Hawkeyes, 83-75. “He [Connor McCaffery] is my best friend in the whole world. So having him not be here any more is tough. I’ve always had my brother with me… I’m not going to have my best friend with me anymore,” Patrick McCaffery said.

Chris Werner, Assistant Sports Editor

There was a common theme in almost every Fran McCaffery postgame press conference after a loss this season. The Iowa men’s basketball head coach would be asked to make an opening statement or asked a question by the media about the loss, and he’d say something along the lines of, “We took good looks from deep, but they didn’t go in.”

This season — and almost every season he’s been the Hawkeye head coach — McCaffery has encouraged his team to shoot open threes, and when they went down at a clip over 35 percent, the Hawkeyes won 15 times. When Iowa went cold, however, McCafferey’s team struggled to get victories.

In their 19 wins this season, the Hawkeyes converted 41.5 percent of their 3-pointers, but in losses, they shot just 24.3 percent.

Iowa made an average of 5.6 threes in its losses and 9.6 in its wins, while putting up an average of 24 deep shots in its defeats and 23 in wins.

And again, after many of his team’s losses, McCaffery said Iowa’s looks from beyond the arc were ones he was happy with.

If you want to fact-check me, you can head on over to dailyiowan.com, click on the men’s basketball tab, and select any number of articles about Iowa’s losses. I’m 90 percent sure there will be a quote in there about how they were “good looks.” I just don’t want to comb through them all  — think about the back-to-back losses to Northwestern on Feb. 19 and Wisconsin on Feb. 22 where Iowa shot 3-of-24 and 3-of-28 from 3-point territory, respectively.

Or, you can just trust that I attended and/or watched all the press conferences.

I’ll put it this way: I don’t remember McCaffery saying his team took bad 3-point shots often this season, if at all. The majority of you watched the games, too, and I bet you’ll agree they weren’t bad shots.

But in all but one of Iowa’s losses, it made less than 35 percent of its 3s, and under 30 percent in all but two.

Talk about going cold. Iowa won over half its games this season and shot 41.3 percent from 3-point range during those contests, but freshman guard Josh Dix was the only player who saw significant minutes to shoot above 34 percent from beyond the arc this year.

Dix made 14 of his 35 3s, for a 40 percent clip. The players with over 35 3-point attempts this season — Ahron Ulis, Tony Perkins, Payton Sandfort, Patrick McCaffery, Kris Murray, and Connor McCaffery — converted 32, 33, 34, 34, 34, and 33 percent of their 3-pointers, respectively.

Nobody from last year’s roster improved by more than one percentage point, and Murray and Sandfort were down from 39 and 37 percent a year ago, respectively.

The Hawkeyes did pull out four wins while shooting under 35 percent this season, but the last of those victories came before the 2022 calendar turned to December and before Iowa faced any Big Ten teams.

And the Hawkeyes’ hot-and-cold shooting from downtown was no more evident than in Iowa’s last four games of the season.

After their dramatic win over Michigan State on Feb 25, Iowa went into Bloomington, blew out the then-No. 15 Indiana Hoosiers, 90-68, and shot 13-of-23 in the process.

In their final three games of the season — all with major implications — Iowa went ice cold.

With a No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament on the line, Iowa went 12-for-37 against Nebraska in an 81-77 loss. 4-for-17, against Ohio State in the Hawkeyes’ first Big Ten Tournament game, 73-69 loss. And lastly, 7-for-27 in Iowa’s first-round defeat in the NCAA Tournament to Auburn, 83-75 loss.

Although Iowa heated up in the second half against Auburn, Fran McCaffery offered a similar answer as he had all season after the Hawkeyes’ loss to the Tigers regarding an 0-for-9 showing from deep in the first 20 minutes: “We had a couple clean looks at [3-pointers] early, they didn’t go. If they go, maybe it’s different.”

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