Fran McCaffery previews Iowa Hawkeyes’ March Madness date versus Auburn Tigers

Tipoff is nearly here for Iowa in their first-round contest against ninth-seed Auburn.

No matter how angry fans can get over Iowa basketball, especially with their skid to end the season on a two-game losing streak, no one can deny the excitement of the tournament. Try as you might, March Madness fever sweeps us all in. It’s the time when logic and rationale give way and a new feeling of “why not” takes over.

Why not us? Why can’t this be our year? Anything can happen in the NCAA Tournament, so why not us?

A lot of eyes will be on the Iowa Hawkeyes-Auburn Tigers game, more than just from the respective fanbases. In a first round that is bound to feature some lopsided duds, this should be one of the most intriguing contests of the weekend. Iowa basketball, for better or for worse, is always must-watch TV, especially because of coach Fran McCaffery.

One of the most divisive figures in college basketball, and usually a man residing under the skin of rival fans, Fran McCaffery is a reflection of Iowa basketball as the man at the helm. He spoke with the media on Wednesday to give a preview of the matchup against the Tigers.

On this Iowa team's uniqueness

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

“Coming into the season, we thought we could be a good team. But, you know, we lost a lot from last year. He was the fourth pick. You lose a guy that scored 2,000 points. We lost quite a bit. And other people had to step up in different roles, and they did that.

“And Filip Rebraca I think took his game to a whole new level which was critical to our success. One of the main reasons why we are here. I thought Connor McCaffery had a spectacular season across the board, as a leader filling the stat line.

“You know, our point guard position was handled primarily by Jordan Bohannon for a long time. Somebody else had to step up. Kind of did it, obviously, with Ahron Ulis. A little bit of point guard by committee there: We played Tony there, we played Connor there, we played Dasonte Bowen there.

“Kris Murray had to take that next step, which he did. You know, his entire life he’s been playing with his brother, and now, you know, more of his show and he put up incredible numbers, really consistent. All those guys were. You know, we got a spectacular season, which I think we thought we would after we moved Tony Perkins into the starting lineup last year. Last part of the season you figured he would come in and have the year he did. That was critical.

“I thought the guys were locked in from day one. You know, we start practice in June now, as you know. And I thought really came together. Our experienced guys and our younger guys. Great attitude in the locker room. And it’s a fun team to coach.”

On Patrick McCaffery, Payton Sandfort


“He (Patrick) had been practicing well. I don’t think, like you said, when he first came back that he did have his legs underneath him. He wasn’t the same. But he was still fairly productive due to his skill set and his experience. But he’s really stepped up in the last couple weeks and played very well. He’s a veteran guy, a guy who has been a starter, capable of being a starter, double-figure scorer.

“I think his defense and rebounding have really improved. And it gives you another weapon offensively along the Payton Sandfort on the perimeter. Those two guys coming off the bench. Payton, of course, Sixth Man of the Year. Also took a step. When we were talking about the team in reference to Bobby’s question, he was spectacular all season as well.”

On Iowa's Senior Leadership


“I think it’s absolutely critical that those guys led the way they did. Because you’re right, in our league being as balanced as it is, it can feel really good one day and not so good the next day. It’s hard to win on the road in any league, but in our league it’s really difficult. And the ability to stay the course and to remain professional and business-like in your approach every night in this league is not going to happen unless you have that kind of leadership.

“Especially with your young guys, when you need them to contribute the way that they have, it’s the communication, not only on the court as it’s happening in realtime, but in the locker room, after a tough loss, on the bus, on the plane. Having those kind of conversations from someone other than the coaching staff is what develops confidence. And that’s the only way a young guy is going to produce at this level. So, you know, coaching is important but leadership from your seniors from Connor and Filip, there’s just no substitute for that.”

On playing in Birmingham, Ala.


“Yeah. I don’t think anybody is going to think much about that. Obviously, from a fan’s perspective, fans want your team closer. So for them, I’m sure they are excited about I. But as far as how we look at this game and how we prepare will be the same. We see a lot of hostile environments in our league.”

On Bruce Pearl's Auburn Tigers


“I got to know Bruce when he was at Iowa and I was at Notre Dame. Got to know Coach Davis well, Gary Close, Rich Walker, that staff. I have been friends with Bruce ever since. Done a spectacular job everywhere he’s been. They run really good stuff. You know, I think they execute well at the half-court level.

“They can play fast, they can grind it at halfcourt if they want to. But I think ultimately they defend, they are going to put pressure on the ball, they are going to challenge you on your actions. And then also fight you on the glass. A lot of times when you get to this point in the season, everything that happens — a lot of times it comes down to rebounding the ball, and they are really good at it. So that’ll be a challenge for us.”

Similarities in Auburn's Game to the Big Ten


“You know, I think they are different than teams in our league, but there are components that are similar. Rutgers is one that comes to mind, halfcourt defense. Northwestern, halfcourt defense. And then you have teams like Maryland that are really quick and athletic like them. Indiana, same thing. So we’ve seen a lot of what we’ll see in different ways from different teams in our league.”

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Story originally appeared on Hawkeyes Wire