Iowa CITY, Iowa - Fans were leaving Carver-Hawkeye Arena well before the game was over Thursday night. That's been the norm in recent basketball seasons.
The difference this year has been Iowa sending its followers home happy by putting games away early. With Thursday's 88-55 rubbing of Northern Illinois,the Hawkeyes moved to 3-0 with the average margin of victory being 30.7 points.
As stale as it's been for Iowa basketball for much of the last decade plus, be cautious with your optimism for this season. The first three victories have come against really bad basketball teams.
Yes, Iowa is improved. Fran McCaffery looks every bit the right man for the job. He's now on a three-game winning streak for his first time as head of the Hawkeyes.
It's perfectly fine to enjoy this start. You've been through a lot, Hawkeye fans. Just don't expect miracles.
Rome wasn't built in a day. And the train wreck inherited by McCaffery hasn't been fully repaired.
The Hawkeyes pushed around their first three opponents. They pressed them. They smothered them. They showed no mercy.
Iowa scored 34 points in the paint and 28 off of 16 Northern Illinois turnovers on Thursday. The home team shot 62 percent from the floor in the first half ( 7 of 9 from three) and finished 13 of 21 from beyond the arc on this night.
The Hawkeyes have gone deep into their bench to find production this year. Freshman Josh Oglesby scored a game-high 16 points on Thursday to pace a 43-point effort from the reserves.
The stakes likely will be raised on Sunday. Iowa travels to Des Moines for a neutral site game against a very good Creighton team. It will be the Hawkeyes first action outside of Carver.
The Blue Jays picked up a 70-60 win at Alabama-Birmingham on Wednesday. They defeated Chicago State and North Carolina A&T by an average of 33 points. The Hawkeyes beat those same teams at home by an average of 29.5 points.
Creighton plays tough defense and will be salivating at a chance to knock off a BCS school against which it competes for recruits. The Hawkeyes will be challenged.
The good news is that Iowa is in a position to win these types of games. It's hard to imagine a 3-0 start after watching the three seasons before McCaffery's arrival.
Doug McDermott, Greg's son, also will be motivated to beat the Hawkeyes. The Blue Jay sophomore is averaging 20.3 points and 6.3 rebounds a game. He grew up rooting against Iowa.
"The thing that I've been really impressed with about Mac's team is they're kind of the same way that we've just been talking," McCaffery said. "They share the ball. They have various guys that can make shots. They made 14 threes in their first game. Five different guys made a three. They've got the best player in that league in Doug McDermott. I mean, he had 27 at UAB. That's pretty impressive. So they've got a lot of weapons, and they've got four transfers that are older guys, and they've got some experienced guards."
That's another example of McCaffery getting it. He knows what awaits his team on Sunday.He knows his team is at 3-0 beating subpar competition.
This Iowa team needed time to mesh.It needed time to work on the press. It needed time to build confidence.
Now, the Hawkeyes have an opportunity to show what they've learned. They can display how far they've come. It's just too hard to gauge that now with the small sample size we have so far.
We'll know much more about this team after Sunday, however. If the Hawkeyes can pull one out in the central part of the state, hopefully more than 8,000 people will come out to the home games.