Not There Yet

Hawkeye Nation is riding the wave of its basketball team reaching the NIT's Final Four. While Coach Fran McCaffery appreciates the program's progress, he believes taking the next step will prove to be harder than the strides already made.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - Hawkeye Nation is firmly ensconced in NIT Fever. Iowa's run to the event's final four in New York City this week is the talk of the Big Ten school's athletics world.

When you're connected closely with an entity, it's sometimes hard to gauge it's value. One can lose perspective.

Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery sees it for what it is - another building block in what he hopes his program can become.

"I'm not going to shortchange what we've done in this period of time, but I think a lot of people would argue that to get from here to where we want to be is going to be that much harder, just being respectful of the fact that the (Big Ten) teams that are below us are doing everything they can to do exactly what we're doing, and the teams that are above us have no intention of going anywhere, nor have some of those teams gone anywhere for quite some time," he said.

Let the Iowa fans have their fun. It's been a long time since the Hawkeye faithful has something to cheer about when it comes to hoops. As long as the man in charge interprets the NIT Final Four for what it is, that's what's important.

NIT success brings mixed results for the future. Some teams build off a run in the secondary postseason event for college basketball. A march in March guarantees nothing down the road, however.

Stanford won the '12 NIT. The Cardinal failed to reach the NCAA Tournament this year or even back to the Final Four of this event.

"You never say, wow, this is great, we have 24 wins, I'm thrilled," McCaffery said. "We're happy that we have 24 wins. That's great, but we're not at any point in time going to stop continuing to work every day on all aspects of the program. We're not just building a basketball team, we're building a program.

"How are we perceived on a national level? How are we perceived in the state? How do prospects that are considering where to go to school and they have plenty of options? How do they look at us?"

McCaffery realizes his fate and that of the Iowa program comes down to the players he can attract. Right now, despite a strong postseason, the Hawkeye name isn't going to draw in the highest-rated recruits.

"Yeah, I'd like to be able to walk into a gym and say, okay, I'll take (Jared)Sullinger," McCaffery said. "Right now I can't do that. So we're going to have to get guys that can beat Sullinger, and that's not easy to do. (Ohio State) won our league this year."

Iowa's NIT run and late push in Big Ten play opened the eyes of college basketball analysts, some of whom look at the Hawkeyes as a threat to push into the top three of the league next season. The bar of expectations has been raised for McCaffery heading into Year 4.

"If you have low expectations or high expectations, it's always the same," he said. "You don't change your approach. You never relax. You can never relax in recruiting. You can never stop coaching your guys and you can never cut corners. By that I mean you don't take guys with bad character because they come back and get you.

"I'll go to battle with Eric May every day of the week because I know what I'm going to get. Sometimes you say, this guy -- I think he's better than his problems. Well, they're very rarely better than their problems."

Fan support has returned in Iowa City after some lean years. Carver-Hawkeye Arena sold out two NIT home games while other venues around the country failed to attract half as many people.

The Hawkeye followers are looking to take the next step and the coach feels like the program is in position to do so.

"You look at each guy that we have and the guys that we're bringing in, we're deeper, we're longer, we're more athletic, and I think we've addressed our shooting situation,' McCaffery said. "Certainly we're shooting the ball now like we thought we would all year. We've also got two shooters coming in.

"That's kind of team we're going to be."

Hawkeye Insider Top Stories