Like his Hawkeye football counterpart, Kirk Ferentz, McCaffery is stating the obvious. Practicing and improving is standard operating procedure in athletics at every level. It's also a euphemism meant to soften the blow for subpar play.
Give McCaffery and Ferentz credit. They don't throw players under the bus even after hideous outcomes. It serves no purpose when even casual observers see the warts.
Iowa's home loss to underdog Minnesota on Thursday could have been explained away as being an off night. That was until Sunday when the Hawkeyes suffered their worst setback of the season to Northwestern in Evanston. The 66-61 overtime victory was the Wildcats second in the Big Ten and first in this calendar year.
Northwestern ended a 10-game losing streak. The Hawkeyes dropped their fifth contest in their last seven outings.
Iowa should have been working to get better the last two days after letting one get away against the Golden Gophers, who the Hawkeyes beat in Minneapolis last month. Instead it worked and got worse. Northwestern didn't play great Sunday, it just played harder.
The Hawkeyes put themselves in a great position last Sunday by moving to 6-4 in the league following a 71-55 domination of then No. 17 Maryland. The performance came on the heels of an annihilation of Michigan in Ann Arbor earlier in the week. With a favorable schedule ahead, optimism soared in and out of the program.
Even though Iowa collapsed last season after starting 7-4 in conference, this year's standing felt different largely based on the upcoming schedule. The Hawkeyes were favored by more than six points against Minnesota and Northwestern, evidence that objective outsiders felt the same way.
It still seems hard to believe this team will fall into the abyss like last year when the Hawkeyes lost seven of their final nine games. But there's reasonable doubt after this week.
Iowa played cohesively and with effort against Michigan and Maryland. They became disjointed on both ends this week and were out-hustled.
Much of the latter falls on McCaffery and his staff. Captain Aaron White also must absorb responsibility.
Sunday, senior guard Josh Oglesby said they were surprised to see the Wildcats play a 2-3 zone. It looked like it. That was poor preparation and falls on the coaches.
White set the tone for his team Sunday by playing selfishly early. After Iowa was hampered by quick shots against Minnesota, the senior hunted attempts at the outset, including an ill-advised three at the beginning of the shot clock. He missed 11 of 12 shots on the day and many of them were sent back to him by Northwestern blocks.
You can't have three starters disappearing against inferior competition. When they do, they become the inferior competition.
Northwestern, a vertically challenged team, somehow played a zone defense and out rebounded the much taller Hawkeyes. That's heart and determination.
The Wildcats and Minnesota deserve praise for their effort. It doesn't explain Iowa's lack of it.
McCaffery and his players shouldn't need a pep talk. Everybody in the rotation, save freshman Dom Uhl, retains memories of last year's epic slide, which makes the last four days an even bigger head scratcher.
The Hawkeyes can't do anything about 2013-14. Fortunately, there's time to adjust their attitude to finish out this campaign the right way.
Four of Iowa's last six regular-season contests come against teams still behind it in the standings. In other words, these programs are under .500 in league play. The run starts Thursday, at home, against last-place Rutgers, which drags a nine-game skid into Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Anything less than a 4-2 finish places Iowa on the wrong side of the bubble heading into the Big Ten Tournament. And missing the NCAA Tournament after where it stood a week ago would rank as a worse nose dive than it took last winter, especially when you realize this year's league is weaker than a year ago.