IOWA CITY — Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery has no problem telling reporters his team could challenge for the hierarchy next year in Big Ten play.
Iowa returns nearly 93 percent of its scoring on an upper-division Big Ten team that won 25 games last year. Those are enough reasons to energize a fan base and excite a basketball program.
“I don’t think there’s any question about it,” McCaffery said. “We were right there last year. We finished sixth. With a couple of breaks, we could have been higher than that. The league is so good top to bottom and things won’t change year in and year out. Certainly we are in position to make a move.”
The Hawkeyes finished the season as the Big Ten’s top rebounding squad (39.1 per game), led in assists (15.1) and were second in blocked shots (4.8 per game). Additionally, Iowa was second in free-throw percentage and 3-point defense and third in field-goal defense. All of which were priorities for McCaffery entering the season.
However, Iowa’s field-goal shooting plummeted from 45.5 percent to 41.9 percent. Even worse, Iowa ranked 11th in 3-point percentage at 30.5 percent, down from 37.3 percent.
“We were able to win 25 games despite the fact that our offensive shooting percentage went down,” McCaffery said. “So that has improve. Our 3-point percentage has to go up, and I think it will. We’ve got really good shooters. We’ve got really good players. We’re going to have more experience next year, so those numbers will go up. Hopefully the defensive numbers will go down again.
“Obviously we were focusing on defense, and we dramatically improved in that area.”
Iowa also will have high expectations this year. The Hawkeyes received votes in the USA Today/Coaches poll for the first time since 2006. Shortly after the Final Four, at least four web sites ranked Iowa in the preseason top 25. McCaffery has no concerns about how those accolades will affect his team.
“I think they’ll react very well,” McCaffery said. “I think they’re excited about that challenge. I really do. I think they came here expecting to be in that position and are preparing to what’s necessary to stay at that level because it’s one thing to get there. It’s a lot harder to stay there, I think.”
FINAL ATTENDANCE FIGURES
Iowa finished sixth among Big Ten schools in attendance, averaging 13,625 fans per game. That’s the school’s best number since the 2001-02 season. Based on the 2011-12 numbers, Iowa would rank in the top 20 for the first time since 2003.
Iowa totaled six sellouts this season and two others topping 15,000.
Indiana led the Big Ten at 17,412 per game. Wisconsin and Ohio State each averaged better than 16,500 per game. Illinois and Michigan State round out the top 25.
Iowa is scheduled to attend the Great Alaska Shootout this fall and a four-team event in New York in 2014. But an available spot in the Battle 4 Atlantis has Iowa weighing its options.
Two industry sources said the Bahamas-based tournament sought Iowa as the eighth team in its lineup. The Atlantis field is solid with Kansas, Tennessee, Villanova, UTEP, USC, Wake Forest and Xavier. Iowa never has appeared in the Bahamas.
The Great Alaska Shootout field includes Denver, Harvard, Indiana State, Pepperdine, Texas Christian, Tulsa and Alaska Anchorage. Iowa twice has appeared at the Great Alaska Shootout, the last coming during the 1995-96 season.
McCaffery was mum on all scheduling.
“I haven’t even looked at it yet,” he said.
As for Big Ten play, Iowa will play Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois and Ohio State twice. The Hawkeyes played each team just once during the most recent two-year cycle. It’s likely Iowa will play Indiana, Purdue and Northwestern just once this year.
PLAYER COMINGS AND (NOT) GOINGS
McCaffery said no player with red-shirt this upcoming season and he doesn’t expect any players to transfer. Eric May is the only senior leaving the program, and Iowa has transfer Jarrod Uthoff and incoming freshman Peter Jok entering the lineup next year. Power forward Kyle Meyer was red-shirted last year and he’ll be eligible, too.
Minutes were an issue at times last year with Iowa using a 10-player rotation.
“It might be bigger (problem this year), but that’s OK,” McCaffery said. “We have, I think, the ability to go in a lot of different directions in terms of size, speed and matching different skill sets.
“I think you look at our team this year, so many different times it’s a different group of guys on the floor when we made our run. Next year, I think we’ll have even more options.”