MADISON, Wis. — Undisciplined.
Not the Iowa men’s basketball team Sunday night, but rather, its coach.
It didn’t how matter how right Fran McCaffery was to vociferously protest a foul call with 11:51 left in Iowa’s 75-71 loss at Wisconsin. What he did afterward, picking up two technical fouls and swinging his arms wildly in the vicinity of a game official, wasn’t disciplined.
He may have wanted the first “T.” The second one, in which the camera angle suggested to many that he made contact with an official, was a big mistake.
“No. No,” McCaffery replied when asked if he touched the official. “No.”
A lot of people in television land thought otherwise. It’s easily believable that he didn’t intend to touch the ref. But the rage supersedes any intentions.
“It probably wasn’t the smartest thing in the world,” said Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser. “But it helped us out.”
Forget the less-than-wonderful impression it made on a far-reaching audience that had reason to care about this matchup of ranked teams. Practically speaking, it put the Hawkeyes behind an eight-ball they gallantly tried to overcome before falling.
The double-technical let Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan put his best foul-shooter on the line for four free throws with the Badgers behind 41-39. Ben Brust, a 92 percent free-thrower coming in, made all four shots. Wisconsin had been poor at the line up to that point.
The Badgers never trailed again.
On top of that, the tirade got UW fans boiling-hot after they had been flat for 28 minutes. A Green Bay Packers playoff loss immediately before this game, polar weather, and an ugly first-half for the home team made Kohl Center feel a lot more like Cold Center.
Then, of course, Iowa was without its head coach for the final 11:51 in an important game on the road. It may be without McCaffery again Thursday night against Northwestern if the Big Ten slaps a suspension on him this week, but he said he doesn’t think he’ll be penalized.
“Why would I be?” he said.
At least he would have picked a good game to miss this week if he had to miss one.
Who knows if Iowa wins without the double-technical, but you sure would have loved its chances a lot more. The margin of defeat was, after all, four points.
Making matters much worse for the Hawkeyes was that a long-awaited clearing of a hurdle under McCaffery didn’t happen after a first-half that was borderline brilliant, especially defensively.
Hawkeye basketball had already regained respectability and fan-favor under McCaffery, but it had one mountain left to move. It needed to take out a good Big Ten team on the road, to close out a game on the road against someone in the conference who mattered. Wisconsin, 15-0 and ranked fourth in the nation, matters.
Iowa, 12-3 and ranked 22nd, is a team that has already wowed a lot of big-name basketball people this winter. But it still has to do what Michigan State did at Indiana Saturday.
Instead of people talking about the Hawkeyes being for real, they’ll talk (and talk) about how McCaffery momentarily lost his marbles and possibly cost his team a huge win.
Such images are created in mere moments, but take forever to erase. The thing is, you couldn’t help wondering not if McCaffery would have a meltdown like that, but when. He got tossed at Northern Iowa two seasons ago with some particularly hot rage, but at least no official was touched in the process. Sunday's wrath of Fran was made for Deadspin.
Look, McCaffery has done a superb job in building Iowa’s roster and forging a style of play that is enjoyable to watch. He’s not a madman. You’d rather have someone with passion coaching your team than a stoic.
Iowa will get that big road win, maybe more than one. It’s capable of doing so against just about anyone, anywhere. It has the coaching and players to have a superb season. Who’s seriously going to want to play this team on a neutral court in the Big Ten tournament or NCAAs?
But for the time being, Iowa is still just a face in a college basketball crowd. It’s now better-known for a coach who went ballistic in a moment when composure needed to walk the sideline hand in hand with intensity.