IOWA CITY — Mike Tirico lives in Big Ten country and often observes Big Ten basketball when he isn’t working.
Tirico watched Iowa when it thrived under Tom Davis in the late 1980s and 1990s, and he also saw how it crumbled under Todd Lickliter in the late 2010s. That’s given him a healthy perspective on how Iowa basketball has rebounded under fourth-year coach Fran McCaffery.
“I don’t think people appreciate how difficult that is to take a program that had high expectations because of what Dr. Tom did, and however imperfect the fit was with Steve Alford and Iowa basketball was, there were successful times there,” said Tirico, who calls the Iowa-Ohio State game Tuesday for ESPN. “Obviously under Lickliter it really struggled.”
“When you take a program that nationally people say, ‘Yeah, they’re good’ — which was the perception of Iowa for a couple of decades — then the thing gets as low as it did, that’s hard to get back in there and rebuild it from the ground up.”
McCaffery previously has taken three one-bid schools to the NCAA tournament — Lehigh, UNC-Greensboro and Siena. With Iowa (17-5, 6-3 Big Ten) ranked No. 13 in the latest coaches’ poll, McCaffery appears set to lead his fourth squad to the show.
“I admire how he’s done it, and it’s consistent with what he’s done,” Tirico said. “I think doing it in different places sticks out to me. Let’s get past the first success he had. He did in Greensboro, N.C., and Albany, N.Y., and now Iowa City, Iowa. That’s not easy. It’s not going from Siena to Syracuse, let’s say, and you know the area very well. Or going from Greensboro to Wake Forest where you’re well-known in that area. So I really admire how Fran has rebuilt this thing into a team looks like an NCAA tournament team for sure.”
It’s the second consecutive week Tirico has called an Iowa game as part of the “Super Tuesday” package. Tirico, who also serves as the play-by-play voice of “Monday Night Football,” worked with Jay Bilas last week in Iowa’ 71-69 overtime loss to Michigan State. This week Dan Dakich is the color analyst.“We’ve got some of the best lineups and the environments week after week,” Tirico said. “I thought it was tremendous in Iowa last week. I’m sure it will be a good one this week because of what the game means.”