Hawkeyes took North Florida coach's rant to be helpful

Chad Leistikow

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The viral video and candid comments made by North Florida's coach made their way to the Iowa basketball team.

Matthew Driscoll's message about the Hawkeyes needing to have "thicker skin" was received.

And it was appreciated.

"I have no problem with it. I thought it was honest. I didn't think it was said to hurt anybody," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Monday of Driscoll's comments, made Dec. 22 after North Florida lost 80-70 in Iowa City. "I think it was said essentially to help our guys to understand, you've got really good players. Just play with confidence."

The Hawkeyes plan to heed that advice as they open Big Ten Conference action Tuesday with one of their tougher games on the 18-game schedule — at Ohio State (noon CT, ESPN2).

In a seven-minute postgame session with Hawkeye media members, Driscoll broke into a self-fueled tangent about Iowa's poor shooting percentage (40.7 percent, 274th nationally) and mental toughness. He said he noticed on film that Iowa players too often hung their heads after missed shots. He said some guys were doing too many things not in their skill set. He encouraged the Hawkeyes to be who they are, for each player to focus on what he does best.

"I think if you guys do that, you guys are scary," Driscoll said, "because you can rebound the ball. You're long. You don't foul a lot. And because of that, I think you guys are dangerous."

McCaffery and Driscoll are friends. The Iowa coach appreciated a colleague's helpful tone.

"That's how I took it," McCaffery said. "And that's how I told them to take it. And I think they did."

So, are the Hawkeyes mentally tough enough for the Big Ten grind?

The North Florida game was a positive start. Iowa (9-4) had lost its previous two games to in-state rivals Iowa State and Northern Iowa thanks to start-of-the-second-half meltdowns. After the 90-75 loss to the Cyclones, McCaffery and senior forward Aaron White acknowledged self-doubt circulating on the roster.

Against North Florida, a team that beat Purdue and is a favorite to win the Atlantic Sun Conference, Iowa showed a resilient, aggressive side. The Hawkeyes overcame 12 Ospreys 3-pointers to win their eighth game by double digits.

"I thought that game, where it was placed, was good for us," McCaffery said. "Because if we weren't mentally ready for that game — every day there's, what, four or five (outcomes in college basketball) you would perceive as upsets. … Anything short of an all-out effort against North Florida, we lose that game.

"So I think that was good, and that was a step we needed to make."

North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll

The next step is Ohio State, which features a stellar backcourt of freshman D'Angelo Russell and Shannon Scott. That duo combines to average 25.6 points and 13 assists a game.

It's a different team than the Aaron Craft-led Buckeyes (11-2) of a season ago, when Iowa went into Value City Arena and knocked off then-No. 3 Ohio State 84-74.

Now, the Hawkeyes return to the site of one of their most positive experiences of 2013-14 as they look to gain whatever mental edge they'll need to survive the Big Ten gauntlet and reach the NCAA Tournament.

"We played with a great deal of poise last year to win that game," McCaffery said. "At least having gone through that, you know what you have to do to win the game. ... It took a great deal of concentration and execution."

Quick hits: McCaffery said 6-foot-6 sophomore Peter Jok, who made his first career start against North Florida, would "probably" make his first Big Ten start Tuesday. Jok didn't play more than 11 minutes in any Big Ten game as a freshman. "He's going to be really good for us this year, no question," McCaffery said. … The coach said previous "2" guard starter Anthony Clemmons is recovering from sprains on both ankles but would be available against Ohio State. … McCaffery said there were no plans to pursue a medical redshirt for true freshman guard Brady Ellingson. The Sussex, Wis., native had played limited minutes (31, in six games) while recovering from a foot injury but has been effective from 3-point range (4-for-6). "The plan is to play him," McCaffery said. "I think he needs to play."