IOWA CITY, Ia. – The Iowa basketball program has improved every season under coach Fran McCaffery’s watch.
From a losing record in 2010-11 to a pair of NIT berths including an appearance in the 2013 title game. From a 10th-place finish Big Ten finish that first year to a tie for third last season. Back-to-back NCAA appearances, including an opening-round victory for the first time in 13 seasons this March. Three straight 20-wins seasons.
Hawkeye basketball has avoided a step back under McCaffery. Keeping that forward march intact starts at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday when Iowa opens the 2015-16 season against Gardner-Webb at 8:30 p.m.
“We’ve got all the tools,” said senior forward Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa’s leading returning scorer. “We’ll be good and surpass last season. No doubt about that.”
Uthoff said that even though the Hawkeyes are coming off their first exhibition loss since 2002 a week ago against Augustana of South Dakota. To say Uthoff was disappointed with his effort would be an understatement.
“I don’t care how tired you are,” Uthoff said. “If you have a little nagging injury, I don’t care what it is. It’s a mindset. You have to get through it. You’ve got 40 minutes. If you can’t do something for 40 minutes, why play? It won’t ever happen again.”
Uthoff, who finished with 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting, shared his disappointment with McCaffery.
“He said, 'I wasn’t what I should have been, but I’m going to get it corrected and you’ll never have that problem again,'" McCaffery said.
Uthoff wasn’t the only Iowa player to leave his "A" game on the sidelines against Augustana, ranked No. 1 in Division II. Four freshmen played a total of 10 minutes, none in the second half. McCaffery only played Dom Uhl, his top front-line sub, 2 minutes because he didn’t like what he saw. Iowa got outrebounded and attempted just five free throws.
“That’s why we played Augustana,” McCaffery said. “We could have played somebody else and drilled them; we chose not to do that. Because you don’t see your holes unless you play somebody good, and somebody experienced. We were able to find our holes and try to address them before we play a game that counts.”
McCaffery said those who struggled have responded the last week.
"There can be pouting, there can be confusion,” McCaffery said. “There can be feelings of uncertainty. But they came back, and they were getting after it, and that’s what you want.”
McCaffery said he’ll redshirt Isaiah Moss, one of five freshmen to join the program. He’s the only one. One of those rookies, forward Ahmad Wagner, is dealing with a shoulder injury that bears watching.
Gardner-Webb returns two starters from a 20-15 team that won at Purdue and finished seventh in the Big South Conference. The only other game in the series came on Nov. 17, 2012, when Iowa rallied from a 23-point deficit with 13 seconds remaining in the first half to win, 65-56.
WHO: Gardner-Webb (0-0) at Iowa (0-0)
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
TIME/TV: 8:30 p.m., ESPN3 (online)