Iowa takeaways: Uthoff's defense, McCaffery's demeanor

Chad Leistikow

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – No surprise: Iowa all-America forward Jarrod Uthoff was a focal point of Thursday’s pre-NCAA Tournament chatter here at the Barclays Center.

But it wasn’t all about Uthoff’s 18.9 points-per-game average that ranked second in the Big Ten Conference.

“Uthoff is one of those guys that has a great understanding of the game,” said Temple coach Fran Dunphy, whose team will face the Hawkeyes at roughly 2:10 p.m. Friday in a first-round game. “There’s a reason he has as many blocks as he does. He anticipates as good as anyone we have played against. He seemingly has no weaknesses.”

No weaknesses?

Uthoff chuckled when he heard about that.

“I don’t know about that,” he grinned.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery didn't hesitate in going to bat for his 6-foot-9 forward, who led the Big Ten with 2.7 blocked shots per game and was on the league’s all-defense team.

“He’ll make big shots. He’ll take big shots. He’ll carry our team,” McCaffery said. “But the thing that I love about him is, here’s a guy who is as good of an offensive player in terms of overall repertoire as there is in the game right now. But he might be a better defender than he is a scorer.

“(Purdue center) A.J. Hammons was the defensive player of the year (in the Big Ten), and he had fewer blocked shots than our forward did. And he can move his feet and guard a 2. He can guard a 3. He can guard a 4. I think that’s what I love.”

What temper?

With national media here in The City That Never Sleeps, McCaffery’s sometimes fiery demeanor on the court was brought up during a press conference.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, left, along with assistant Andrew Francis will both take trips down memory lane during the NCAA Tournament this week. McCaffery is a Philadelphia native and will face Philly-based Temple on Friday, while Francis is a Brooklyn native returning to coach in his hometown.

“I will be honest,” McCaffery responded, “I think sometimes I’m unfairly categorized as a guy that’s constantly fiery. If you watch me coach, about 85 percent of the time, I just have my arms folded, and I just watch the game.

“What will upset me is, if we have repeatedly gone over something and then that aspect breaks down. So in other words, if you play for me, I’m not going to ask you to do what you can’t do. But if I ask you to do a certain thing and if you don’t do it, and I know you can do it, that’s going to be a problem.”

Back home for Iowa assistant

Sixth-year Iowa assistant Andrew Francis, who never dreamt his coaching path would take him to Iowa, was understandably excited when the NCAA draw brought him back home.

Francis grew up in Brooklyn and attended Abraham Lincoln High School here.

“It’s always good to be in New York as long as you can,” Francis beamed Thursday. “So that’s our plan, to try to stay here until Sunday.”

Francis had never been to the newly structured Barclays Center, located less than 2 miles southeast of the Brooklyn Bridge, which connects the borough to Manhattan. Brooklyn has been built up and modernized in the last few decades.

“Since I’ve been a kid, Brooklyn has looked one way to me,” Francis said. “Now I see the emergence of different areas. They’re so different than when I was a kid.”

If Iowa wins Friday, Francis will have the scout for Sunday’s likely opponent, Villanova – where he served for two years as an administrative assistant for coach Jay Wright’s staff.

Ellingson staying positive

Iowa redshirt freshman guard Brady Ellingson said he’s “been OK” since being benched in favor of freshman Christian Williams in McCaffery’s regular rotation.

Ellingson hasn’t played in Iowa’s last three games and has played only 13 minutes since Feb. 3.

“I’m staying positive,” Ellingson said. “Always encouraging my teammates to do what they have to do for us to win.”

Ellingson said he “definitely” sees a future in the program, adding: “Always ready if coach calls on me.”

Warning: Question about the balls

No Big Ten team uses Wilson brand basketballs, but the NCAA Tournament uses Wilsons exclusively.

No worries for Iowa, though – a Wilson doesn’t feel like an Under Armour ball, which became a topic of conversation after Iowa’s Jan. 28 loss at Maryland.

“They feel great. I like Wilson balls,” Iowa’s Peter Jok said. “They’re kind of the same as Big Ten Tournament balls.”

Last week’s Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis exclusively used Spalding brand balls. Jok scored 29 points in Iowa’s opening loss to Illinois.

DYK: A little Temple history

Ever wonder how “Owls” was chosen as Temple’s mascot? Temple was originally a night school for ambitious young people, so the nocturnal bird was chosen. … The top five schools in all-time wins are almost as you would expect: Kentucky (2,202), Kansas (2,183), North Carolina (2,168), Duke (2,085) and Temple (1,870 wins, against 1,035 losses). The Owls are making their 32nd NCAA Tournament appearance, and seven in the last 10 years under Fran Dunphy. They have been to seven Elite Eights (most recently in 2001) and two Final Fours. … Temple is 0-2 all-time against Iowa, including an 83-76 loss in the 1956 Final Four. Bill Logan scored 36 points for the Hawkeyes, who went on to lose in the title game to San Francisco. Iowa won the only other meeting vs. Temple, 73-71, to open the 1990-91 season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.