NEW YORK — Iowa has won 24 games, tied for the third-most in school history. If the Hawkeyes win the NIT championship, they’ll own second place by themselves.
While the wins and losses matter, they don't tell the complete story of this year's men's basketball team. Iowa was 9-9 in league play and didn't qualify for the NCAA tournament. There's more that this group wanted to accomplish, and the players are mixed in how to define the measure of success for this season.
For Aaron White, the answer will remain unclear regardless of this week's outcome or Tuesday's NIT semifinal result against Maryland (25-12). White said he'll have to wait for at least a few weeks before calling this purely a success or one that needs qualification.
"It all depends on what you value as success," White said. "Obviously you want to win the tournament and that’s our mindset. But I wouldn’t say the whole season is down the drain if you don’t win one game. We’ve said that the whole way through. The season isn’t determined by a last-second shot that you lose on or a last-second shot that you win on. It’s the grind of the whole 36, 38 games."
There's also history involved when measuring success. Three years ago Fran McCaffery replaced Todd Lickliter after Iowa finished a program-worst 10-22. McCaffery inched the program forward competitively in his first season with an 11-20 record. Last year, Iowa qualified for the NIT, won its first-round game and finished with a winning record (18-17) for the first time since 2007.
But this year the Hawkeyes are 24-12, besting the combined record of Lickliter's final season and McCaffery's Iowa debut by three wins. But, again, McCaffery judges by more than just statistics. The team's primary goal was to improve defensively, and the Hawkeyes ranked first in Big Ten field-goal percentage. The team has won 10 of its last 13 games and competed on the road, even in losses.
"You never say, 'Wow, this is great, we have 24 wins, I'm thrilled,'" McCaffery said. "We're happy that we have 24 wins. That's great, but we're not at any point in time going to stop continuing to work every day on all aspects of the program because we're not just building a basketball team. We're building a program."
But Iowa also finished 3-8 in true road games and suffered last-minute losses at Wisconsin, Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska -- all of which Iowa led late in the game. Iowa also dropped double-digit leads to Michigan State twice.
Like McCaffery, junior Devyn Marble's idea of success is less tangible and more intangible.
I think it (a title) would (validate the season) in a way," he said. "Even without one, we’ve still accomplished a lot this year. But I think us as a team we want it really bad and we’ve shown that in the past three games that relentless push toward getting what we want."
As for junior Melsahn Basabe, success needs validation, like winning an NIT title.
"I think a championship is just the need," Iowa junior Melsahn Basabe said. "My group and I haven’t been able to achieve anything, so that’s what I think the next step is: we need a championship this year."
Iowa has that chance this week at Madison Square Garden. The season ends either Tuesday or Thursday.