IOWA CITY — Were he among the 32 coaches of the USA TODAY men’s basketball poll, Fran McCaffery would have included his Iowa team on his ballot.
And why not? Iowa’s championship in last week’s 2K Empire Classic in New York included a 77-69 win over the Oregon team that was No. 16 last week (and still is ranked), and a Connecticut club that upset No. 14 Syracuse the night before it was beaten 91-72 by the Hawkeyes.
Iowa (4-0) found itself 22nd in the coaches’ poll Monday morning, and 20th in Associated Press’ rankings. It was the 342nd time the Hawkeyes had been in the AP poll, 23rd-most of all programs. But the last appearance was the final poll of the 2015-16 season.
“Obviously, we’re happy about it. I’m happy for the guys,” McCaffery said. “But we’ve played four games. You have got to temper it a little bit and continue to strive to get better. Obviously we made a big step.
“I felt we competed. I felt we really were locked into the game plan. I said that to the guys afterwards. To beat teams of that caliber on that stage, you’ve got to be locked in as a unit, and we were.”
How Iowa did what it did in Madison Square Garden wasn’t mysterious. It defended, holding its two foes to a combined 39.1 percent from the field. It rebounded, with 88 to its foes’ 66.
It was aggressive to the basket, getting 70 free throws to its opposition’s 39, and it made 58 of those foul shots. Through Sunday’s games, the Hawkeyes led the nation in free throws and attempts per game with 30 and 38.3, respectively.
That dog, as they say, will hunt.
Sophomore forward Luka Garza, the MVP of the 2K, likes being on a ranked team for the first time in his career.
“We definitely earned it with this weekend,” Garza said.
“It’s definitely a great feeling, but it’s really early and we have a big stretch coming up. We have to prove ourselves through that.”
After a bit of a breather this holiday week with only a 7:30 p.m. Wednesday home game against Alabama State, Iowa plays the following in succession: Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa State, Northern Iowa.
“We’re just going to keep working, keep striving, keep climbing up those rankings,” said Garza.
“We’re not going to be that team that comes in a game cocky because we know what it feels like to be on the other end. We are very humble, so we’ll just keep working to try to be as good as we can and reach our full potential, which we didn’t do last year.”
Freshman guard Connor McCaffery expanded on his good start of the season while in New York, with 26 points and six assists. He played 29 minutes against UConn, and had five assists to one turnover though his team’s assist-to-turnover ratio is perhaps the lone red flag so far.
“It feels good,” Connor McCaffery said, “but at the same time, we’re not satisfied. We think we deserve to be rank, we expected this. But at the same time, we’ll keep working and we expect more out of each other.”
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