Leistikow's 4 Iowa basketball thoughts: On Fran McCaffery's extension, new recruit, Grand Canyon matchup
Monday proved to be a busy news day for Iowa basketball.
The Hawkeyes settled in at No. 8 in both major polls and, fresh off earning a No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament, ended their quarantine to resume practice in Indianapolis.
An announcement dropped about coach Fran McCaffery landing a four-year extension through the 2027-28 season.
And the Hawkeyes secured a commitment from a 6-foot-11 big man out East. (Kind of rings a bell, doesn't it?)
Here are some thoughts on those developments, as well as more about the Hawkeyes’ first-round matchup vs. Grand Canyon, which is set for 5:25 p.m. CT Saturday inside 6,500-seat Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
'No such thing as an upset in this tournament': Iowa enters NCAA Tournament focused on Grand Canyon
McCaffery’s contract extension puts him on track to become the winningest Iowa men’s basketball coach.
The contract terms, obtained by the Register via an open-records request, outline a fair deal on both sides. McCaffery gets long-term security with an additional four years and $14.5 million tacked on to the previous extension he signed in November 2017.
Athletics director Gary Barta, his budget still reeling from losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, isn’t overextending the university in the short term. Even long-term, the $3.7 million McCaffery is scheduled to make in this contract’s final season (2027-28) would “only” rank No. 17 nationally this season, according to USA TODAY’s database. That $3.7 million could be a bargain seven years from now.
Additionally, the buyout terms are also reasonable. Indiana boosters had to come up with $10 million to get rid of Archie Miller this week. Let’s say three years from now, things have taken an unexpected turn and Iowa wants to part ways with McCaffery. The buyout after the 2023-24 season would be $5.1 million.
Barta has long appreciated the integrity with which McCaffery operates. This gives Iowa more peace of mind that its basketball program is on solid footing for years to come and should alleviate serious worries that McCaffery would leave for Notre Dame, long thought to be a good fit given he and wife Margaret’s ties there, if Mike Brey is fired or retires.
On the court, it’s hard to believe that after two more seasons, McCaffery will have coached in Iowa City as long as Tom Davis did. Davis, Iowa's all-time wins leader, went 269-140 in his 13 seasons. He accumulated 10 seasons of 20-plus wins, a school record.
McCaffery is 215-151 in 11 seasons at Iowa. While the winning percentage is lower, recall that Davis’ two highest win totals (30, 24) came in his first two seasons at Iowa with many of previous coach George Raveling’s recruits. McCaffery, by comparison, took over a cupboard that was beyond bare from Todd Lickliter in 2010, and did well to go 11-20 in his first season.
Davis’ winning percentage in Big Ten play was .547 (126-104), but .515 (100-94) in his final 11 years.
McCaffery’s Big Ten winning percentage is .505 (103-101), but 91-77 (.542) over his last nine years.
McCaffery will likely need three more seasons to move past Davis' win total at Iowa. Given his newly signed contract stability, he’ll get there.
The Luka Garza comparisons are already beginning for new Hawkeye commitment Riley Mulvey.
And while nobody should reasonably expect the 6-11, 230-pound prospect from Albany, New York, to become a two-time first-team all-American like Garza, there is some Garza to Mulvey’s game.
McCaffery extended Mulvey his first high-major college scholarship offer, just as he did with Garza six yeas ago out of Washington, D.C.
Mulvey has spoken in interviews about watching Garza’s game and trying to emulate it. Watching Mulvey’s film, he appears to have natural shot-blocking skills, a smooth shot and excellent footwork (no surprise, considering his father was a soccer player at Siena — where McCaffery coached for five years).
Mulvey announced his commitment just hours after the McCaffery contract news broke. He’s still just a junior in high school, so Iowa’s short-term post-Garza plans still might need to include a transfer. Jack Nunge (out for the season with a torn meniscus) and freshman Josh Ogundele are the Hawkeyes’ top two options at the “5” next season. Nunge has an injury history, and Ogundele is in the developmental phase.
Here’s a very pertinent statistic about Grand Canyon that should have the Hawkeyes' attention.
The Antelopes (17-6) have held opponents to 28.8% shooting from 3-point range this season, a stat that ranks 12th in Division I. And only one of the 11 teams above them (Alabama, a No. 2 seed in the East Region) allowed more 3-point attempts. In other words, Grand Canyon opponents miss a ton of 3s.
Iowa (21-8) has been a great 3-point shooting team all year … until the Big Ten Tournament, where the Hawkeyes combined to go 10-for-44 from deep (22.7%) in two games. Iowa entered the postseason ranked No. 4 nationally in 3-point percentage but quickly dropped to No. 13 with those performances against Wisconsin (2-for-20) and Illinois (8-for-24) with the spacious backdrops at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Looking a little deeper at Grand Canyon’s outside-shooting defense, the numbers have been padded by facing some of the nation’s worst 3-point shooting teams. In two games against power-conference teams (a 71-70 loss to Arizona State, a 74-64 loss to Colorado), the Antelopes were less stingy, allowing a combined 41.7% from 3 (15-for-36).
Bottom line: The Hawkeyes can't stay cold from 3 if they want to make the deep NCAA Tournament run they desire. Saturday’s opener will provide a worthy test in breaking the ice.
Grand Canyon reminds me of Wisconsin's basketball team.
After watching more game tape of the Antelopes, a few things stand out. This is a well-coached team that has size. It is willing to slow down the pace and doesn’t take many bad shots. The defensive numbers are solid but Grand Canyon doesn't force many turnovers.
Their style is reminiscent of the Badgers. That could be seen as a good sign, considering the Hawkeyes beat Wisconsin (a No. 9 seed in the South) three times this season.
Colorado, a fifth seed in the NCAA’s East Region, is Grand Canyon’s best opponent to date. In that Dec. 22 game, the Antelopes were within one point, 60-59, with five minutes left before losing by 10. This isn't a team to take lightly.
Iowa’s worst performances this season have been against opponents with quick guards. Grand Canyon doesn’t look to be that type of team. If the Hawkeyes lean on their ball control and defense, like they have in the last 11 games of the season in rising from No. 122 to No. 50 in KenPom.com adjusted defensive efficiency, they should be fine.
Hitting some 3s would help, too.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.