Howe: Hawkeyes Playing to Change Late-Season Narrative

March 13, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Negative narratives are what they are, often based as much on perception as truth in this day and age of “fake news.” The thing is, once they take hold, they’re tough to reverse.

Be that as it may, Iowa will be attempting to do just that. It’s a program tabbed as one that plays poorly late in seasons.

Some fans are calling it the “Fran Fade”, named in honor of head coach Fran McCaffery. The moniker is advancing currently with Hawkeyes losing four games in a row and five of six.

While they probably won’t wipe it out, the Hawkeyes can suppress it with a successful March. That begins Thursday in Chicago at the Big Ten Tournament.

They will face the winner of Wednesday’s Illinois-Northwestern matchup. They should win. If they don’t, the “fade” picks up steam.

Yes, they’ll still make it into the NCAAs. But the stakes will be raised there. A quick exit and the narrative rules the offseason.

Is it fair? As mentioned earlier, narratives are comprised of varying degrees of truth and perception. And that’s the case here.

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If we start when McCaffery returned the program to respectability in Year 3 of his tenure, it’s been a mixed bag. That season (2012-13), Iowa won 10 of its last 13 contests en route to the NIT championship game, hardly a fade. The next campaign, however, laid the foundation for the narrative.

The Hawkeyes began February ranked 15th in the country with a 16-5 record. They dropped seven of their final eight games, including a loss to Tennessee in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament.

They flipped the script in ’13-’14 behind the leadership of senior Aaron White. After losing five of seven games in the middle of the conference slate, they won their final six regular-season games and reached the second-round of the Big Dance before falling to seventh-ranked Gonzaga in Seattle.

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In ’15’16, Iowa lost seven of its final 10 games, including one in the NCAA Tournament. The next year, it won four of its last five, including road victories against ranked Wisconsin and Maryland. Last season finished with seven setbacks in the final nine on the way to a dismal 14-19 record.

That brings us to the present, and a fall from 20-5 and Top 20 national ranking on Feb. 18. How does this movie end? Will the Hawkeyes make it happy, thus shaking off the narrative?

A veteran group of players believe it. They view the postseason as a fresh start. They take positives from Sunday’s overtime loss at Nebraska, confident it was their best performance in weeks.

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They’re also attempting to turn the page on a season marred with controversy. Radio play-by-play voice Gary Dolphin was twice suspended, once for criticizing junior Maishe Dailey on the air. McCaffery missed two games during this recent skid after making national news with a profanity-laced tirade on an official following a loss at Ohio State.

Let’s not fool ourselves. That all feeds into the negative narrative around the program as a whole, and some general unrest with McCaffery and athletics director Gary Barta.

Barta did the program no favors with his “secret” contract extension and large buyout for the coach during last season. Then, rightly or wrongly, he and McCaffery were targeted by angry fans for what they felt was poor treatment of Dolphin.

It all adds up to this program desperately needing a positive finish. It’s capable if it can refill the tank following a season of draining drama.

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