Iowa’s McCaffery hopes to excite fans in 1st year

The apathy toward the Iowa Hawkeyes reached a breaking point

last season.

Carver-Hawkeye Arena, at one time as loud as any barn in the Big

Ten, was half-empty on some nights and nearly deserted on others.

The only time the fans seemed to get riled up was when reports

began to surface that coach Todd Lickliter was about to be

fired.

Lickliter did indeed get axed after three seasons of losing

records and mounting indifference, and the Hawkeyes turned to

former Siena coach Fran McCaffery to replace him.

While he might not win right away, McCaffery has promised an

up-tempo style in hopes of breathing life into a program that

hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2006.

Iowa, which finished 10-22 last season, opens practice Friday

and the season on Nov. 14 against South Dakota State.

”Let’s face it. People want to see a fast break. They want to

see an alley-oop dunk,” McCaffery said. ”They want to see

talented players doing things in transition, and that’s what I

enjoy coaching. That’s the style I enjoy. I let my guys play.”

The keys to Iowa’s new attack will be handed to sophomore point

guard Cully Payne, who was forced into extended minutes as a

freshman.

Payne had his moments in Lickliter’s half-court based offense a

year ago, averaging 8.7 points and nearly four assists a game in 32

starts. Asking a true freshman to direct the offense in the Big Ten

is usually a tough task, and Payne predictably struggled with over

three turnovers a game.

McCaffery said Payne came back in great shape, and the Hawkeyes

will be asking him to create his own offense as well as that of his

teammates.

”I want him to look for his shot more than he did last year. He

wants to run the offense, he wants to set his teammates up, he

wants to engineer victories,” McCaffery said. ”But I need him to

score.”

Of the holdovers from Lickliter’s final team, none might benefit

more from the switch to a faster style of play than sophomore Eric

May.

May, a 6-foot-5 small forward, seemed at times to be a bad fit

for Lickliter’s slowdown style. May’s athleticism allowed him to

lead the Big Ten in blocks by a freshman with 26, and his best

moments seemed to come when he got free in transition.

”He’s got blinding speed. He’s one dribble, dunk from one step

beyond the 3-point line. He’s that explosive,” McCaffery said.

”When I watch film from last year, I think the one guy that was

most hampered by the slower style was Eric May. You could see that

he wanted to go sometimes, and they were pulling him back.”

McCaffery also persuaded junior Matt Gatens, who’s played every

position but center for the undermanned Hawkeyes, to drop 15 pounds

and slip into a permanent role at shooting guard.

The Hawkeyes are counting on junior college transfer Bryce

Cartwright to spell Payne, which is something Payne didn’t have a

year ago. Freshman forwards Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe and

freshman guard Devyn Marble will likely be asked to add depth early

on and, if they progress, to contribute even more.

Iowa isn’t expected to challenge for the title in the Big Ten,

which could be as deep as it’s been in years. But win or lose, the

Hawkeyes should be more exciting than they were a year ago, when

the slower pace seemed to bother fans as much as all that

losing.

The Hawkeyes averaged just 9,550 fans at home games a year ago,

drawing less than 10,000 a night to Carver-Hawkeye for the first

time since it opened in 1983.

”This is a sophisticated fan base. They know what good

basketball is. They’ve seen it,” McCaffery said. ”It’s incumbent

upon me to make sure that not only do we change our style of play,

but we do it in a way that’s going to help us win games.”

Payne took it one step further, pleading his case for why Iowa

fans should fill the gym and support the Hawkeyes the way they used

to.

”If people want to see dunks and wide-open 3s and a fun style

of play … this is the place to be,” he said.