Fran McCaffery is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament. He has made at least one appearance with every school at which he has coached (Lehigh, North Carolina-Greensboro, Siena, and Iowa). Coming off his second consecutive 20 win season behind the bench in Iowa City, McCaffrey's Hawkeyes will have to weather a few tough out of conference games if they want to make a trip back to the Tournament.
Iowa's non-conference schedule gets a jumpstart this year when they will play in the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 20 and 21. They will open with the Texas Longhorns on the 20th. Iowa has matched up with Texas four times previously on neutral courts, and the all-time series is tied 2-2, with Iowa winning the first two (1992, 2004) and Texas winning the two more recent tilts (2005, 2009). If the Hawkeyes knock off the Longhorns, a matchup with the Syracuse Orange will likely await them in the 2K Classic Championship Game, provided Syracuse can beat California. Iowa and Syracuse have not faced off since 1980, when Iowa knocked off the top-seeded Orange in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament.
Gone are the days of Iowa being a down on their luck program getting spoon-fed weak ACC teams in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge as they did in the first two years of the McCaffery Era, Wake Forest and Clemson, both losses. 2012-2013 was a good season overall for the Hawkeyes, but they still could not get a win over the pesky ACC, falling to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. 2013 finally saw a victory for the Hawkeyes as they knocked off Notre Dame.
This season, however, will undoubtedly bring forth Iowa's toughest test of the Big Ten/ACC challenge this decade, when on December 3, they will travel to Chapel Hill to face the North Carolina Tar Heels. Even if you do not explicitly follow the ACC, you should know that North Carolina is good at home. They have been good at home since Michael Jordan played there, and not much has changed. This is easily going to be the toughest game of the year for the Hawkeyes.
Finally, the Cy-Hawk Series will celebrate it's tenth year in existence, and perhaps both basketball squads are better than they have ever been, as Iowa State is coming off an appearance in the Sweet Sixteen last season. The Cyclones currently lead the overall series 5-4, however the game will be played in Iowa City on December 12, and the home team has won each of the past three seasons.
If Iowa can manage to win two of these four games, the rest of their non-conference schedule will be a breeze, and they should be in great shape heading into conference play, and be able to capture their third consecutive 20-win season, and second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.