When the calendar flips to March, there are certain Big Ten programs that you expect to see in the tournament. Teams that threaten to cut down the nets every year. Teams like Thad Matta's Buckeyes, Bo Ryan's Badgers, and of course Tom Izzo's Spartans. The Iowa Hawkeyes are not yet a program synonymous with March Madness, but Fran McCaffery is trying to change that.
When McCaffery arrived in Iowa in 2010, the Hawkeyes had already missed the tournament in four consecutive seasons, and had not advanced past the round of 64 since 2001. McCaffery brought with him five prior trips to the tourney, all with programs that had less-than-stellar basketball pedigrees. McCaffery became the youngest head coach in Division I when Lehigh hired him in 1985 when he was just 26 years old. He spent three seasons in Pennsylvania with the Mountain Hawks, guiding them to a pair of winning seasons and a birth in the 1988 NCAA Tournament. At the time, McCaffery was the youngest coach to ever reach the tournament.
In 1999, McCaffery accepted a job at UNC Greensboro where he would spend the next six seasons. He amassed a 90-87 record in his time with the Spartans and made one trip the NCAA Tournament during his second season with the program.
From there, McCaffery took the reigns at Sienna, a school with only three trips to the Big Dance in its history. He led the Saints to unprecedented heights, reaching the tournament in three straight seasons from 2008-2010. In each of those three seasons, the Saints captured both the regular season Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title as well as the conference tournament crown. Siena was the only program in the country to pull off the feat in that time span.
McCaffery earned two impressive tournament wins during that stretch. In 2008 the Saints dismantled No. 4 seed Vanderbilt 83-62 before falling to No. 12 seed Villanova in the second round. The win made McCaffery the first ever to take three different programs from one-bid leagues to the NCAA Tournament. The following year Siena was at it again, outlasting Ohio State 74-72 in a double overtime thriller. Again the Saints came up short in the second round, succumbing to No. 1 seed Louisville 79-72.
In each of his first two seasons with Iowa, the Hawkeyes missed out on the Big Dance, landing in the NIT. But in 2014, McCaffrey was able to steer the Hawkeyes to a 21-11 record, earning them one of the final four spots in the tournament, and a play-in game against Tennessee for the No. 11 seed. The Hawkeyes came up just short, losing in overtime 78-65.
After a third consecutive 20-win season, Iowa is in as a No. 7 seed, in search of its first tournament win in more than 15 years. To get that elusive win they will need to get past Davidson, a foe McCaffery should be familiar with from his time in the Southern Conference with UNC Greensboro. The Hawkeyes and Wildcats are set to tip at 7:20 on Friday, March 20 from Key Arena in Seattle Washington.