Fran flips out: Did McCaffery tirade cost Hawkeyes the game?

Fran flips out: Did McCaffery tirade cost Hawkeyes the game?
January 6, 2014, 10:45 am
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Vinnie Duber

In case you missed it, Fran McCaffery flipped out.

Midway through the second half of Iowa's game against Wisconsin, a game the Hawkeyes had led the whole way to that point, the Iowa head coach decided he wasn't too happy with the officiating, and he let the fellows in the striped shirts know about it.

Here's video of the outburst from Big Ten Network:

McCaffery's tirade earned him a pair of technical fouls and an ejection. By the time he was off the court and the Badgers finished shooting the free throws awarded to them after the technicals, the Hawkeyes trailed. And they wouldn't see the lead the rest of the night, eventually falling, 75-71, in Madison.

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While McCaffery wouldn't expand on the specific reason he was upset in his post game press conference, TV replays made a good guess, highlighting a foul that wasn't called while Iowa was on the offensive end followed by a foul called on Iowa on the defensive end. The disparity in those calls might have been what set the coach off.

Regardless, the ejection was no doubt the turning point in the game, both in the most basic terms of the score and in the more complicated terms of the game's emotion. So the big question that needs answering is this: Did McCaffery's tantrum and ensuing ejection cost Iowa the game?

McCaffery offered a simple answer to that question in his post game press conference:

"No."

He has a good point. Wisconsin had been building momentum and closing the gap well before that moment. Iowa played a terrific first half, suffocating the Badgers defensively, not allowing them to get anything inside. Wisconsin sharp-shooter Ben Brust was held in check, and the Hawkeyes were able to get the ball to the basket on the offensive end. That changed in the second half, as the Badgers started making the shots they weren't in the first 20 minutes. Iowa's lead, which was 35-24 at the half, was just 41-39 when McCaffery went off.

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So, it could be very well argued that the game slipped away from Iowa simply because momentum was already on the Badgers' side and the four straight Brust makes on those technical free throws simply pushed the score over the edge. McCaffery argued just that.

"At that point, we were not the same as we were in the first half. I think that's safe to say. At the start of the second half — and you could talk about any number of reasons why that was the case. And the momentum was shifting, clearly, for a variety of reasons, some of which is under our control, some of it's not," he said. "I thought, 'If I'm going to get a "T," there's 12, 13 minutes to go. There's time for us to figure out we're going to play better, we're going to play tougher, we're going to play smarter than we were playing.' And I think we did that."

But, on the other hand, the Badgers did outscore the Hawkeyes, 36-30, following the ejection. Momentum is a big thing, and though it might have already been in possession of Wisconsin, the game's seminal event pushed it squarely onto the Badgers' side.

McCaffery thinks there's a more basketball-specific reason his team was defeated.

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"I think we lost the game at the start of the second half. We got Brust going, we don't pick him up, we quick-shot the ball. You can't go on the road against a ranked team and quick-shoot the ball when the momentum is shifting," he said. "That's just not how you want to play against a team that's as disciplined and has as many weapons as Wisconsin has. And so that's what we were trying to guard against, and at that point I wasn't happy with what we were doing there."

As a post script, McCaffery and Iowa athletics director Gary Barta released a statement on Monday in the wake of the incident.

“I want to apologize for my emotional reaction during Sunday night’s game at Wisconsin," McCaffery's statement read. "I have great passion and respect for the game of basketball and everyone involved in it. I regret that my actions put our program and the University of Iowa in a negative light. I look forward to working with my staff and my players to move forward and compete for a championship.”