NEW YORK — Despite the oversized pizzas that were available for every University of Iowa men's basketball player following Thursday’s 20-point championship loss to Baylor in the National Invitation Tournament, Fran McCaffery hopes the Hawkeyes left Madison Square Garden hungry.
The Iowa coach wants the same motivation and cohesion that led the Hawkeyes to the program’s most successful season in seven years to become constants as the program moves forward.
“Those things which made us competitive and made us a hungry basketball team throughout the season, they need to continue to exist,’’ McCaffery said. “There are lot of big things in front of us, things we haven’t gotten done. Hopefully, we’ll remain a real hungry team.’’
Iowa feasted on 25 wins in its 38 games – equaling the second most ever by a Hawkeye team – and with Eric May the only senior seeing significant playing time increased expectations will greet Iowa when the 2013-14 season arrives.
That’s something the Hawkeyes can live with.
“Realistically, the next step for us is to compete for a Big Ten championship and play our way into the NCAA tourney and I feel like we are capable of accomplishing both of those things,’’ guard Devyn Marble said, repeating his intentions to return for his senior season.
“There’s still a lot I want to accomplish here and getting to the NCAA tourney, that’s always been an objective of mind. I don’t intend to leave before that happens,’’ Marble said. “There’s a lot to look forward to next season.’’
First, McCaffery wants his team to step back and relax following the longest season Iowa has ever played, stretching from a 31-point win on Nov. 9 against Texas-Pan American to Thursday’s frustrating shooting performance against Baylor nearly five months later.
For Mike Gesell, that creates time for his stress relief injury to heal and for the entire team, it provides an opportunity to shed the aches and pains from the grind of the season.
“Then, they’ve got to go back to work,’’ McCaffery said, pointing to individual skill development sessions and offseason strength and conditioning programs designed to grow players’ games and physical ability.
Iowa expects to benefit from an overseas trip this summer. The Hawkeyes will gain additional practice time prior to traveling to France and England, the latter providing Gabe Olaseni a home game or sorts.
“We’ll incorporate Jared Uthoff and Peter Jok and I think we’ll enter the season next year with a tremendous focus and concentration knowing what we’re capable of but also knowing some of the things that we didn’t do that we now have to go out and do,’’ McCaffery said.
Sophomore Aaron White understands that requires building on the commitment that led Iowa to its first upper-division finish in the Big Ten in seven years, work that begins in the weight room.
“I think we are all excited about the potential, but we realize we must earn it all over again,’’ White said. “Personally, I was pleased with what I did in the nonconference portion of the season, the way I played, but in the Big Ten, I need to be better. People took away what had worked for me a year ago, which I expected them to try, but I need to overcome that.’’
Iowa won 11 of its final 15 games, many coming after Marble shifted to the point following the injury to Gesell.
McCaffery is uncertain who will be the Hawkeyes’ primary point guard next season, whether Gesell will return to that role or if Marble will continue there. He expects that to evolve over time.
“I understand where he’s coming from. I go back and forth on it myself,’’ Marble said. “It may be one of those situations where it changes from game to game or within games based on matchups. I can live with that. I want what’s best for the team. We all do.’’
That is what made the 74-54 loss to Baylor that much more difficult to stomach.
“They know we didn’t play well and I didn’t do a good enough job of preparing them,’’ McCaffery said. “We’re all in this together. … Hopefully what we’ll do is learn from this experience and be better for it.’’