We’re roughly one-third of the way through the Big Ten schedule for men’s and women’s basketball.
There’s a lot of season left. There are also two clear-cut choices for men’s and women’s coach of the year at the moment.
Both are working their sideline magic at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by Lisa Bluder. Her women’s program is one of the most consistent in the Big Ten. Only once has her team finished with a losing record in 19 seasons at Iowa.
“This team has a mission to make people — prove people wrong. They have an opportunity — again, they’ve kind of got a chip on their shoulder a little bit,” said Bluder at media day in October.
I’ll admit, that sounded like coach speak at the time.
She’d never lost a player like Megan Gustafson. With Tania Davis and Hannah Stewart gone to graduation too, a decline into the bottom half of the league wouldn’t have been a surprise.
Instead, Bluder has the Hawks at 13-3 overall and tied for first in the Big Ten. Another 20-win season and NCAA Tournament berth are now within reach.
The expectations for Fran McCaffery’s men’s team were higher to begin the season, even with one of the toughest schedules in program history.
The Hawkeyes are now 3-3 in the Big Ten and 12-5 overall after a 75-62 win over Northwestern on Wednesday. The depth of the conference probably makes an 11-9 or 10-10 record the ceiling for this squad.
Either of those records would be enough for another trip to the NCAA Tournament.
A sub-.500 conference mark places them on the bubble, although the Big Ten could approach the single-season record of 11 bids this March.
The likelihood of a return to the NCAA Tournament was lowered when Jack Nunge was lost with a torn ACL in November.
It was lowered again when Jordan Bohannon shut it down in mid-December.
CJ Fredrick has been banged up all year, most recently missing two-and-a-half games before returning against Northwestern.
That’s three of the top seven players on the roster from the beginning of the season.
And yet, McCaffery has refused to make excuses for his team. They’re still on track for postseason play.
“We’re not the only team in this league that’s going through this. There’s guys injured, there’s guys that leave,” McCaffery said last week. “Bottom line is we have other players that we believe in or they wouldn’t be wearing this uniform. And so that’s an opportunity for them to step up and produce when given the opportunity.”
It’s also an opportunity to shine as a coach. McCaffery’s done just that, along with Bluder.
Iowa basketball is in good hands.
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