It's the preseason. If you are here, reading this, I probably don't have to tell you that, but spare me my introduction, please.
With preseason college basketball comes millions of "what if" posts, power rankings and schedule breakdowns from the media masses.
It's been no different here at Bleacher Report. But unlike other NCAA basketball sites that dive into the Dukes and UNCs of the world (though we do have that as well), I give the people what they truly want. Well, at least those patiently waiting for opening tip in Iowa City.
Two weeks ago, I provided some insight on a little ol' team trying to shake up the Big Ten powers that be by breaking down the Hawkeyes' out-of-conference schedule and the necessary wins needed for an NCAA tournament run.
Last week, I discussed the all-important "Fearsome Five" portion of Iowa's Big Ten schedule and Fran's need to somehow coach his team to a 3-2 record after the onslaught of top-conference talent they must face.
Now I'm here asking all of my fellow White Magic devotees to lend me their ears and hearts as I attempt to predict the Hawkeyes' complete Big Ten conference record for the 2012-13 season.
A spectacle you surely won't want to miss.
But before I "wow" the masses, lets take a look at last year. Iowa finished with an 8-10 record in Big Ten play, which was a four-game swing from Coach Fran McCaffery's first season as the commander of Iowa City's basketball team.
Five of those Big Ten loses came within eight points. Three of them were within five.
Think about that for a second.
Iowa was three points away from beating Purdue, four points away from beating Northwestern, five points away from beating Penn State, six points from beating Nebraska and seven points away from beating Purdue again.
Now, it would be hard to argue that last year's team would be able to beat the 2012-13 roster. The influx of talent completely offsets the departures of Matt Gatens, Bryce Cartwright's full-court lob passes and whatever it was Andrew Brommer provided Hawkeyes fans other than comedy, crazy eyes and grainy footage of backwards full-court buckets.
That's just focusing on the incoming recruiting class. That completely neglects the almost guaranteed improvements in Aaron White, Roy Devyn Marble, Josh Ogles"Three" and Zach McCabe's games.
It IS extremely plausible to argue that Iowa, with an all-around improved roster (one that doesn't just depend on Matt Gatens offensively) would be able to AT LEAST turn two or three of those loses into wins in 2012-13. Just like in the NBA, you have to lose before you can win. I am a firm believer in that. A team has to feel the pain of continuously losing close games. They have to get slapped in the face before being able to get over the hump. They need to see how other teams close those games out at the wire and add that to their repertoire.
This year, Iowa should be able to do that, and it starts with their coach and his proven ability to build teams up.
Take a look back at Fran's career. Before he went on to be an assistant coach at Notre Dame, McCaffery coached a Lehigh team to a 13-15 record (6-8 in conference), a 15-14 overall record (8-6 conference record) and a 21-10 overall record (8-6 conference record) as well as an NCAA tournament bid in his last season.
Three seasons. Three giant steps forward.
He did it two separate times at North Carolina Greensboro. Beginning in 1999, the Spartans finished 15-13 (9-7 in conference), 19-12 (10-6 in conference) with an NCAA bid and 20-11 (11-5 in conference) with an NIT bid. Then again in 2002, UNC-Greensboro went from an ugly 7-22 (3-13 in conference), to 11-17 (7-9 in conference) and 18-12 (9-7 in conference).
And just for the record, McCaffery did it again at Siena—only this time there was no fallback. In his first year, the Saints were a 15-13 team (10-8 in conference). Then the "white" magic happened. In 2006, Fran coached Siena to a 20-12 record (12-6 in conference). He topped that in 2007 with a 23-11 record (13-5 in conference) and an NCAA tournament win. In 2008, it was much of the same. Fran's team finished 27-8 (16-2 in conference) and again made it to the Round of 32. Then, in his finest regular season to date, in 2009, Siena finished 27-7 (17-1 in conference) with yet another NCAA bid.
The buzz around Iowa this year is that Fran will once again improve upon the ground work he has previously laid, just as he has shown he is capable of doing during his entire coaching tenure.
Iowa plays both Nebraska and Penn State twice this year. That should be four locked-up wins right off the bat. You have to beat the teams you ought to beat in college basketball, and Iowa ought to beat both of those programs. They also have to play Illinois in Carver Hawkeye Arena, which I'm counting as another win.
That's five wins altogether so far. After that, I believe Iowa will at the very least split against Purdue, Wisconsin and Northwestern. I am going on the conservative side here because personally, I think Iowa can sweep Northwestern and possibly Wisconsin, as Fran seemed to have Bo Ryan and his Badgers' number last year.
That's an eight-win season at least. But based on McCaffery's coaching history, the Hawkeyes won't be done.
I'm still not sure how to view the matchups with Minnesota this year. They seem to be getting a lot of love with the return of Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, which I understand but don't fully believe. I think Iowa can at least split the series against the Golden Gophers and win at home in front of a hostile Hawk's Nest on Feb. 17.
So there is the ninth win of the Big Ten schedule and yet another season of improvement under Fran McCaffery—but I'm not done there.
I think Iowa will win one of the following three games: Dec. 31 at home against Indiana, Jan. 6 at Michigan or Jan. 10 at home against Michigan State.
Look, the Big Ten is the toughest league in the NCAA. To steal a few words from ESPN fantasy guru Matthew Berry, the conference is "crazy deep." Teams are going to fall to teams they can beat nine times out of 10.
I'll be the first one to admit Iowa should lose to Indiana, Michigan State and Michigan this year, but banking on the fact that that scenario will happen just isn't a safe bet to make.
Honestly, I think the Hawkeyes finish with a 10-8 record in the Big Ten (though I wouldn't be surprised if they finished 11-7 or 9-9). The Big Ten is weird. Just when you think a team is turning the corner on the season, they lose at home against a 4-14 Nebraska team. It's going to happen to everyone.
If Iowa can get to a 10-8 Big Ten conference record and win a game during the conference tournament in Chicago, that equation would surely mean a NCAA tournament bid, and that's what this is all about after all.
Remember, Purdue was the sixth Big Ten team with an NCAA tournament bid last season after completing almost the exact same scenario (10-8 conference schedule and a Big Ten tournament win over Nebraska). With Fran's track record and a veteran team that has been through the basketball ringer, all signs point to Iowa finally getting back to the NCAA tournament.