After securing the biggest win in his four-year tenure as Iowa head coach on Sunday, Fran McCaffery now faces the challenge of keeping it in perspective for his players. The Hawkeyes are in unchartered waters for this team and for the program as a whole.
Iowa (14-3 overall) moved to 3-1 in the Big Ten after a gutsy 84-74 win at then-No. 3 Ohio State. The Hawkeyes sat above .500 in the league after four games for just the fourth time in the last 15 years and beat a Top 5 team for the first time since 2001.
Iowa gets a break before playing host to Minnesota Sunday (noon CT, BTN). The No. 20 Hawkeyes can move to 4-1 in conference play for the first time since '98-99, Tom Davis' final season as head coach.
Fans still were basking in the glory of the Ohio State win on Monday. The Hawkeyes showed up on the front pages of major media web sites. They're were being consider a serious conference title contender.
"It's like anything else, it's probably too early to speculate on those things but it's kind of the nature of things," McCaffery said on the Big Ten teleconference Monday morning. "You're going to project and you're going to hope and you're going to try to honestly evaluate. There are a lot of people that will say, "Hey, we really like this team."
"I love my team. That said, we've only played four games in league play. We've got a lot more to go. The league is so evenly balanced I think the challenge is can we consistently perform at the level that we have so far."
Iowa boasts a veteran roster, which should help it handle the praise directed towards it.
"Last year, we were a young team," McCaffery said. "This year, I didn't consider us a young team. I felt like it was time for us to play the way that we played (at Ohio State on Sunday). Then the reality is that you have to go out and do it."
The Hawkeyes three losses had come to Top 10 teams away from home. They fell at Iowa State and Wisconsin as well as to Villanova on a neutral court. They led all of those games at halftime.
It looked Sunday like Iowa's second-half hurdle against top teams would not be cleared. The Buckeyes shot out to a nine-point lead with about 12 minutes to play in the game. This time, the Hawkeyes would not be denied.
"We got down nine and the crowd was involved," McCaffery said. "We just really maintained our composure at that point in the game. That was big step for us because even then it was back to even. It wasn't like we had a lead. We had to get home from there."
That, the Hawkeyes did.
"We had a number of opportunities in that game to go away and we just kept coming," McCaffery said. "I'm very proud of my team and how we performed."
Iowa played a 2-3 zone for much of the afternoon after opening up in a man-to-man defense against the Buckeyes. OSU started to figure it out during the stretch where it built a nine-point advantage. McCaffery stayed with it.
"It's interesting because we didn't come into the game expecting to play as much zone as we did,' McCaffery said. "The way the game started, our man was fine. They made run at us and we broke down a few times so we went to the zone.
"The interesting thing was in that one stretch they started ball screening and running a guy under and spacing us appropriately. They ran really good stuff. We weren't getting to where we needed to get to. Normally, I'll get out of it there because they were scoring. But I felt like it we could make a couple of adjustments, we could stay in it and be effective."
The Buckeyes managed just nine points in the game's final six minutes. Iowa scored 22 in that stretch.
McCaffery placed the win in its proper context with 14 conference contests remaining.
"Every game in this league you have to be ready," he said. "It's just part of a journey. For us, (Sunday) was a big step."