After six years, Connor McCaffery finally took off his black-and-gold uniform for the final time in the Hawkeyes’ NCAA tournament loss against Auburn. It wasn’t the way he wanted to end his time in Iowa City, although it’s certainly a better performance than his last Big Ten game against Ohio State. As it is, his time at Iowa leaves a bit of a mixed legacy.
On one hand, Iowa basketball is now a perennial NCAA tournament team. That’s where the Hawkeyes were used to being two decades ago, and it’s now where the program expects to be again. Over McCaffery’s six years at Iowa, the Hawkeyes made four NCAA tournaments and would have made a fifth if not for COVID. Most Iowa fans remember the days of Todd Lickliter, and you won’t find one who wants to return to that.
On the other, Iowa is also now a perennial NCAA tournament flameout. The Hawkeyes have made four straight NCAA tournament appearances. They haven’t played in a Sweet 16 game since 1999. That’s just not good enough at a program like Iowa.
It’s not Michigan State by any means, but it’s also not Northwestern. The Hawkeyes should be making the tournament regularly, which they are, but they also should be reaching the regionals once every three to five years. They’re now sitting on 24 years without appearing in the tournament’s second weekend.
So how will Connor McCaffery be remembered? Here’s a look at his time wearing a Hawkeye jersey. And now that the Hawkeyes are out you can still bet on March Madness in Iowa here.
This is an absolute dime from Connor McCaffery.
The court vision. Off the bounce. Perfect placement leading to the Kris Murray flush.
That’s the sauce. pic.twitter.com/KvZmUpk55i
— Ben Stevens (@BenScottStevens) March 17, 2023
The Successes: He Made His Teammates Better
The most important thing to know about Connor McCaffery is that he knew his role and executed it well. He was never a big star at Iowa, but that wasn’t his job. His job was to recognize Iowa’s talented players and get them the ball, while avoiding mistakes of his own.
And he did that expertly whenever he was on the floor. With 527 assists to his name, he ranks sixth all-time in Hawkeye history. Not only that, but he didn’t force things that weren’t there. Most top point guards get an assist-to-turnover ratio of between 2.0 and 3.0, meaning they’re registering twice to three times as many assists as turnovers. McCaffery’s was 3.93, almost four times as many assists.
In Iowa’s offense, that’s a lot of assists, because the Hawkeyes play so fast that they get a lot of possessions.
That’s where McCaffery excelled. Conor knew what his teammates’ strengths were and he knew how to make sure they could take advantage of their talents. He didn’t try to be something he wasn’t, and he didn’t try to force plays to happen.
He made his college career out of taking what the defense had to give him, which isn’t common in the modern game. Iowa ran its offense through more talented scorers like Luka Garza, Jordan Bohannon and Keegan Murray, but McCaffery was often the man getting Iowa’s scorers the ball when they needed it.
Connor McCaffery’s Iowa career has come to a close. Has an emotional embrace with his father as he fouls out. pic.twitter.com/6VOkcLgoEt
— David Eickholt (@DavidEickholt) March 17, 2023
The Negatives: March Wasn’t His Moment
College basketball has been judged in March for decades. Ever since the NCAA started allowing at-large bids in 1975, players, teams and coaches have been judged by what they do in the postseason. And the reality is that not only did Iowa not do the job with McCaffery on the floor in March, but McCaffery himself didn’t have his best games in the postseason.
During his time in Iowa City, McCaffery played in 15 Big Ten tournament and NCAA tournament contests. Only three times did he manage to top three assists. For a player who built his career on assists, that just cannot happen. The Hawkeyes didn’t get the ball where it needed to be often enough in the postseason, which led directly to losses to the likes of Richmond and Auburn in the first round over the past two years.
It’s certainly not all McCaffery’s fault that the Hawkeyes couldn’t do the job in March. Iowa was spent after the Big Ten tournament title last year, and playing Auburn in Birmingham simply wasn’t a fair draw. But the results are what they are, and McCaffery never made it past round two of the tournament. That’s a negative on his career at Iowa.
Reality kicks in for Connor McCaffery and Iowa pic.twitter.com/RMpGjPclnq
— Mark Titus Show (@MarkTitusShow) March 17, 2023
How Should Iowa Fans View Connor McCaffery?
The good outweighs the bad for McCaffery, who was a useful player during his time at Iowa. But the bad can’t be completely ignored and won’t be until Iowa finally breaks through and reaches the tournament’s second weekend. McCaffery’s time with the Hawkeyes will mostly be viewed as successful, as he’s helped make Iowa relevant in the Big Ten and relevant in the national conversation. For this program, which matters.
But Iowa’s still underachieving somewhat, and McCaffery is part of that responsibility. That rates his time in Iowa around a solid B-grade. He leaves the program in better shape than it was when he got to Iowa City, and he contributed a lot of solid play to the Hawkeyes. Now, Iowa has to find the players who can help it take the next step and try to get back to being one of the top 16 teams in the nation.
Thank you to all of the loyal Hawkeye fans ❤️ truly left it all out there. It has been an honor!
— Connor McCaffery (@connor_m30) March 17, 2023
Credits on Featured Image: APImages/Digital License