NCAA tournament is the bar for Iowa

The Iowa men’s basketball program hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2006. That seven-year drought followed back-to-back appearances in the Big Dance in 2005 and 2006.

Fran McCaffery’s arrival in 2010 reignited a sense of hope for the program’s supporters. Last year, the Hawkeyes earned 25 victories, the second-highest win tally in the school’s history. They finished 9-9 in the Big Ten. They were 44th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 22nd in adjusted deficiency, per Ken Pomeroy.

But that wasn’t sufficient for the Hawkeyes to earn a slot in the Big Dance.

The latter is the most significant aspiration for the program in 2013-14.

Iowa returns its key players from last season. Roy Devyn Marble (15.0 PPG) is the star of a talented roster that should make strides this season.

In comments he made during the team’s media day on Wednesday, McCaffery acknowledged that the bar is higher for this year’s team.

From the Quad City Times’ Don Doxsie:

He and his predecessors often have had to sit in front of reporters at preseason media day and try to whip up enthusiasm for the team they were going to put on the court that season. McCaffery now finds himself trying -- at least a little -- to temper the enthusiasm that surrounds the Hawkeyes.

He’s not very good at it. The truth seeps through. McCaffery, like almost everyone else, thinks he has a pretty good basketball team.

“I don't think there's any doubt that we are excited that people think enough of our team to rank us in the top 25 and project us to be in the NCAA tournament,’’ McCaffery said Wednesday at the Hawkeyes’ media day. “That's exciting. It's an accomplishment for some of the guys who have been here and haven't had that before. But the reality is now we have to go out and do it.’’

McCaffery talked about not believing what all the experts are saying and having the maturity to cope with higher expectations.

“I just want to get better,’’ he added later while chatting with a few reporters. “Obviously, we’d like to win a Big Ten championship. Are we capable of doing it? Absolutely. A number of other teams feel the same way ... But it’s a reasonable goal.’’

A Big Ten title is certainly an ambitious goal.

Iowa is among the league’s sleepers. But Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State comprise a formidable triumvirate that will be difficult to surpass.

It would be a disappointment, however, if the Hawkeyes missed the NCAA tournament this season.

The NIT won’t suffice.

Not this year.

This is McCaffery’s fourth season. The program has a renovated Carver-Hawkeye Arena that features a new practice facility. He has brought nationally ranked recruits to Iowa City. And he’s retained key veterans who will lead this season.

This is the season when it all has to come together for Iowa.

It’s NCAA tournament or bust for a program that has its best roster in nearly a decade.

McCaffery could run from the expectations. But he’s embracing them, albeit with a somewhat subtle approach. It’s just a matter of time to see if his squad has the same attitude.