Iowa basketball: If you build it, they will come

Just four years ago, watching an Iowa basketball game at Carver Hawkeye Arena was comparable to sitting in a gigantic sparsely filled library.

Crowd turnout was minimal, and a level of fan excitement nonexistent. Not only were the Hawkeyes a losing team, but only the most die-hard of fans could drum up the interest to watch a boring brand of basketball.

Attendance was so bad that a person could often buy multiple mid-court seats from ticket scalpers for 10-15 dollars apiece (I should know, I personally witnessed my father do so on numerous occasions). Games were often just an excuse for people to go burn a few hours of their day, and maybe grab some pizza or ice cream while they were at it. The arena itself would be so quiet during play that from any of the 15,500 available seats the squeaking of sneakers and bounce of the ball were clearly audible.

In other words, the Iowa program had hit rock bottom.

This photo from 2009 provides a pretty glaring example of just how far the Iowa program had fallen prior to McCaffery's arrival. (Photo Credit: Brian Ray/The Gazette)

This photo from 2009 provides a pretty glaring example of just how far the Iowa program had fallen prior to McCaffery’s arrival. (Photo Credit: Brian Ray/The Gazette)

The Hawkeyes were in desperate need of a change in attitude and fortune, so they turned to Fran McCaffery, a coach known for his up-tempo teams and the ability to turn suffering programs into winners.

From the beginning McCaffery made no secret of his aspirations for the Iowa program. He was intent on bringing back a similar exciting style of play that fans had grown to love about the wildly successful teams of the 80’s and 90’s, and also on filling Carver Hawkeye Arena to the rafters on a consistent basis once again.

While it has undoubtedly been a process, McCaffery’s vision has steadily come to fruition. The program has now risen back towards its past prominence as one of the premier teams in the Big Ten.

Maybe the greatest reflection of that has been the turnout of Iowa fans when their team takes the floor at home.

Prior to the arrival of the current head coach, Iowa had it’s lowest attendance average (9,550) in a season since the inception of Carver Hawkeye Arena. However, in each of McCaffery’s seasons in Iowa City attendance has steadily increased (not coincidentally so have the wins on the court). In fact it was just announced earlier this week that Iowa’s final seven home games of this season are officially sold out.

This is exactly the kind of the support deserved by the 14th ranked team in America. The Hawkeye coaches and players should take great pride in seeing their hard work and improvement pay off.

Alongside of the rise in crowd numbers has been an impressive record of protecting Iowa’s home court.

The Hawkeyes are currently on a 19 game home winning streak, and have a 42-8 record at Carver Hawkeye Arena over the last three years despite being in the process of rebuilding the program. Iowa City has become one of the more difficult places in the Big Ten to win just as it was in the past.

With the continued progression of the program under McCaffery it doesn’t look as though the going will get any easier for Hawkeye opponents in the future either.