IOWA CITY, IOWA (AP) - The Iowa Hawkeyes don't need to be reminded of the importance of a strong finish. Or the ramifications of a weak one.
Last season, Iowa lost on the road to Wisconsin by 27 points and were thumped at Minnesota, 88-53, in its final two games before the Big Ten tournament.
Though the Hawkeyes hung close before falling to Michigan in the conference tourney, that lackluster road swing seemed to be the final straw for coach Todd Lickliter's tenure in Iowa City.
The Hawkeyes (10-19, 3-14 Big Ten) faded badly Wednesday night in an 85-66 loss at Michigan State, the same team it beat by 20 a month ago.
That's not the kind of tuneup Iowa was hoping for with No. 6 Purdue (25-5, 14-3) set to visit on Saturday, but first-year Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery said Friday that's he not worried about last year's collapse happening again.
"I don't get involved in history. I think every coach in the country wants his team to finish strong," McCaffery said. "I'm not concerned about a road trip that happened last year. I'm just trying to get this team to play better than we played the other night."
Once again, the Hawkeyes have little to play for other than pride as their second straight 20-loss season seems destined to wrap up next week in Indianapolis.
A promising finish could serve as positive reinforcement for the offseason, when McCaffery tries to put together a rotation that can be more competitive in the Big Ten. Iowa is in danger of ending up with the same paltry 10 wins it had a year ago.
"I think we have progressed. I think I had hoped we would progress more," McCaffery said. "I didn't have a win total in my head as far as what I thought this team could accomplish. All I wanted to do was prepare for the next game and try to get better. I think we've done that."
McCaffery singled out the improvements from freshmen Melsahn Basabe, Devyn Marble and Zach McCabe throughout the season, as all three have given fans hope that the days of 20-loss seasons will soon come to an end.
Basabe is eighth in school history for freshmen with 11.2 points a game, with a 57.5 percent shooting mark that ranks second and 200 rebounds, which is third-best for an Iowa freshman. Marble cracked the starting lineup two weeks ago, and McCabe has found his niche as a contributor off the bench.
Marble's ascension to starting status came at the expense of sophomore Eric May, who's come off the bench in three straight games after starting the first 25.
May, a 6-foot-5 wing player from Dubuque who was expected to thrive in McCaffery's up-tempo system, has seen both his points and rebounds decline from a year ago _ and he hasn't scored more than 11 points since the middle of January.
Though May has been an enigma all year, McCaffery said he's been pleased with his defensive versatility and willingness to work through his offensive struggles.
"While he has struggled more from an offensive standpoint, he has been able to be an effective player because of his ability to keep fighting, his ability to play defense, his ability to give us effort and pretty solid play," McCaffery said. "He's just not making as many shots as he was earlier in the year."
The only rotation player the Hawkeyes will lose next season is senior center Jarryd Cole, who was recruited by former coach Steve Alford and stuck it out through Lickliter's tenure even as teammates left.
"His maturity, I don't know that I've seen that in anyone before, for somebody who's been what he's been through. It's his third coach, he's been on losing teams, but his positive approach has never been questioned," McCaffery said. "The only disappointing thing for me is that I won't get to coach him next year and won't have him around, because only good things happen when Jarryd Cole's around."