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IOWA CITY — The dawn of another Iowa men’s basketball season breaks Friday, as Chicago State comes to Carver-Hawkeye Arena for an 8 p.m. tip, followed by Alabama State at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Given the talent gap between the Hawkeyes and their opening-weekend opponents, it’s fair to expect head coach Fran McCaffery to continue whatever testing and experimenting he and his staff have done with the team’s rotation during practice and in the pair of exhibitions.
In fact, that won’t end anytime soon.
Any talk of a timetable for what the Hawkeyes are going to do and what minutes each player will have specifically is far from set in stone.
“You know, there really isn’t (a timetable),” McCaffery said. “We’ll just go with what we’ve got.”
What they’ve got are 12 guys who played 9.5 minutes per game or more in the exhibitions. They’ve got 13 guys who McCaffery wants to play regularly.
From Tyler Cook and Jordan Bohannon to Dom Uhl and Maishe Dailey, it’s both the frontcourt and backcourt that has guys going in and out.
The hand-wringing over whether or not McCaffery will be able to get the most talent on the floor possible for as long a time as possible has been consistent from mid-last season through now. McCaffery himself has said certain players — Thursday he mentioned Ahmad Wagner as one of them — deserve to play more than they’ve gotten to at times.
Such is life when you believe in the talent of so many players on your roster.
Whatever happens behind closed doors and however it goes at practice, the players who were available Thursday — Cook, Wagner, Bohannon, Isaiah Moss, Jack Nunge and Nicholas Baer — all offered a unified voice in saying the hand-wringing is unnecessary.
It’s not like any of them are happy when they’re on the bench. They all want to play, and they’re competing with vigor against one another in that effort. But in terms of the team’s success, who’s on the floor when shouldn’t matter.
That’s from the players themselves.
“We know what each player’s capable of,” Wagner said. “Every group we have out there is capable of doing a lot. That’s what our depth does. Our first five, we could go five out and five in, and you’d have the same scoring, the same defense. The whole team is deep, and I think that’s what Coach is trying to say when he’s trying to get everyone in the game.”
Their belief in that sentiment is important, of course. Confidence matters a great deal. Bohannon told a story Thursday about his playing golf in the offseason to improve his focus and his precision, which he believes translates directly to the basketball court.
Confidence in your golf shot makes a round go much smoother, he said. Confidence in yourself and the guys around you — whoever they are, whenever they are — makes things go much smoother, too.
Bohannon said Thursday not to expect him to play 35 minutes per game in these first few. He didn’t offer specifics about a set number of minutes, but Connor McCaffery will be well-used in these opening games with the goal of preserving some miles for himself, Bohannon said.
Fran said Thursday Iowa hasn’t practiced much with Bohannon and Connor on the floor at the same time — something Iowa did for a couple long stretches in the exhibitions — because he wanted to get Moss back in the fold “and get him comfortable” after missing more than a week with the right foot/ankle injury.
The backcourt rotation is just as fluid as the frontcourt is, with Bohannon and Connor the main options at point guard, but Brady Ellingson also sliding over once in a while. How Moss and Ellingson rotate and how much both are used isn’t yet clear. How often Jack Nunge plays on the wing in a big lineup isn’t yet clear.
“It should be an interesting dynamic, but it should be fun,” Bohannon said. “There’s not one kid on the team that’s the same skill-wise. We’re all different players. We’re looking at it, too. There’s a lot of guys who can play this year. We’re all fighting for minutes. It’s about beating the guy in front of you, and that’s adding a different level of competitiveness.”
The first three or four weeks’ rotation will be without Baer for sure, whose broken left pinkie finger didn’t require surgery but will require a patient healing process. Baer said it was a fluke deal in practice where two players swiped at the ball and the result was what he thought was just a badly jammed finger.
While he’s out, Wagner figures to get most of Baer’s minutes. He’ll float inside and out, depending on whether or not Cook, Nunge, Luka Garza, Cordell Pemsl, Ryan Kriener or Uhl are in.
But when he’s back, the ensuing distribution of playing time was met with a collective shrug. The players certainly can’t control who Fran calls out from the end of the bench.
Maybe, if the players are true to their word, it won’t matter.
“I just go out and play basketball; the rotation stuff is up to the coaching staff, so my job is to go out and do what I’m supposed to do,” Cook said. “It’s a good question to ask. We’ve got a lot of guys who can play. It’ll unfold itself. I think Coach made a good point back at media day. It doesn’t matter what lineup we have on the floor, we’ve got guys that can score, guys that can defend, we’ll have athleticism, guys that are long and can make shots. Regardless of the lineup, there should be no drop-off.”
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