IOWA CITY — What Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery does with his lineups has been a focus of much debate throughout this still-relatively-young season.
The Hawkeyes have gone big far more than they’ve gone small, but that’s mostly a case of numbers. Iowa averages 6-foot-7 across the board, and has played extended stretches in which Nicholas Baer was playing as the de facto shooting guard.
Those big lineups’ effectiveness has been up and down. The smaller lineups — which have been much fewer and farther between — have had the same uneven effectiveness.
So despite Iowa facing a Drake team that almost exclusively runs with a four-guard lineup, what McCaffery and Co. do Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena isn’t going to change much.
“We’re going to move some guys in and out, move them around — had to move them around based on injury,” McCaffery said. “We were going really big. We’ve gone small. We did a little bit of that in practice where we’re looking at one unit versus another unit. But then it never really works that way because you put a guy in and he plays well. You put a guy in, he doesn’t play well. And then who are you going to go back to? And are you going to shorten your bench in the second half or are you going to just kind of come at them in waves?
“So I don’t know that we’ve really gotten to that point where we can say, OK, this core nucleus of guys is going to stay together. Probably won’t work that way.”
That means guys like 6-foot-7 Nicholas Baer, 6-foot-7 Ahmad Wagner or 6-foot-11 Jack Nunge are going to be guarding guys like 6-foot-3 Ore Arogundade, 6-foot-2 CJ Rivers, 6-foot-2 De’Antae McMurray or 6-foot-3 Jalen Gibbs.
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Though the converse also is true, the speed advantage Drake will have on offense is an example of the most pressing challenge Iowa has in running the aforementioned players at what traditionally is the small forward position.
McCaffery said Tuesday the Bulldogs “challenge you with their action,” and that “when you’ve got that many 3-point shooters, it’s got you all spread out.”
Nunge in particular knows it’s in that area he has to improve and adapt quickly with more challenges like it coming when Big Ten play resumes.
“We need to try to use our length and height to our advantage,” Nunge said. “I think (improvement) comes every day in practice, guarding people like Ahmad, who has a very quick first step, and trying to keep them in front. That’s something that as college has gone on, it’s something I’ve known I need to work on, not guarding those people in high school and coming into college and guarding them right away. I think that’s good for me to get my college career started.”
PEMSL ‘IFFY’ FOR DRAKE
Sophomore forward Cordell Pemsl missed Sunday’s game against Southern after he injured his right leg at Iowa State last week. Pemsl fell while attempting to snag an offensive rebound, hit his leg on a chair courtside and made a trip to the hospital for several stitches to a deep laceration.
Head coach Fran McCaffery said Tuesday Pemsl is “probably iffy for Saturday,” against Drake at the Hy-Vee Classic in Des Moines, “but hopeful. He’s not practicing (Tuesday).”
Pemsl met with media for the first time since the injury and detailed his soreness and frankly how scary the injury was right when it happened.
“It’s not as bad (now) walking or sleeping and stuff like that, but to the touch it’s still pretty painful, and it’ll throb once in a while,” Pemsl said. “It was more of a shock than a pain. It was like getting kicked in the shin, but then looking at it was what really threw me off.
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“Basically it was a hole, that’s what it looked like. Just a hole all the way to my tibia.”
Pemsl said he was still on antibiotics and pain medication when he spoke Tuesday, and that whether or not he’d be able to play against Drake depended upon how manageable his pain would be.
Whether or not he plays at Wells Fargo Arena, Pemsl’s absence is not expected to be long. Given his history with injuries — his leg injury was to the same leg he intentionally had re-broken a few years ago — that much is a relief, he said.
“I’ll see how it feels Thursday,” Pemsl said Tuesday. “I didn’t think it was broken, but I was worried it was going to be. It was more ‘why me?’ I guess. That was the biggest (relief), knowing I’ll be back soon.
“I’m not sure yet (if I’ll play). We’ll find out later this week. (Dealing with pain), getting hit, stuff like that (matters).”
Iowa and Drake tip off at 1 p.m. Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena on BTN.
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