Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa basketball rotation staying steady at 11

Hawkeyes used just 8 players down the stretch in win at Illinois, Fran McCaffery sticking to original plan

Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery. (USA TODAY Sports)
Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery. (USA TODAY Sports)

IOWA CITY — Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery has been consistent.

Whether it was during the first losing streak this season, the subsequent winning streak or the most recent losing streak, McCaffery has made it clear his rotation will remain as deep as it’s been.

The questions remain, though, because at Illinois, the minutes-played disparity equaled out to an eight-man rotation, with Jordan Bohannon, Tyler Cook, Isaiah Moss, Luka Garza, Nicholas Baer, Maishe Dailey, Ryan Kriener and Brady Ellingson being the eight players to play double-digit minutes. Cordell Pemsl, Jack Nunge and Ahmad Wagner also got in the game, but Pemsl’s four fouls limited him and Nunge and Wagner played a combined five minutes.

Even as the Hawkeyes (10-9, 1-5 Big Ten) notched their first conference win of the season and only seven of the above-mentioned players were significant contributors down the stretch, McCaffery has stayed true to what he’s said.

“It’ll change all the time depending upon sickness, injury, the opponent, who’s playing well,” McCaffery said. “We’ll move guys in and out.”

Translation: the plan remains the same. The situation will dictate who plays, but the same number of players will remain involved.

McCaffery has said it in different ways and forms this season, but if a shortened number of contributors translated to a better continuity of offense in one game and he didn’t change his thinking, it’s not going to change.

Consider Nunge and Wagner. Both have started games this season, and both have made significant contributions before almost entirely falling off the map in recent weeks.

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In Nunge’s case, McCaffery was asked Tuesday what was up. It’s a common question, considering he rose to a starting position in place of Garza with strong performances against Indiana and Iowa State. But in the last four games, he’s played 22 total minutes and scored five total points — two of which came in the last eight seconds against Michigan, when the game was decided.

McCaffery said he’s “going to do what I can to get him more playing time.” So you can’t just write him off, especially given he’s a freshman.

As far as Wagner goes, the numbers aren’t all that different from Nunge. He’s only been in double-digit points once this season (11 against South Dakota State), and has failed to score in six of his last seven games. He’s played more minutes in the last few than Nunge, but not by a wide margin. He rolled his ankle against Southern Utah, missed the Colorado game and hasn’t been a regular factor since.

McCaffery said Wagner’s drop in minutes has a lot to do with other players playing well situationally.

“Earlier in the season (Nunge) was playing better and he was playing more; that’s kind of how it goes,” McCaffery said. “Baer is playing really well. We’ll still try to get Nunge some minutes. Obviously Cordell, Kriener and Garza are playing well. (Wagner) will be a factor. He was a little under the weather last game, but he still gutted it out. He’s going to be a factor for this team, there’s no question.”

So there’s your 11.

McCaffery also has said previously Dom Uhl would be included, but that hasn’t been the case all season. If his comments about Nunge and Wagner are to be believed in the face of those about Uhl, it’s because they already had been included, and McCaffery especially wants to ensure Nunge rebounds.

In his eighth season, this isn’t new for McCaffery. He’s played at least 10 players in his regular rotation every season he’s been at Iowa, with this year’s 12 (when Connor McCaffery played) being the high.

With so many forwards, his wanting them to play and improvement overall that needs to be made, it’s unsurprising McCaffery was longer-winded on what they’re working on compared to who will play.

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“For us, we’ve got to be able to establish the low post, obviously,” McCaffery said. “We got back after it. You’ve got to stay in peak condition. We’ve worked on ourselves and the game plan for Rutgers.

“We focused on everything — took every component of the game and worked on that.”

Iowa plays at Rutgers at 6 p.m. Wednesday on BTN.

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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