Trading places: Iowa men's basketball down, Nebraska up

Hawkeyes take on much-improved Huskers in Lincoln

Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon (3) dribbles around Nebraska's Glynn Watson Jr. during the Hawkeyes' 81-70 win over the Huskers last Feb. 5 in Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Reese Strickland/USA TODAY Sports)
Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon (3) dribbles around Nebraska's Glynn Watson Jr. during the Hawkeyes' 81-70 win over the Huskers last Feb. 5 in Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Reese Strickland/USA TODAY Sports)

Role reversal.

Midway through the Big Ten men’s basketball season.

Nebraska is 6-4 and in fifth-place in the conference, in the hunt for an NCAA tournament berth. Iowa is 2-7 and tied for 12th.

The Hawkeyes and Huskers tangle Saturday night (7:07, BTN) in Lincoln’s Pinnacle Bank Arena, having exchanged their usual places in the league’s hierarchy.

Nebraska’s Big Ten records were 5-13, 6-12 and 6-12 the last three seasons compared to Iowa’s 12-6, 12-6 and 10-8. But basketball interest is greater than it’s been in Lincoln since the Huskers made their only NCAA tournament appearance of this millennium, in 2014. Nebraska averages 15,316 fans per home game.

“It’s as tough if not the toughest road environment in the league,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Friday, “with a really good veteran team and really good coach (Tim Miles).”

Forward Tyler Cook, Iowa’s leading scorer, has practiced with the team since its 85-67 win over Wisconsin in Iowa City Tuesday night. He turned an ankle midway through the second half and didn’t return to action.

Meanwhile, McCaffery said reserves Brady Ellingson and Ryan Kriener still are in concussion protocol and haven’t practiced.

Nebraska, on the other hand, apparently is bringing all of its solid eight-man rotation to this game. Two are juniors playing their first seasons for the Huskers, and playing extremely well.

James Palmer Jr., a 6-foot-6 forward, is a transfer from Miami who averages a team-high 16.7 points. He had a career-high 34 points Monday in Nebraska’s 64-59 loss at Ohio State.

Isaac Copeland, a 6-9 forward, averages 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds. He transferred to Nebraska from Georgetown.

“Those are two of the better players in the league, plus they’re veteran guys,” McCaffery said. “Both play big, but both have terrific perimeter skills.”

The Huskers also have a senior point guard in Glynn Watson Jr. Watson was a recruit McCaffery’s staff pursued out of Bellwood, Ill. Watson had 34 points in Nebraska’s 93-90 double-overtime win over Iowa in Lincoln last year.

For the Hawkeyes, tonight’s mission is simple enough.

“Play more like we did the other night (against Wisconsin),” McCaffery said.

“To win in this league you’ve got to play that way all the time. ... Now can you do it again, and again, and again, and again?”

Thursday’s news about Hawkeye basketball — not originally released by Iowa — was that last Nov. 29 the school extended McCaffery’s contract through June 2023 with a $10.2 million buyout if terminated before July 1, 2018, and the payout decreasing slightly in each following year of the contract.

McCaffery and Iowa athletics director Gary Barta released short statements about it Thursday after that story broke.

“Not hiding anything,” McCaffery said on his Friday teleconference. “I had a contract before and I still have one.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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