Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa men's basketball eager to battle other teams instead of COVID-19

Fran McCaffery expects 27-game slate, one of them against Iowa State

Iowa's Luka Garza, CJ Fredrick and Joe Wieskamp celebrate their men's basketball win at Iowa State last Dec. 1 in Hilton
Iowa’s Luka Garza, CJ Fredrick and Joe Wieskamp celebrate their men’s basketball win at Iowa State last Dec. 1 in Hilton Coliseum. The three combined to average 48.1 points per game last season and all are back for another go-round. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

The Iowa men’s basketball team doesn’t know which nonconference teams it will play this season or when it will play them, but expects to face seven of them.

So said Hawkeyes Coach Fran McCaffery Tuesday about a season that can’t start until Nov. 25, three weeks later than usual.

“There’s no way we could pin down anything right now and be definitive,” McCaffery said. “So I don’t think it would be fair to talk about, OK, we’re going to play these teams. We feel good about some of these games, but nothing’s set yet.”

He said his team will play 27 games, counting two from a four-team multi-team event (MTE) Iowa would host. He’s confident the Iowa State-Iowa game will be played as usual. Nothing has been set regarding the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but nothing has indicated it won’t be held.

Tuesday night, CBSsports.com reported the Hawkeyes will play Gonzaga in what could be a meeting of preseason top-five teams in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Dec. 19. Iowa originally was going to play Oregon State there on Dec.. 22.

Teams can begin preseason practice on Oct. 14. That’s around the time the Hawkeyes will go from weekly COVID-19 tests to daily ones.

“We’re spending the money for the antigen testing,” McCaffery said, “which I think is probably the best thing to happen because it allows people who test negative consistently to continue to participate or not have to quarantine for 21 days when they repeatedly test negative.”

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The coronavirus has kicked the Hawkeyes around this summer. On a podcast he co-hosts, Iowa senior guard Jordan Bohannon broke news to the outer world by saying seven players on his team had tested positive for the virus. In a later interview, he said he was among them and suffered more from it than any teammate, with bad headaches, chills, fever and vomiting.

“I’m not going to get into names and numbers,” McCaffery said, “but I can tell you it was a broad range of symptoms or how they felt. We experienced it all.

“We had two situations where they tested positive and they had no symptoms at all, they felt great. With others, it was (loss of) taste and smell. Some were sick.

“That’s the weird thing about this, it affected people differently. And some recovered quicker than others.”

Relatively few teams in the nation have as great a desire for the coming season to be played from start to finish as the Hawkeyes. Their last season ended in Indianapolis in a bad way, with their Big Ten tournament quarterfinal — and subsequently, the rest of the season — canceled because of the pandemic. Iowa finished 20-11, and will always wonder how deep it could have gone in the league and NCAA tourneys.

The Hawkeyes want this season to end in Indy, too, because that would mean they were at the 2021 Final Four.

You can’t get there without talent, and Iowa has an ample supply led by first-team All-America center Luka Garza. You usually don’t get there without experience, and the Hawkeyes have seven returnees who have combined for 362 career starts

However, the team’s best asset this season could be depth. Those seven veterans are joined by redshirt freshman wing Patrick McCaffery and five first-year frosh.

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“You could lose veteran guys in one week or maybe you lose one veteran guy each game,” McCaffery said. “And so now you’re dealing with a situation where maybe it’s better to be the deepest team. Because maybe the best ability is availability.”

In the meantime, nonconference possibilities are being batted around along with discussions about how to stage the games, whether there should be fans and how many, and how to keep the teams as safe as possible. Easy answers are hard to come by.

“There are just a lot of unprecedented questions and decisions that have to be made,” said McCaffery. “I’ve been on so many Zoom calls the last three weeks about this very topic. And every time we seem like we’re getting closer there’s still questions.

“I suspect we’ll start the season and there still might be questions. We’ll do the best we can.”

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

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