IOWA CITY — Eleven games in 35 days, in five different arenas, four different states, three different time zones, and with two Big Ten games.
That’s how the Iowa men’s basketball team starts the 2019-20 season. The Hawkeyes will jump into the fire Monday night when they host the Big East’s DePaul. Texas Tech, Creighton (or San Diego State), Syracuse, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa State will face Iowa before the Hawkeyes contend with a week of semester final exams in mid-December.
“The new normal,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery recently called the scheduling.
It starts Friday night for the Hawkeyes at 8 p.m. when they host Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, obviously not one of the several power conference teams on Iowa’s near horizon.
One way to cope with 11 games in little more than a month is to have 11 players from which to rotate into the lineup. After junior forward Cordell Pemsl sits out Friday’s game to complete his suspension for a DUI arrest in September, the Hawkeyes will be 11-strong.
Tyler Cook, Isaiah Moss and Nicholas Baer — half of Iowa’s top six scorers on last season’s 23-12 NCAA tournament team — are gone. Cook is with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, Baer has earned a spot on the Toronto Raptors’ NBA G League team that opens its season tonight, and Moss is a graduate transfer at Kansas.
But this season’s Hawkeyes aren’t a kiddie corps. Senior guard Jordan Bohannon and senior post player Ryan Kriener know the drill, as does junior forward Luka Garza. Sophomore wing Joe Wieskamp plays like an old hand.
This team has an average age older than most power-conference clubs. Seven Hawkeyes have taken redshirt seasons at some point in their careers.
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Grad transfer guard Bakari Evelyn had to sit out the 2016-17 season when he transferred from Nebraska to Valparaiso. Sophomore point guard Connor McCaffery took a medical redshirt two years ago, and Pemsl did the same last year after opting for knee surgery.
Junior Riley Till and soph Austin Ash redshirted their freshman seasons. Last season, soph forward and freshman guard CJ Fredrick did the same. Both started in Iowa’s exhibition win over Lindsey Wilson Monday night. Both used the year for a lot of time in the weight room.
“I think the redshirt rule is a good one.” Fran McCaffery said. “Somewhere along the way, it seems to be viewed as a negative if you stay around for five years. Everybody wants to transfer and play right away. Everybody wants to be immediately eligible. Everybody wants to apply for a waiver.
“It’s not a horrible thing to be in college for five years. More education, you can start to work on a master’s degree. You can be a bigger, stronger, better athlete, a more-knowledgeable basketball player. I think the rule is in there for a reason, for people to use it. It’s certainly proved so far to be something very valuable for Jack and for CJ in particular.”
Nunge and Garza, both 6-foot-11, were in the same recruiting class, dividing power forward minutes in their freshman seasons. Now they are starting together, with distinctly separate roles. Garza primarily is a low-post player.
“(Nunge) can dribble, pass and shoot, has great range, and we clearly want him shooting that thing out there, as well,” McCaffery said. “He and Luka are a pretty good combination.”
There may be a cornucopia of combinations in the month ahead.
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