Iowa Men's Basketball

Weirdest season doesn't diminish high hopes for Iowa men's basketball

Hawkeyes No. 5 in AP preseason Top 25, have Big Ten preseason Player of Year in Luka Garza

Iowa men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery takes off a face mask before speaking to reporters Monday at Carver-Hawkeye A
Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery takes off a face mask before speaking to reporters Monday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Joseph Cress/Associated Press)

IOWA CITY — The NCAA Division I basketball season starts on Nov. 25. The Iowa men’s team doesn’t have yet a schedule.

That’s not normal.

Other than family members of players and coaches, there won’t be fans in Carver-Hawkeye Arena for Hawkeyes games.

That’s not normal.

Monday, Iowa was ranked fifth in Associated Press’ preseason Top 25 and had two players on the Big Ten’s preseason all-conference team.

That’s not normal.

If you could design a team to go through the unpredictability of a season during a pandemic, it’s optimal to have one with these three commodities: Depth, experience and talent.

“We’re much deeper, substantially deeper,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Monday at a scaled-down Media Day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “We’ve got veteran guys coming back who have produced at this level.

“You’ve got a lot of guys that can score, a lot of guys who want to score, a lot of guys who can carry a team on any particular day. ... They move it, they share it, they communicate with each other.

"So I think we have enough weapons offensively. I think we have enough depth to keep fresh bodies on the floor defensively. I think we have enough size. I think most importantly we have enough 3-point shooters because you can’t have enough of those, especially the way the game is being played today, and especially the way we play.”

Depth, experience and talent? Check, check and check.

“I really like our team,” said McCaffery.

He is not alone. Iowa is starting the season as AP’s No. 5, the highest of the seven Big Ten clubs in the Top 25. It is the Hawkeyes’ highest ranking in an AP preseason poll, which dates to the 1961-62 season. They were ranked No. 4 in the first poll of the 1955-56 season, the day after their first game.

Iowa was the national runner-up that season, by the way.

Sixty-five years later, the Hawkeyes aren’t hiding their light under a bushel, aren’t tamping down expectations. Not when their top seven players have a combined 362 college starts and an average age of 21.7.

Not when they have the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year in senior center Luka Garza, the slam-dunk choice as the league’s preseason POY after averaging 26.2 points in conference games last season. Not when they have another preseason All-Big Ten honoree in junior wing Joe Wieskamp, who averaged 14 points as a sophomore and seems to have a lot of surface left to scratch.

Not when they have a healthy fifth-year senior guard in Jordan Bohannon, who could wind up as the Big Ten’s all-time leader in 3-point baskets before the season has ended. Not when they have sophomore guard CJ Fredrick, who averaged 10.2 points and made 46.1 percent of his 3-point tries in earning a spot on the league’s all-freshman team.

Not when they have fourth-year junior guard Connor McCaffery, easily the nation’s assist-to-turnover leader in 2019-20.

Many coaches would still try to dial down the high hopes of others. Iowa’s guy likes turning the knob in the other direction.

“You know what, we’re going to show up and play,” Fran McCaffery said, “and we’re going to be ready to play whoever shows up to play against us, and if the game gets canceled then we’ll prepare to play the next game.

“It’s going to be a goofy year. It is. But we have a good basketball team. We have really good players. We have character on this team.”

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What we know about Iowa’s to-be-determined schedule is plenty, actually. We know it will have 20 Big Ten games, as well as No. 16 North Carolina in Carver on Dec. 8 and No. 1 Gonzaga in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Dec. 19.

“At the end of the day, that’s what they signed up for,” McCaffery said. “You come to the Big Ten, you want to take on the big boys. We’re scheduling the No. 1-ranked team in the country preseason, and we’re going to play them on CBS. That’s why you come to Iowa, because you want that competition and you want that challenge.

“You embrace it and you enjoy it, you don’t run from it.”

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

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