By John Bohnenkamp
He has one of the most experienced teams in college basketball this season.
But Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said on Tuesday that in a season that will be played during the COVID-19 pandemic, that may not be enough.
The Hawkeyes are in everybody’s preseason top 10, and with a roster of more than 10,000 minutes played and seven players with starting experience, they’re a veteran team in a season that could be full of distractions. A roster that includes consensus first-team All-American center Luka Garza and fifth-year guard Jordan Bohannon has seen and done just about everything.
But, McCaffery said, it might become an all-hands-on-deck season.
“I like the idea we have a veteran club,” he said. “With the circumstances that we would be facing, like everyone else, experience would maybe be the ultimate thing we would want.
“But you could lose three veteran guys in one week. Or maybe you lose one veteran guy each game. And so now you’re dealing with maybe it’s best to be the deepest team. Because maybe the best ability is availability.”
The Hawkeyes have already dealt with COVID-19 issues within the team over the summer. McCaffery said “multiple players” tested positive for the virus, but did not disclose the number or specific players.
“Fortunately, the guys who got it recovered relatively quickly,” said McCaffery, saying some players showed more symptoms than others.”
The Hawkeyes are being tested for the virus once a week now, and will go to daily testing beginning on Oct. 14, the first day of official practice.
The NCAA has said the men’s and women’s basketball seasons can begin on Nov. 25, but McCaffery has no idea what Iowa’s schedule will look like.
“The only thing I can say equivocally is we’re going to play 27 games,” he said, noting that the Hawkeyes will play host to a multi-team event, which would allow them to play the 27-game maximum the NCAA has granted for this season.
The Big Ten schedule, which could be expanded from 20 to 22 games, has not been finalized. Iowa’s nonconference schedule this season, before the pandemic forced changes, included games in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, a Gavitt Games game against a Big East team, a home game with Iowa State, and a neutral-court game against Oregon State in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“I feel pretty good about the (ACC/Big Ten) Challenge, I feel pretty good about Iowa State,” McCaffery said. “There’s other discussions going on with the rest of the schedule — some at the league level, some at the local level. To be truthful, we’re looking at a lot of different options. It’s really the first time ever we thought, ‘What if we have a game canceled? What do we do then?’ So we might look at extra Big Ten games at that time, if our testing protocols are the best out there.
“A lot of moving parts, a lot of discussion. But, I think, to answer your question specifically, there’s no way we can pin down anything right now, and be definitive.”
There has been talk of college basketball teams playing at one site similar to what the NBA and WNBA did with its “bubble.”
“I think we have to be careful using the word ‘bubble,’” McCaffery said. “The only ‘bubble’ is what the NBA’s doing, and they spent $170 million. Nobody else is doing that. So there is no such thing as a ‘bubble.’ All it means is you’re going to one location, maybe you sequester in one hotel, and they clean the arena extra-well. It’s more a matter of testing — what are your testing protocols, how accurate are they, and then what happens if there’s a positive. And that’s when it gets tricky.
“These are just unprecedented questions, and decisions that have to be made.”
McCaffery said he deals with video conferences every week among Big Ten coaches and others to determine how a season can be played.
“Every time it seems like we’re getting closer, there are questions,” he said. “I suspect that we’ll start the season, and there will still be questions.”
That kind of uncertainty can make anyone queasy, which is why it will help for the Hawkeyes to have a roster of veterans. It also means that his five freshmen — guards Ahron Ulis and Tony Perkins, twin forwards Keegan and Kris Murray, and center Josh Ogundele — are going to have to be ready as well.
“When you go week to week, or even game to game, who do you have? Who’s available?” McCaffery said. “You really have to be locked in as a group. You have to be locked in individually. You have to be incredibly professional. There can’t be any selfishness on behalf of any coach or player. And there has to be an incredible amount of team unity to accomplish a goal that we all say we want to accomplish.”
A rocky summer led to a fall, and soon to be a winter, of uncertainty.
“We got from Point A to Point B without a blueprint,” McCaffery said. “We just kind of dealt with it as it happened.”