By John Bohnenkamp
Iowa will carry its No. 5 preseason men’s basketball ranking into next Wednesday’s opener against … well … somebody.
The season is supposed to start next week but, as of Monday afternoon when the Hawkeyes’ eight returning players from last season held a video conference with the media, they still didn’t know their schedule.
“It’s kind of frustrating, individually and team-wise, knowing how good we are this year,” fifth-year senior guard Jordan Bohannon said about not knowing the complete details of his team’s 27-game schedule this season. “We kind of just want to know what the plan is for this year. There’s really been no plan that’s been implemented by the (Big Ten) or the NCAA.
“Right now, we’re making the most of the days we have right now, and not taking anything for granted.”
It seems like it’s been forever since the Hawkeyes were just a couple of hours away from playing their Big Ten Tournament game against Minnesota when the game, the rest of the tournament, and then the NCAA tournament, were cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, the Hawkeyes have dealt with the virus itself — multiple players fell ill during the summer — while dealing with the expectations that come with having almost all of the key pieces back from last season’s 20-win team, including consensus first-team All-American center Luka Garza, who was a unanimous selection to the Associated Press’ preseason All-American team and the Big Ten’s preseason player of the year.
The whos, the wheres, and the whens are still unknown about Iowa’s schedule, so all the Hawkeyes can do is wait.
“Like you said, it’s a really weird year,” sophomore guard CJ Fredrick said, “and you’ve got to do what you can do to deal with it.”
It’s a deep team, with seven of the eight returning players having started double-digit games. It’s that kind of experience that can help when you’re having to be tested every day for a virus that can show up at any time, when players could fall ill or be put into quarantine.
“It’s been kind of weird for everybody,” Fredrick said. “But you know, you get into a routine. You get used to everything. It’s just kind of the point now where it’s just what we do — wake up every day and test, being smart on who you’re around and where you go. We’re just really trying to commit ourselves to each other. We’re not going anywhere we’re not supposed to me. It’s just been coming to practice to get better, and being smart. It’s a really weird year, and you’ve got to try to do what you can to deal with it.”
“It’s been fine,” junior forward Joe Wieskamp said. “Obviously everybody wants to get out there to compete. We’re just treating it like any other offseason — focus on what we need to work on as a team, and get better. Not worrying about when the NCAA tournament is, or when the first Big Ten game is. We’re just focusing on getting better every day. That’s kind of been our mindset as we move forward.”
Still, the Hawkeyes would like to know what is ahead of them. They know they play North Carolina in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and get a neutral-court game against Gonzaga, the preseason No. 1 team, in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The opening date of the season is next Wednesday. For now, the Hawkeyes practice — they scrimmaged Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena — and wait for the schedule.
“That’s really frustrating on our end, because it really affects us mentally on how we’re going to prepare for the season,” Bohannon said when talking about the schedule. “Right now, there’s no plan going forward. We hope in the next couple of days something comes forward for what’s going to happen in the regular season.”
Photo: Iowa center Luka Garza drives to the basket in last Saturday’s exhibition at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)