Hawk Men, Women Set to Tip Off Season
IOWA CITY, Iowa – If the Iowa men’s basketball team gets caught overlooking Friday night’s opponent, shame on it. It holds plenty of evidence that Gardner-Webb is not to be taken lightly.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs invade Carver-Hawkeye Arena Friday night (8:30 p.m. CT, ESPN3) in the season opener for both teams. The No. 23 Hawkeye women tip off their season against North Dakota at 6 p.m. as part of the Hawkeye Challenge.
Gardner-Webb returns two starters from a team that finished 20-15 a year ago. It historically faces a tough non-Big South Conference schedule and won at Purdue last year. This year’s Hawkeye seniors remember their first year when it needed the biggest comeback in school history (23 points with 13 seconds left in first half) to knock off the Runnin’ Bulldogs, 65-56, on Nov. 17, 2012.
“Gardner-Webb is a program that has a history of coming in and winning some games early in the season (against high-major competition),” Iowa Point Guard Mike Gesell said. “They’re a team you’ve really got to be ready to play. They’re going to come after us.”
Tyrell Nelson (6-7, 235) is back for the Bulldogs after averaging 13.9 points and 6.5 rebounds a year ago. The other returning starter, Adonis Burbage, averaged 8.2 points a year ago and knocked down 64 three-pointers.
“They’re athletic. They’re quick and they’re powerful. They’re deep,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said “They don’t have a lot of experience back. They’ve got a handful of quality players that have put up some numbers. Nelson is clearly one of them. But they’ve got some guys sitting out, and they’ve got some guys coming in, and they’re pretty talented.”
A thin Iowa front court could be down freshman forward Ahmad Wagner. The Ohio product is dealing with a shoulder injury.
“He’s been hurting a couple days, and I think he’s going to try to play (Wednesday) so we’ll see how that goes and play the weekend. If it goes away, it goes away. Hopefully it will,” McCaffery said.
The Hawkeyes announced last week that freshman Isaiah Moss will red shirt. McCaffery had said that his classmate, Brandon Hutton, might join him but it appears that won’t happen, giving Iowa 13 scholarship players and walk-on Nicholas Baer fighting for minutes in the rotation.
“He was iffy one way or the other. He’s a little bit behind, but you start red shirting too many guys, you need your bodies that you brought in. You never know what you’re going to need. It’s a long season. So we have to get to March. We need our guys,” McCaffery said.
While the men start the campaign seeking a third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth for the first time since 1991-93, the Hawkeye women are in search of their ninth trip in a row to the Big Dance. They’re one of only 10 teams nationally on that quest.
“Our players are ready. They’re so excited to get back on the floor and back into Carver-Hawkeye Arena,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said. “Carver was a great place for us last year and we want to keep that going.”
The Hawkeyes posted an 18-0 record on their home court a year ago. North Dakota finished 17-15 a year ago, which included a 9-9 mark in the Big Sky Conference and a 6-11 road record.