By Tyler Devine
IOWA CITY, Iowa – With reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Luka Garza returning for his senior season, the Iowa men’s basketball team finds itself in an unusual situation.
With Garza, Iowa is considered by many a Final Four contender for the 2020-21 season, including a No. 3 national ranking by college basketball expert Jon Rothstein.
Iowa has not reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament since 1999.
Junior guard Connor McCaffery, who is the son of head coach Fran McCaffery, said the team’s mental toughness is a key in handling high expectations.
“We’ve talked about that,” Connor McCaffery said. “And I think it might be hard for some teams. I think with our team, we are all extremely motivated and mentally tough. We all agree on the fact that nothing is going to be given to us just because of our preseason ranking. This is all going to be because of our hard work this upcoming season.
“We are all extremely hungry. We have been and that’s how we played last year. I think people will notice that, just in terms of the kind of team we had last year in terms of our competitiveness and the way we go out and go at it every night.”
Senior guard Jordan Bohannon and sophomore forward Jack Nunge also return for Iowa, as well as junior guard Joe Wieskamp, sophomore guards Joe Toussaint and C.J. Fredrick, and redshirt freshman forward Patrick McCaffery.
Bohannon, Nunge and Patrick McCaffery all received medical hardship waivers last season.
Bohannon, who is the school’s all-time leader in made three-pointers, played in 10 games last season before undergoing season-ending hip surgery.
Nunge started the first five games of the season before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against Cal Poly, and Patrick McCaffery saw action in two games before sitting out the rest of the season due to health and wellness concerns.
However, it is still unclear as to whether or not there will be a college basketball season amid concern over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fran McCaffery said Sunday that he is confident a season will take place, even if that means beginning as late as January and having conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament begin later than normal.
Both tournaments were canceled in March at the onset of the spread of the coronavirus in the United States, which provides extra motivation for Iowa.
“Obviously, it was pretty unfortunate we couldn’t play in the NCAA tournament,” Wieskamp said. “That’s what you work for the whole season just to get to that point. But at the same time, no team was able to experience that, so it’s not like we’re losing any experience per se because no team had that. Obviously, that drives us that much more to want to do well and advance even further into the tournament.”
The 6-foot-11 Garza, who will almost certainly be a preseason All-American, said right now his team can’t get too caught up visualizing the big picture.
“With the overall depth, length, and experience that we have returning I believe we have a group determined to make the most of this season,” Garza said. “We have goals of where we want to be, but right now it’s not about winning championships; it’s about taking it one day at a time so we can be the best team possible.”