Chance just to play Indiana on Thursday will be a win for Iowa
Iowa dealing with two postponements due to COVID-19 health concerns with opponents
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Perhaps the most significant thing about Thursday’s men’s basketball game between No. 4 Iowa and Indiana is that it’s still set to be played barely 24 hours before tip-off.
That isn’t meant as a joke.
The COVID-19 global pandemic is wreaking havoc on Big Ten basketball right now, and it seems to be getting worse.
Iowa had its game last Thursday against Michigan State postponed due to COVID-19 health concerns with the Spartans, and Iowa’s game against Nebraska for this Sunday also has been postponed due to COVID-19 health concerns with the Cornhuskers.
That’s two home games, both of which Iowa would have been favored to win, that now have to be rescheduled with limited time and opportunities to do so.
The plan, and the hope, is to play all of the conference games that are being postponed. But plans and hopes tend to change during a global pandemic.
Michigan State, Nebraska and Penn State all have had to pause activities due to positive COVID cases, and the threat of it happening to other teams is constant.
So just be happy that Thursday’s game against the Hoosiers still has the green light.
Iowa (12-2, 6-1) has won five games in a row and is tied for first place in the Big Ten with Michigan.
Luka Garza is solidifying his status as the clear-cut favorite for National Player of the Year, Jordan Bohannon is getting hot from 3-point range, and Iowa’s bench, sparked by freshmen forwards Keegan Murray and Patrick McCaffery, is making a significant contribution.
Iowa is playing as well, or better, than any team in the Big Ten right now, so there is much to be excited about, but also much to lose whenever a game is postponed.
The current Iowa team seems to have everything except good timing.
And while there are far worse things than having a basketball game postponed, it’s just sad and frustrating to see it happen.
This could be one of the greatest seasons in the history of the Iowa men’s basketball program, but never has a season been so fragile, so act at risk of being interrupted at any time, and so unpredictable.
It helps that Iowa has a mature and experienced team, with Bohannon a fifth-year senior, Garza a senior, Connor McCaffery a fourth-year junior, C.J. Fredrick a third-year sophomore and Jack Nunge a fourth-year sophomore.
“It’s not ideal, but we have a veteran group, we have a lot of older guys,” Nunge said Wednesday on a zoom conference. “We’ve all been through a lot of adversity throughout our time here. So I think we have a team that is very suited for this type of year. We can focus one day at a time, one practice at a time, one play at a time, just going from game.
“We’re looking at Indiana and then after that, we’ll look at the next game. But focusing on what’s right in front of us is what’s most important.”
Fran McCaffery couldn’t have said it any better.
Iowa’s 11th-year head coach never looks back or ahead, even during a global pandemic. The next game, or the next practice, or next team meeting is all that matters to Fran McCaffery.
And with a veteran group of players to lead the way, that live-in-the-moment mentality is helping this Iowa team navigate through rocky waters.
Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta is working on trying to reschedule the games that have been postponed, and he spoke with Fran McCaffery on Wednesday.
“I’m not involved at all,” McCaffery said. “Mister Barta is, and I spoke to him today about it. It’s something that they’re working on. It’s a unique situation, to say the least.”
Fran McCaffery said before the season that being available would be one of his team’s greatest strengths if it proved to be true, and so far it has been true.
Both of Iowa’s postponements were caused by the opponents, so the Iowa players have been available.
Jordan Bohannon said over the summer that seven members of the team, including himself, had tested positive for the coronavirus, so perhaps Iowa has herd immunity right now.
It’s hard to say with this virus.
But as of right now, Iowa’s game with Indiana is still on, and that’s great news.
It might be a little dramatic to say Indiana (8-6, 3-4) is desperate for a win, but to be below .500 in conference play at this stage leaves much to be desired.
Indiana has Iowa’s respect and focus, and deservedly so.
“A very good defensive team, they’ve got a lot of weapons, they’re deep, and they’ve got one of the best players in the country in Trayce,” Fran McCaffery said in reference to Indiana sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis.
The Hoosiers are deep, talented and experienced, and can be extremely difficult to beat at times.
Indiana’s problem is a lack of consistency, especially on offense.
Iowa is undefeated at home this season, after having finished 14-2 at home last season.
But with COVID-19, home-court advantage has lost some of its power and influence.
“It’s just not the same,” Fran McCaffery said of home-court advantage. “We’ve played at Maryland. It wasn’t the same as it’s been when you’re coming out on the floor at that place in years past. It’s a different deal.
“Same thing here. People come out on the floor and our place is full. It’s a different situation. But I think teams are always going to be more comfortable at home regardless if there’s anybody there or not. And hopefully, we can continue to play well.”
Hopefully, they just get to keep playing.
Iowa vs. Indiana
When: Thursday, 8:01 p.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
All-time series: Indiana holds a 104-78 advantage in the series, dating back to 1909. The Hoosiers won last season’s only regular season meeting, 89-77, in Bloomington. Two of the last seven contests have been decided in overtime in Iowa City, with the Hawkeyes winning both (2017, 2019). Iowa leads 46-42 in games played at Iowa City, holding a 21-12 advantage in CarverHawkeye Arena. Iowa has won nine of the last 13 meetings in Iowa City. Jordan Bohannon sank a game-tying 3-pointer with 28 seconds left in regulation before draining three more triples in overtime to lift the Hawkeyes to a 76-70 triumph over Indiana in its last visit to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Feb. 22, 2019.