Iowa men’s basketball team talks hotel isolation at NCAA Tournament
No. 2 seed Hawkeyes take on No. 15 seed Grand Canyon on Saturday
By Tyler Devine
When the No. 2 seed Iowa men’s basketball team takes on No. 15 Grand Canyon in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday in Indianapolis, Indiana, it will have spent the better part of two weeks sitting in a hotel.
Due to COVID-19 protocol, the NCAA Tournament is being held in a bubble similar to the one the NBA implemented last season.
Instead of going back to Iowa City after the Big Ten Tournament, the Hawkeyes stayed in Indianapolis where both tournaments take place.
Coach Fran McCaffery said the setup isn’t much different than a typical road game.
“It’s not like we’re walking around town sightseeing,” McCaffery said. “I would like for the players to have the opportunity to go outside. Of course, the weather hasn’t been great. But to go out, get some fresh air, walk around the block, walk downtown. That would be nice. Their time is pretty regimented. There’s just a little more downtime for them right now, which they probably don’t care for. But I think we all recognize that it’s critical that we handle our business this way.”
The Hawkeyes have not been seeded No. 2 since 1987 and are seeking their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1999.
Iowa enters the tournament having won eight of its last 10 games, five of which came against teams ranked in the AP Top 25.
The Hawkeyes beat Wisconsin 62-57 in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament before falling to Illinois 82-71 in the semifinals.
Iowa was required to quarantine briefly before beginning its preparation for the NCAA Tournament.
Junior guard Connor McCaffery, the son of Fran McCaffery, said coaches and players were essentially confined to their rooms during that period unless they were getting tested for COVID, or needed ice for sore muscles.
“Other than that it’s pretty much consistently been a quarantine,” Connor McCaffery said. “You’ve just been allowed to actually leave your room. You can go down to meal room for breakfast. You get tested every day and you have practice that you walk to. Other than that, you can’t go outside. No leisurely walks on a nice day, there’s nothing like that.”
The 6-foot-5 Connor McCaffery said there is someone to escort he and his teammates from the elevator to the meeting room and back.
McCaffery said that he understands the protocol needs to be in place in order for the tournament to work, and that Iowa could potentially use it to its advantage.
“The biggest thing I’ve been thinking about is a lot of teams talked about the Lakers during the NBA bubble,” McCaffery said. “They said (the Lakers) were the best team to embrace that whole experience and they were able to come out of it with a championship. They didn’t think about any of the things going wrong, they just completely embraced and had fun with it, and they were the ones that stayed there the longest and came out of there with a championship. I think that’s something we could try to replicate.”
Senior center Luka Garza, the reigning two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, echoed Fran McCaffery’s sentiments and said that he has used the experience as an opportunity to build the bond with his teammates.
On Tuesday, the 6-11 Garza became the first Iowa men’s basketball player to twice be named an AP first-team All-American.
“I think we’ve gotten used to this lifestyle at this point,” Garza said. “We’re all here for a reason. We know what we want to do, so we’re very excited about the opportunity to get out there and play. Honestly, it’s been kind of cool just in terms of getting closer with my teammates. I’ve been doing that all year, but now the only people around are my teammates, so it’s fun.”
The Hawkeyes are making their fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in seven season, though it would likely have been six but the 2020 tournament was canceled due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Antelopes, located in Phoenix, Arizona, are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history in their eighth season as a Division I program.
Iowa (21-8) and Grand Canyon (17-6) tip off at 5:25 p.m. Saturday at Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
The game is televised on TBS and the CBS Sports app.