The University of Iowa University of Iowa

McCaffery talks schedule, COVID, and expectations

Iowa head men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery spoke to the media on Tuesday for the first time since Luka Garza announced his return to Iowa for his senior season. Many things were still unresolved at that point: Would there be a college basketball season? What was the schedule going to look like? Did Garza blow a chance to make millions?

McCaffery answered many of those questions, leading off with what Iowa’s schedule would look like for the 2020-21 college basketball season.

Iowa forward Ryan Kriener and Ohio State forward Andrew Wesson jump for the ball during the men’s basketball game against Ohio State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, February 20, 2020. The Hawkeyes defeated the Buckeyes 85-76. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

“We’re gonna play 27 games, which means we’ll have our own MTE ..[Multi-Team Event].. if we didn’t we’d only be able to play 25. I feel pretty good about the [Big Ten/ACC] Challenge, I feel pretty good about Iowa State,” McCaffery said.

The news of an Iowa-Iowa State matchup on the basketball court should quench some of the thirst from the absent fall gridiron. Iowa is also looking at a top-tier matchup in this season’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge as well.

McCaffery pushed back on the notion of Big Ten teams playing in a bubble this winter, as he states there is only one true bubble in the sports world at the moment.

“The only bubble is what the NBA is doing, and they spent 170 million dollars, no one else is doing it. There is no such thing as a bubble. All it means is you’re going to one location, you sequester in a hotel and the clean the arena extra well,” McCaffery said.

The ability to test and test well for COVID-19 is what McCaffery believes is most important for college basketball, as is currently being shown.

Natasha Bhuyan takes a sample from Bryant Barber for a COVID-19 test on April 23, 2020, at a One Medical drive-thru testing site in Scottsdale. Ariz. (Sean Logan/The Republic)

Talk then turned to the squad McCaffery is putting on the court in 2020-21. It is a team with a great chance to win not only a Big Ten Championship, but contend for a national championship as well. Injuries ravaged Iowa’s roster in the 2019-20 season, but McCaffery did offer positive news on players who are looking to be healthy.

“CJ [Fredrick] looks really good, as we thought he would, so does Jack [Nunge], but Jack has not been fully cleared yet for full activity. He does a lot of what we do, but I’m excited for those guys,” McCaffery said.

Fredrick battled various ailments to both of his legs last season and Jack Nunge was lost early in the non-conference schedule to a torn ACL. Their return gives Iowa two starters and greater depth for the 2020-21 season.

Iowa guard CJ Fredrick listens intently during a timeout during a men’s basketball game between Iowa and Penn State on Saturday, Feb. 29 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 77-68. (Nichole Harris/The Daily Iowan)

McCaffery talked at length about Iowa’s freshman class, a class that includes Ahron Ulis, Tony Perkins, Josh Ogundele as well as twins Keegan and Kris Murray. It was emphasized that McCaffery felt comfortable playing all five of his freshman this season.

Iowa center Luka Garza (55) dunks during a NCAA Big Ten Conference men’s basketball game against Penn State, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press Citizen)

The last question was saved about Iowa’s star player and reigning Big Ten and National Player of the Year: Luka Garza. McCaffery praised his superstar’s efforts during the offseason, especially with all of the COVID restrictions in place.

“I think you’ll see him be even more versatile, because he’s a guy that keeps working on his game,” McCaffery said. “His game keeps evolving, shooting more threes, putting the ball on the deck more. Luka Garza’s really put the time in. He hasn’t rested on his accomplishments, he’s hungrier than ever.”