It wasn’t a great week to be an Iowa Basketball fan.
After a perfect start to the season, the Iowa Men’s Basketball team has lost its first two Big Ten matchups to Wisconsin and Michigan State in a matter of days. The Michigan State loss in particular was tough to watch, given that the Hawkeyes trailed by 30+ points at multiple points of the second half.
Next comes Iowa State, an important rivalry game and a way for the Hawkeyes to quiet the doubts that have started to form in the fandom after two underwhelming performances. If Fran McCaffery is concerned, though, he certainly didn’t show it when he met with the media yesterday ahead of tonight’s Cy-Hawk matchup. Check out his full press conference transcript here, and let’s dive in. Things got started off with a line of questioning about Joe Wieskamp’s injury status from a leg injury he sustained in the middle of the second half:
Q. What’s the latest on Joe Wieskamp’s injury?
FRAN McCAFFERY: We’ll see today. We’ll see what he can do. He didn’t do anything yesterday.
Q. How optimistic are you? Is it getting better?
FRAN McCAFFERY: Yeah, it’s getting better. Just there isn’t a lot of time between games. Would be better if there was a little more time.
Q. Is it sprained?
FRAN McCAFFERY: It’s not broken, so that’s good news.
Q. That means probably more Nicolas then?
FRAN McCAFFERY: And others. Nicholas is obviously a logical guy, but Connor, Maishe, et cetera. We’re down some bodies, so everybody has got to step up.
Q. Who do you think you would start if Joe can’t play?
FRAN McCAFFERY: Probably Nicolas.
Well, that doesn’t sound overly optimistic, so if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Baer starting tomorrow and no minutes for Joe Wieskamp. It’s a smart decision when planning for a still relatively young season, but an ever smaller rotation could really hurt the Hawkeyes tomorrow against the Cyclones. Speaking of Iowa State...
Q. What have you seen from the Iowa State team this year?
FRAN McCAFFERY: I’ve been really impressed with their team. I think in particular their ball movement. They’ve got a lot of weapons ... Jacobson has looked really good, Shayok has been terrific, Horton-Tucker, Weiler-Babb has always been really solid. He kind of goes and scores when he has to and then moves it, keeps everybody involved ...
They present challenges. They can go big if they want to now with some guys back, but they can also go small, play four guards. Anybody can take it off the glass and go. So you know, they’ve got drivers, but they’ve also got shooters. But most importantly, seemingly it’s an unselfish group.
Q. Will you lean on the zone a little bit more in this game with their ability to dribble drive
FRAN McCAFFERY: Not necessarily but potentially. I think what we do, we’re going to change defenses throughout the game and kind of see what’s working. Sometimes you think it’s going to be a big zone game and it’s not, and you think it’s going to be a big man game, and it’s not. We’ll see how it goes. We’ll do both.
So, zone and man defense, and a mixture of big and small lineups, and a team that is praised by Fran for its ball movement. Michigan State torched Iowa under the basket and assisted on nearly every one of its made field goals. Iowa will need to tighten up its defensive rotations and really clog the passing lanes if it wants to be successful.
Q. You mentioned Iowa State’s ball movement. How would you assess your own right now?
FRAN McCAFFERY: It’s okay. It needs to be better. It’s been good at times. I think we’ve got a lot of different players who can score, so sometimes they take it on their own. It is a fine line there because you want them to have the confidence and the freedom to do that, and sometimes you’re better off just moving it, maybe get something better. But I’m always going to be a guy that kind of gives my guys some freedom to play because I think anything short of that and they’ll never play to their capability.
Interesting question here, and an interesting answer from Fran. I think that Iowa’s offensive outputs in its last two games have been pretty bad. Case in point: Michigan State’s 23-3 run to start the second half on Monday. Iowa went ice cold from shooting, and better ball movement to create space and find the open man will certainly help that. I also think it’s interesting that Fran talks about giving his players freedom that allows them to play to their capabilities. I personally think Fran should maybe do a bit less of that at times and give some more structure to the team on offense by setting up some plans and maybe slowing the game down if necessary. Something will needed to be adjusted for offense tonight, and passing isn’t the only issue that needs addressing.
Q. How about with Jordan? Is there anything he’s doing in terms of just from a technical standpoint that hasn’t shot off, or is it just a bit of a slump?
FRAN McCAFFERY: I think with him, he started a little banged up, started the season -- he had that injury, wasn’t himself. I mean, you could tell he’s more like himself now. I thought he came out aggressively the other night, hit the three early and hit another one later. I think he’s looking for shots that are good shots. I don’t think he’s putting up bad shots. He’s also running the point, moving for the off guard position a little bit now that we have Connor. That’s been helpful to him at times.
I’m not really worried about him. I think he’ll be fine.
I think the biggest thing here is Bohannon adjusting to playing with Connor McCaffery. The more time they get on the court together in games, hopefully the more opportunities will present themselves for McCaffery to find Bohannon in the spots that he likes so he can focus more on being a scorer than the floor general. But we’ll see.
Last, let’s talk expectations:
Q. Last week you talked about not getting too high because you’re ranked and everyone was talking about how great you were. But it seems like you’re just the same, that nothing changes for you. Is that fair to say?
FRAN McCAFFERY: I don’t think you can. It’s a long season ... You’ve just got to keep grinding with it, and if you overreact to a difficult loss, there’s nothing productive going to come out of that, and you try to keep your guys on path to continue to be hungry and want to get better. What can we do to get better individually, what can we do to get better collectively, and I think for the most part, you’ve got to stay positive for that to happen.
You don’t want to be unrealistic. You’ve got to accept defeat, and you shouldn’t feel good about it. None of us did. But you don’t want that feeling to linger and say, okay, let’s go back to work and try to sort out what things were good in that game.
There you have it, folks. Fran’s not worried. The conference season is still young yet, and this is about as difficult a week of basketball as the Hawkeyes could have drawn. There’s still time to right the ship.