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FRAN SPEAKS: Michigan

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Does Fran think his team can stay on track against Michigan?

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Northwestern Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

After a nice road win on Tuesday against the awful Northwestern Wildcats, the Hawks return to action tonight against the No. 19 Michigan Wolverines. It will certainly test this scrappy young team.

What does head coach Fran McCaffery think? He took to the podium yesterday ahead of tonight’s game to share his thoughts. Check out the full transcript here.

Let’s start with a CJ Frederick update!

Q. How did CJ’s foot react to the minutes the other night? Any setbacks at all?

FRAN McCAFFERY: Good. No. It was good.

Q. That’s pretty positive that he was in that long.

FRAN McCAFFERY: Yeah, you hope it remains that way moving forward. But so far, so good.

Q. When he’s on the floor, how does he help space the offense?

FRAN McCAFFERY: Well, you have to pay a lot of attention to him. He’s a shot maker, he’s a driver, he’s a post feeder. He moves the ball. He doesn’t turn it over. So he’s just an integral part of what we’re trying to accomplish, the way we play, our style. He’s a perfect fit. He’s a guy if he’s healthy, he’s going to play 30 plus minutes.

The improved ball movement (and lack of turnovers) with Frederick on the floor was immediately evident on Tuesday. I was really skeptical about him getting rushed back for fear of making his injury worse, but if he can play, the team can definitely use him on the floor.

Speaking of needing bodies...

Q. We’ve heard a lot of people say they’re surprised how well this team has responded to adversity with the injuries. Are you surprised at all, or is this kind of what you expected?

FRAN McCAFFERY: I don’t know that you can look at a team and have an expectation as to, okay, how will we handle this, how will we handle that. You try to recruit players ... And then you try to build confidence and strength and toughness, and then you give them a scouting report so that they have information that’s valuable on the floor. Somebody goes down, somebody steps in. You don’t make a big thing about it one way or the other...

So I’m not surprised by it. It wasn’t like it was an expectation that it would be this way. But we just kind of just keep plugging away with what we try to instill on a daily basis.

This question keeps getting asked, and Fran’s answer always seems about the same. But I can’t fault anyone for asking, because this is a team that continues to win despite itself in so many ways. Having Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp certainly helps, but still.

Q. How is there a concerted effort to limit 3-point attempts? How does that change what you do offensively or what you want to focus on?

FRAN McCAFFERY: ...we’re still going to run, we’re still going to run motion. We’ll still run some sets. It might require more ball movement, more screening, more cutting, maybe a longer possession. But, clearly that’s been their game plan is to try to limit the other team’s threes, not only in terms of attempts but obviously makes.

The less threes from this team, the better, honestly. Unless they’re shot by Joe Wieskamp and Joe Wieskamp ONLY.

Q. Last time you played Michigan they probably doubled Luka less than anybody had all year. Do you expect that again?

FRAN McCAFFERY: Normally we go into a game expecting it. We’ve seen it pretty much every game, and they play it a little differently. They’ve not only done that to him but other people. We’ll just have to see when the game starts.

I’m salivating at the thought of Luka not getting doubled and feasting underneath the basket all night long.

Q. How much of a chess match is it when you play a team a second time and you kind of are familiar with what they’re doing and they’re familiar with what you’re doing?

FRAN McCAFFERY: Yeah, there’s always that, but for this game, it was a little bit ago, and things just change. Wagner, it was like his second game back, and he’s been really good. Brandon Johns played really well against us, has played a lot when Livers was out, so I think Johns and Wagner have really stepped up their game, and then obviously they’re looking forward to getting Livers back, whenever that is ...

Yeah, we did play them a while ago, but things have changed for them and for us. Bakari is playing at another level, and so is Ryan Kriener, in a lot of ways.

Wait, Iowa already played Michigan this season!? Oh yeah. The Big Ten season is weird now. And Fran is right that both teams are different, both for better and worse. On the Iowa side of things, if Bakari Evelyn in particular keeps playing like he did on Tuesday night, Iowa could win this game. It will take a total team effort.

Check out the rest of the transcript for more tidbits, including some interesting perspective from Fran about Connor and his experience coaching his son. Go Hawks!