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Fran McCaffery says Hawkeyes are planning 27-game basketball schedule, likely to include ISU

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Fran McCaffery is planning on a 27-game schedule for his Iowa men’s basketball team, but can’t disclose exact dates or opponents yet due to uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

McCaffery said Tuesday that the Hawkeyes intend to host a four-team tournament at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He believes the rivalry game with Iowa State will be played. And he thinks Iowa will face a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference as usual.

But McCaffery acknowledged any schedule also has to allow for flexibility in case a game gets canceled. He said it’s possible the Big Ten Conference might play more than 20 league games if that does occur.

“There’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of discussion,” McCaffery said. “There’s no way we can pin down anything right now and be definitive.”

The basketball season can begin as early as Nov. 25, with practices set to start Oct. 14. At that point, McCaffery said, his players and staff will undergo daily antigen testing for the new coronavirus, which he believes will be key to getting in 27 regular-season games, plus a Big Ten tournament and a 68-team NCAA Tournament.

But McCaffery knows it will be anything but normal, with questions remaining about protocols surrounding COVID-19 and what will happen if any player tests positive.

“I suspect that we’ll start the season and there might still be questions,” McCaffery said.

McCaffery did say Big Ten games won’t be played in a “bubble” as the NBA did when it resumed its season in Orlando, Florida, at a cost of $170 million.

“There is no such thing as a bubble” for college basketball, McCaffery said. “All it means is you’re going to one location and maybe you sequester in a hotel and they clean the arena really well.”

'Multiple' Hawkeyes got COVID-19 this summer, but all have recovered

The Hawkeyes are preparing to embark on their most anticipated season in decades, coming off a 20-11 campaign with all-American center Luka Garza returning. Iowa could be a top-five team in preseason polls.

But McCaffery is well aware of how disruptive COVID-19 can be. He said “multiple” Hawkeyes contracted the coronavirus this summer, although all have recovered. McCaffery said two of his players had no symptoms, others lost their senses of taste and smell, and others reported fevers, body aches and sore throats. Some of his players are still undergoing followup cardiac tests.

“That’s the weird thing about this. It affected people differently, and some recovered quicker than others,” McCaffery said.

“We’ve had a pretty good two-, three-week run here of getting the guys all in one place. It’s good to see them smile again and doing what they love to do.”

The only Hawkeye player who has publicly disclosed his COVID-19 diagnosis was senior guard Jordan Bohannon, who said the virus hit him hard for several days.

Leistikow::One-on-one with Jordan Bohannon, who thinks NCAA is awful and Iowa hoops should be No. 1

McCaffery eager to have more depth, plans to play at least two freshmen

Bohannon’s return from hip surgery, along with forward Jack Nunge coming back from knee surgery, are two big additions for an Iowa team that was lacking depth a year ago. McCaffery is also bringing in five freshmen, and said at least two of them will likely see playing time.

More:Jack Nunge returns from surgery eager to help Hawkeyes' quest for basketball title

“Maybe it’s better to be the deepest team. Because the best ability is availability,” he said of a season that could see players sidelined for up to three weeks by COVID-19.

“A little more depth enables you to endure a longer season, enables you to be a little more physical defensively. When you’re not deep, maybe you’re resting a little more on defense, but you also have to stay out of foul trouble.”

Four freshmen arrived on campus in June — twin brothers Keegan and Kris Murray, Tony Perkins and Ahron Ulis. But 6-foot-11 center Josh Ogundele didn’t make it to Iowa from his native England until early August as he waited on his visa.

More:Iowa freshman basketball player Josh Ogundele stuck in England due to COVID-19, uncertainty over F-1 Visa situation

Ogundele immediately went into quarantine, but hasn’t been practicing with the team in recent weeks because of an unspecified illness. McCaffery said that has put Ogundele behind his fellow classmates as he needs to work himself into shape.

“They all provide something a little different. And when you have a class of five, you kind of want skill sets that complement each other,” McCaffery said of his freshmen.

“They’re all capable of playing.”

McCaffery said the transition to college has been more complicated for this year’s rookies. They were greeted by empty dorm rooms. They haven’t been able to bond with their new teammates during the usual post-practice team meals.

“I kept thinking, ‘Boy, I wish this could be more normal for them,’” McCaffery said.

But nothing has been normal for the Hawkeyes since the NCAA Tournament was canceled in March. Not having a schedule of games six weeks before a season is just another example.

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery smiles during a NCAA Big Ten Conference men's basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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