Nicholas Baer may have to rise up for Hawkeyes against Cyclones

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Thursday was supposed to be Joe Wieskamp’s introduction to the Cy-Hawk men’s basketball rivalry.

Iowa’s star freshman, a native of Muscatine, may have to wait another year. He sprained his right ankle in the second half of Monday’s loss at Michigan State. He didn’t practice Tuesday and was getting medical treatment Wednesday, making him unavailable for media interviews.

It doesn’t sound good.

“There isn't a lot of time between games. Would be better if there was a little more time,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Wednesday of Wieskamp’s availability for Thursday’s 7 p.m. home game against Iowa State (FS1).

Iowa forward Nicholas Baer rises for a 3-pointer over Wisconsin center Ethan Happ on Friday. The senior from Bettendorf may become the pivotal player in his final Cy-Hawk game Thursday. Baer will start if Hawkeye freshman Joe Wieskamp's sprained ankle keeps him out of commission.

Thursday will be the final Cy-Hawk go-around for Hawkeye senior Nicholas Baer, and he may find himself as the pivotal player. The Bettendorf native would be in line to start at small forward in place of Wieskamp. Redshirt freshman guard Connor McCaffery, who played at Iowa City West, also would see more playing time on the wing in Wieskamp’s absence.

This is a game with extra meaning for its in-state participants. But for those two, in particular, it’s a game that likely will involve extra duties.

“I’ve been watching these games for so long and I’m really excited,” said Connor McCaffery, Fran’s oldest son. “It’s a different type of intensity, a different environment that everybody would want to play in. Carver’s going to be rocking.”

Actually, there were 1,600 unsold tickets as of Wednesday afternoon. But there’s no question the arena will be pulsating if the Hawkeyes emerge victorious. This is a crucial game for the No. 19 Hawkeyes (6-2). That ranking is in peril already after back-to-back losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State.

The Cyclones (7-1) offer the perfect opportunity for redemption against a quality opponent.

“There’s not a whole lot of time to lament on it,” Baer said of Monday’s 90-68 loss in East Lansing, Michigan.

Baer has scored 28 points on 8-of-15 shooting in Iowa’s past three games. He appears to be rounding back into the form he showed as a sophomore, when he was named the top sixth man in the Big Ten Conference after averaging 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds on 40 percent 3-point shooting.

The Hawkeyes will need a big game from their lone senior to offset the potential absence of Wieskamp.

“I don’t really think about it that much,” Baer said of his shooting touch. “My focus is more taking good shots because I have confidence in myself as a shooter. And when I’m taking good shots, they’re going to go in. So I’m standing hands and feet ready, ready to shoot.”

Baer averages 16.6 minutes per game. He is notorious for hustling to the point of exhaustion. He won’t change that even if he’s asked to play more minutes Thursday, Baer said.

“I don’t think you can pace yourself at all. Especially against this team,” Baer said. “We know Iowa State loves to run, and we want to run, too.”

Connor McCaffery said he’s comfortable playing any of Iowa’s three guard spots in his father’s offense. But he hasn’t looked comfortable as a scoring option in the past three games. When Iowa beat Oregon and Connecticut in the 2K Classic tournament last month, McCaffery contributed 26 points and was seeking out opportunities to drive into the lane and create contact.

He missed all five of his shots at Michigan State and finished with one point. He had a single point three games ago in a home win over Pitt as well.

“I think I lost a little bit of my aggressive mindset coming out of New York. I need to focus back on that a little more,” McCaffery said.

“Maybe a little too worried about facilitating. … I still need to be a threat.”

The Hawkeyes have been going at each other in recent practices. That was evident by the cuts on point guard Jordan Bohannon’s face.

“We’re beating each other up. We’re getting ready for Iowa State,” Bohannon said with a smile Wednesday.

He’s a native of Marion, the son of former Hawkeye quarterback Gordy Bohannon. The Cyclones never bothered to recruit Bohannon.

“I would never, ever have thought of going there,” Bohannon said of Iowa State. “I’m a Hawkeye kid.

“This game has a lot more weight to it than most games. Some fans, they look at our record and they just see if we beat Iowa State that year.

“It puts a little more pressure on this game, I think. And I think we’re OK with that. We have to defend our home court. We have to defend the state.”

With or without Wieskamp.