McCaffery faces hard decisions entering Iowa's last exhibition

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery might not have the luxury of a breezy exhibition win to get all of his newcomers a final binge of valuable floor time.

Friday’s opponent, Division II No. 1-ranked Augustana (S.D.) University, offers a formidable challenge as the Hawkeyes get one last free spin before the games start counting next week.

“They’ve got a really good team coming in here that wants to win against us,” senior center Adam Woodbury said. “They’re going to put their best foot forward.”

The priority for McCaffery in Friday’s 7:05 p.m. exhibition at Carver-Hawkeye Arena is winning and “playing the guys I think deserve to play” – not giving unlimited latitude to five true freshmen, redshirt freshmen Nicholas Baer and Brady Ellingson and junior-college transfer Dale Jones.

Although McCaffery essentially has five starters back, this could be his most uniquely challenging season in 20 years as a college head coach.

“Never had this before, never,” he said Wednesday. “Five essentially starters, one guy (Dom Uhl) played a little bit and eight guys never played a second.”

Eventually, McCaffery wants to have 10 guys out of those 14 he can depend upon for his up-tempo rotation. One or two – probably Brandon Hutton and/or Isaiah Moss – will redshirt. The balance as a coach that McCaffery needs to strike is keeping his hungry newcomers happy and progressing while managing the opportunity to ride four seniors and an experienced junior to a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

There’s no exact science to handling the young guys. McCaffery said the coaching staff has to decide which days to "hug them" and which days to “kick them in the rear.”

Bringing newbies Hutton, Jones, Moss, Andrew Fleming, Ahmad Wagner and Christian Williams along will be a physical and mental challenge, especially if McCaffery needs to lean on veterans Woodbury, Anthony Clemmons, Mike Gesell, Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff for 30-plus minutes a game.

“It will be difficult because a couple guys aren't going to play that probably thought they were going to play,” McCaffery said. “And then a couple guys that thought they were going to play a lot won't play maybe as much as they thought. You never know how that's going to end up.

“But in the meantime, what you're seeing are character people battling it out every day, trying to make the guy in front of them better, trying to improve in areas that we're teaching them about. And it'll be an interesting journey.”


Who: Iowa vs. Augustana (S.D.)

When, where: 7:05 p.m., Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City

TV: Streaming on BTN Plus (subscription required)

Radio: WHO-AM (1040) in Des Moines and the Hawkeye network

Tickets: $5 for adults, free for youths and UI students

About the game: Augustana is ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division II and coming off its best season in school history (31-3 record). … Daniel Jansen (6-9, 240) is the Vikings’ leading scorer. The Orange City native was an AAU teammate of Hawkeye seniors Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury. … The Hawkeyes were inconsistent in their 99-73 exhibition-opening win over Sioux Falls. Gesell led the way with 24 points, eight rebounds, six assists, three steals and five turnovers.