McCafferys to tangle with Boeheims when Iowa basketball faces Syracuse

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

Fran McCaffery vs. Jim Boeheim.

Connor McCaffery vs. Buddy Boeheim.

It will be a battle of fathers and sons Tuesday when Iowa (5-2) faces Syracuse in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup in the Carrier Dome. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.

Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery will have son Connor in the starting lineup again, facing Jim Boeheim’s fabled 2-3 zone defense. Boeheim’s son, Buddy, is the team’s sophomore shooting guard, averaging 13.4 points per game.

Connor McCaffery, a redshirt sophomore, is fourth in the nation with 4.9 assists per turnover. A natural point guard, he’s been playing at the forward spots more often recently after Jack Nunge was lost for the season to an ACL tear.

“He’s always been a guy that plays at multiple places on the floor — and I think that’s important,” Fran McCaffery said of his oldest son, who is 6-foot-5. “Now, he’s in different locations with regards to his playmaking ability. He can be equally effective.”

Connor McCaffery averages 7.4 points but is coming off a season-high 15-point effort in a Friday loss to San Diego State. He made 5 of 7 shots in that game, including a pair of 3-pointers. He had four assists without a turnover.

Fran McCaffery said he’s never given his son an overt message about when to look for his own offense vs. when to create opportunities for teammates.

Connor McCaffery is averaging 7.4 points and 4.9 assists per game while playing for his father, Fran, on the Iowa basketball team.

“When the shot’s there, take it. When there’s space there, drive it. When you’re covered, move it. Be aware of who’s on the floor with you,” Fran McCaffery tells Connor. “Over the course of 40 minutes, just play the game the right way. Don’t look to be a facilitator. Don’t look to be a scorer. Don’t look to be a driver or a jump-shooter. You’ve got to be all of it, but at the same time, you’ve got to defend. You’ve got to compete.”

Fran McCaffery’s middle son, Patrick, is also on the team but has missed the past five games while dealing with some health effects related to the thyroid cancer he overcame at age 14.

“He’s handled it really well. I think he’s in a good place, mentally,” Fran McCaffery said of Patrick’s hiatus from game action.

Boeheim, who has five Final Four appearances and one national championship in his 43 years as Syracuse coach, has a son, Jimmy, playing basketball at Cornell and a daughter, Jamie, who is the manager for the Rochester basketball team.

McCaffery and Boeheim are well-acquainted, dating to Fran’s years as an assistant coach at Notre Dame throughout the 1990s. McCaffery brought his North Carolina-Greensboro team to the Carrier Dome once and his Siena teams there twice. This will be the first time the Hawkeyes have played in that 33,000-seat arena.

McCaffery said Boeheim is much different than his dour sideline persona would suggest.

“He’s easygoing. He’s got a great sense of humor,” McCaffery said.

But Syracuse (4-3) is off to a tough start, with resounding losses last week to Oklahoma State and Penn State.

The constant is that 2-3 zone, which has tripped up many opponents over the years.

“They’re physical inside. They’ve got shot-blockers. And they’ll trap you in different locations,” McCaffery said. “Sometimes, it looks like they’re standing around, but it’s really a more active, physical, intense defense than a lot of people think. And so you’ve got to be able to mix 3-point shooting and penetration and some getting it inside and kind of play with pace.”

That means Connor McCaffery is going to have to make correct decisions. He has only seven turnovers this season.

“It’s not his job to deliver the ball to a certain person for a basket. He’s got to see it, read it, move it and have a sense of what’s there,” Fran McCaffery said. “But the guys on the wing, the guys in the post have to be every bit as much involved in attacking that defense.”

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

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