Fran McCaffery explains why he moved his son to power forward in Iowa starting lineup

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Fran McCaffery made a somewhat unorthodox decision about his starting lineup when power forward Jack Nunge went down five games into the season.

Senior Ryan Kriener, at 6-foot-10, seemed like the logical choice to fill that role for the Iowa men’s basketball team.

But McCaffery instead turned to his son, 6-5 sophomore Connor McCaffery, who had been primarily playing point guard before that.

Fran McCaffery said Friday he’d never before considered Connor as someone who could muscle up in the post when needed.

“I made a decision that we needed Connor on the floor,” McCaffery said. “I brought Kriener in and I said, ‘Look, Ryan, I like you and (center) Luka (Garza) together, but I want to be able to have that option coming down the stretch if we need it. And I want that option against certain teams that play two bigs. So rather than start you both, I don’t need you both getting in foul trouble …’”

And so far, so good. The No. 19 Hawkeyes are 14-5 and 5-3 in the Big Ten Conference heading into Monday’s home game against Wisconsin. Connor McCaffery has averaged 5.6 rebounds in the 14 games since Nunge’s injury.

Iowa guard Connor McCaffery (30) high-fives fans during a NCAA Big Ten Conference men's basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Kriener is averaging eight points per game while coming off the bench to play 18-22 minutes most nights.

McCaffery pointed out that his son played some power forward during his senior season at Iowa City West.

“When you get to 215 (pounds), you at least have enough girth to play against most guys. It’s going to be hard for him against those guys that are 255, but then again, you’ve got some issues on the other side when that guy’s got to guard him,” Fran McCaffery said.

“More and more teams are playing small, anyway, so it’s really worked.”

Connor McCaffery does still play guard at times in Iowa’s lineup. His versatility has been a big plus for a team that is also without senior point guard Jordan Bohannon after he had season-ending hip surgery.

Kriener, meanwhile, has started three games when guard CJ Fredrick was injured. He has scored in double digits in each of the Hawkeyes’ past three games after Fredrick returned. Iowa is on a four-game winning streak.

McCaffery likes being able to turn to Kriener off his bench.

“He provides defense. He provides size. He provides intelligence. And he provides scoring,” McCaffery said of Kriener. “He complements Luka well, so we can play them together.”

Joe Toussaint 'keeps grinding and wants to get better'

In Bohannon’s absence, freshman Joe Toussaint became Iowa’s starting point guard. The 6-foot native of New York is fast, sometimes to a fault. When he gets too sped up, McCaffery pulls Toussaint and goes with senior Bakari Evelyn. But when Toussaint can control his speed and use it as an asset, he gives the Hawkeyes a dimension they haven’t had in recent years.

That was the case Wednesday, when Toussaint played 30 minutes and gave Iowa 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists in an 85-80 win over No. 25 Rutgers. Afterward, McCaffery said that’s the kind of performance he expects from Toussaint. It’s up to Toussaint to start finding consistency.

“We present expectations for him. He’s a student of the game,” McCaffery said Friday of Toussaint. “He’s had some ups and downs. But he’s a freshman point guard, the hardest position to play as a freshman in the game.

“To his credit, he keeps grinding and wants to get better. I thought he was really good in that game and he’s going to do everything he can to be good in the next game. You know you’re going to get effort. You know you’re going to get tremendous tenacity. Really good defense. He’s going to be on the glass. He’s been a terrific rebounder for often times being the smallest guy on the floor.”

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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