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Fran McCaffery eyes double-bye for his Iowa Hawkeyes in Big Ten Tournament

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The 31st game of Iowa’s basketball season carries the most weight, and no one is more aware of that than coach Fran McCaffery.

The No. 18 Hawkeyes (20-10, 11-8 Big Ten Conference) head to Illinois on Sunday knowing that a win in the regular-season finale will give them the coveted No. 4 seed in next week’s conference tournament. And that means one extra day to prepare and an automatic berth in the quarterfinals.

“Anytime you can have an opportunity to rest your guys and be fresh later in the tournament is obviously something we all want,” McCaffery said Friday. “This year probably more than ever. It’s particularly grueling in terms of the quality of teams, the physicality of the games. You can only imagine the tournament is going to be the same way.”

Iowa is coming off a 77-68 home loss to Purdue that was one of the team’s poorest showings of the season. But the No. 22 Illini (20-10, 12-7) left the door open for a top-four seed in the Big Ten Tournament by losing at Ohio State on Thursday. The Hawkeyes won the previous meeting between the teams.

McCaffery expects to have his usual eight-player rotation available for Sunday’s game. Reserve post players Ryan Kriener and Cordell Pemsl each suffered leg injuries against Purdue, but McCaffery said Friday: “They’ll be fine to play.”

Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery has been impressed with his team's ability to bounce back from poor performances this season. The Hawkeyes will look to do so again Sunday in the regular-season finale at Illinois.

'Astute' Hawkeyes have been able to flush poor performances all season

Iowa has lost back-to-back games only once this season, a remarkable show of consistency in a league that could send 10 or 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament.

And the Hawkeyes will have four days off between the Purdue and Illinois games. That works in their favor. McCaffery has been impressed with his team’s ability to bounce back all season.

“This is a pretty astute group. They know they didn’t play well. They know what they have to do better,” McCaffery said.

“You need to show them some things, but it needs to be primarily in a teaching environment, in a positive environment. But you also have to be honest with them. We all went through it. It wasn’t pleasant. So let’s deal with it and let’s get better. And I think if you take that approach, you’ve got a much better chance that the next game will be better.”

Encouraging Fredrick and Wieskamp to be aggressive ... within limits

Starting wing players CJ Fredrick and Joe Wieskamp have been unusually quiet on the offensive end in recent games. McCaffery said he retains full confidence in them and continues to draw up plays designed to get them shots.

The key is for the second-year players to recognize when to take a contested shot and when to pass the ball. It’s not easy, but McCaffery would rather see them trust their talent than become too timid.

Wieskamp is 12-for-44 (27%) from the field in Iowa's past five games, averaging 8.4 points. He is the team's second-leading scorer at 14.3 points per game.

Fredrick scored 18 points when Iowa defeated Illinois 72-65 on Feb. 2. He has averaged 6.4 points in the five games he's played since. He also missed three games with an ankle injury. He is the Hawkeyes' third-leading scorer at 10.5 points per game.

“They’re being closely guarded. They’re unselfish guys, so they move it rather than take what they would consider to be a bad shot,” McCaffery said.

“But that’s a fine line to say, ‘OK, just go hunt shots.’ If you’re hunting bad shots, then you’re going to be playing transition defense the whole night. So I just encourage them to be aggressive and I trust them to make good decisions.”

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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