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Iowa's Fran McCaffery hints at schedule changes; Hawkeyes hope Big Ten tourney moves to Indianapolis

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

When he met with the media Wednesday afternoon, Fran McCaffery spoke under the presumption that his Iowa basketball team was in a stretch of 18 days with just two confirmed games on the schedule.

But the 11th-year Hawkeyes coach also hinted that more changes could be coming. The possibility was open for a game to be added this weekend and/or early next week by the Big Ten Conference. That’s the flexible reality of the minute-to-minute world of trying to play a college basketball season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It's a little more complicated than it would appear,” McCaffery said. “This isn't (the NBA) Summer League where you're just moving games around. This is major (TV) networks that want particular teams on their network, and they figure that out at the front end. And now everything has to be changed with what other programming is going on.”

Between the postponements of two home games (Jan. 14 vs. Michigan State, Sunday vs. Nebraska — both because of those programs’ COVID-19 issues) and a mini-bye early next week, fourth-ranked Iowa’s only games between the Jan. 10 win against Minnesota and an anticipated Jan. 29 showdown at Illinois were the 96-73 win at Northwestern on Jan. 17 and Thursday’s 8 p.m. game vs. Indiana at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Iowa players huddle up before last week's game at Northwestern, just one of two Hawkeye games "on" between the dates of Jan. 11 to Jan. 28.

In an interview with the Register last week, Big Ten assistant commissioner Kerry Kenny said that makeup dates wouldn’t be determined until returning teams — in this case, Michigan State and Nebraska — had declared a firm resumption date. So, the Hawkeyes remained in limbo Wednesday, although intriguing possibilities had opened up.

With Illinois’ Saturday game against Michigan State off and Iowa free, it would make some sense to slide up that Jan. 29 game by five or six days, then hope the Spartans are back and available to fill that Jan. 29 TV slot against either Iowa or Illinois. But there’s also another possibility: What about adding an Illinois-at-Iowa game this weekend, since both teams are free? Then have the teams run it back Jan. 29 in Champaign? Iowa-Illinois is currently a “one-play” — meaning the teams only play each other once during the 20-game conference schedule. It would be a tantalizing doubleheader between teams that don't like each other much, but as the minutes pass that seems less and less likely.

Although McCaffery didn’t reveal any specifics, he said one-plays could become two-plays. That opens the door to a more realistic, intriguing possibility: a Michigan-at-Iowa game, early next week. Currently, the seventh-ranked Wolverines are a game short (with one of their two games against Penn State postponed) and have seven open days following Friday’s game at Purdue. Iowa (12-2, 6-1) and Michigan (12-1, 7-1) are tied in the loss column atop the Big Ten and only scheduled to meet March 4 in Ann Arbor.

If Iowa were to add a home game against Michigan or Illinois, for example, it could eliminate the home game vs. Michigan State; the Hawkeyes are scheduled to visit East Lansing on Feb. 13. Michigan State could then add Penn State as a two-play.

“We still could play some of our one-plays in place of another team potentially and play that team twice,” McCaffery said. “The league is working on that. They're working with the networks. And as far as I'm concerned, I'll just tell our team, 'Let's get ready for Indiana.' And then we'll deal with the next game on our schedule.”

That’s all his players and Iowa fans can do: Stay tuned and wait to hear the news.

Outspoken Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon, of course, wouldn’t turn down spotlight games. However, he did caution against the idea of jamming too many games into a tight schedule ahead of the March 10-14 Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament that follows.

“We have to be fresh for the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament,” Bohannon said. “I think that should be the main priority. I think the first thing should be not being willing to play six games in 11 days or something crazy … for us to get burnt out at the end of the season.”

Additionally, Bohannon and McCaffery were proponents Wednesday for moving the Big Ten Tournament from Chicago to Indianapolis … something that has been rumored, but not announced.

First, players’ families aren't permitted to attend games in the state of Illinois but would be in Indiana. Second, it might allow Iowa (and other NCAA tourney-bound teams) the possibility of just staying in Indiana after the Big Ten Tournament’s conclusion.

The NCAA announced specific dates and locations this week for the 68-team tournament, all to be held in Indiana — with all action from the second round through the Final Four at four venues in Indianapolis: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum and Lucas Oil Stadium.

“I like the idea that if it was there, hopefully we'd just stay there,” McCaffery said. “Whatever they think makes the most sense from a safety perspective, that's what we'll do.”

Added Bohannon: “I think that's the best situation, to move it to Indianapolis, where family members are going to be allowed … and watch us play for a Big Ten title.”