Without coach Fran McCaffery, Iowa men's basketball seeks needed win over Minnesota
Iowa men's basketball has seen its share of turbulence this week.
Its Thursday night road game at No. 16 Ohio State was postponed due to weather. And the following day, head coach Fran McCaffery tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss Sunday's home game against Minnesota.
Assistant coach Billy Taylor will step in for McCaffery to coach the Hawkeyes (14-7, 4-6 Big Ten Conference) against the Golden Gophers (11-8, 2-8). Iowa has struggled since its Jan. 16 81-71 win over Minnesota, losing three of four games and falling to ninth place in the Big Ten. The latest NCAA Tournament projections have Iowa as a No. 7 seed but a continued slide could put it on the bubble without a marquee win.
Thursday could've been the Hawkeyes' night to get a statement win after a bad loss to Penn State. But the struggling Gophers are ahead of them and, despite recent disruptions, they've had a few extra days to focus on getting back to winning Sunday.
Like in its first matchup against Minnesota, Iowa must get off to a sound start offensively. The Jan. 16 game was one in which the Hawkeyes controlled nearly wire-to-wire; a late Minnesota rally closed a lead that at one point reached 23 points. In their most recent losses to Purdue and Penn State, the Hawkeyes' slow start offensively created an early double-digit that they had to come back from.
Getting out into transition, where they're most comfortable offensively, comes from rebounding effectively. Iowa won the rebounding battle by a 40-31 margin against Minnesota but its past four games haven't been up to par: minus-11, plus-3, minus-5 and minus-10.
McCaffery's sudden absence comes at a time when questions about lineup changes have circulated. What will happen in the backcourt after their 0-for-18 shooting night at Penn State? Will Kris Murray enter the starting five? How much will Connor McCaffery's injury affect minutes off the bench? Those are some of the questions that Taylor will have to answer on Sunday.
What is certain is that Iowa needs improvement to get back to its winning ways. The remaining schedule is tough: two games against Michigan, one against Michigan State and Illinois, and the potential make-up with Ohio State. There are plenty of opportunities for that signature win, but a higher level of play is needed.
A win over Minnesota won't qualify as a resume-builder win but will improve Iowa's conference record, another key part of the tournament formula.
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com.