Iowa basketball finally adds Ohio State game, but focus is on Nebraska
After a near 10-day wait, Iowa men's basketball has its makeup game against Ohio State set. The matchup, which was originally postponed by travel complications for the Hawkeyes due to a winter storm across the Midwest last week, is now set for Feb. 19. The Saturday-afternoon game will tip off at 1:30 p.m. CT, with a national-network broadcast on FOX.
On Saturday, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery talked about the difficult process of rescheduling this late in the year.
"A lot of discussions, a lot of people involved," he said via Zoom. "We finally got it done. It's complicated when there's not a lot of time left in the season."
The announcement restores Iowa's 20-game Big Ten schedule but creates a logjam of games to conclude February. The Hawkeyes will play six games in 12 days, including a three-game stretch of Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State from Feb. 17-22.
"We're not going to worry about it," McCaffery said. "Just play the game when it's scheduled."
Fran McCaffery has a lot of respect for Nebraska basketball
Right now, McCaffery's and his team's focus is squarely on starting this home stretch on a positive note against Nebraska. The Huskers are last in the Big Ten standings (1-12 conference record) but are coming off their first conference win of the season in their last game against Minnesota.
McCaffery also noted that they have several close losses; half of their Big Ten losses are by 10 points or less.
Nebraska's led by five-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week Bryce McGowens, but this is a deeper team than previous years, according to McCaffery. It's going to take a full effort to avoid an upset and a bad loss on their NCAA Tournament resume.
"They've lost some really, really tight games," McCaffery said. "I thought they played great at Michigan (on Feb. 1). I thought they had Rutgers beat at home (on Feb. 5) so it's a team in my opinion that is substantially better than what their record indicates."
Continuing to play strong defense is key for Iowa basketball
McCaffery can tell a notable change in Iowa's defensive intensity over the past two games. The Hawkeyes limited Minnesota to just 7-for-30 shooting in the second half (23%) and forced 12 turnovers. Against Maryland: 12 more turnovers forced while winning the rebounding battle 37-28, which limited the Terrapins to just 12 second-chance points.
"Obviously that has to continue with our tough stretch coming up," McCaffery said. "You're into February. We've got to defend and get productivity from a lot of different players. There's different lineups, different guys coming in and producing in different ways (and) sometimes it's more defensively than offensively. That kind of defense leads to points."
The biggest challenge for Iowa on Sunday is limiting McGowens, Nebraska's leading scorer at 17 points per game, and its other top scorer, guard Alonzo Verge Jr., at 14 points per game. But McCaffery noted it's more than those two, and they'll have to be connected at every position to turn a recent positive defensive trend into permanent consistency.
"They have a lot of other pieces," McCaffery said. "Alonzo Verge is a really talented player and a sixth-year guy as well. They have multiple scorers. They've got athletes and length. They've got pieces and they've proven that.
"(But) McGowens is ample. They go to him and he's versatile and someone we're going to have to pay a lot of attention to."
Iowa's guard rotation will continue
Thursday's Maryland game marked the second in a row for Iowa's backcourt lineup change. Jordan Bohannon and Tony Perkins were the starters with Joe Toussaint and Ahron Ulis coming off the bench.
Each player has had good moments in each of the past two games. McCaffery made it clear on Saturday that all four will have a role but said those roles may fluctuate game by game.
"They're all going to play," McCaffery said. "(It) will depend from one game to another (on) who's playing well (and) what combinations are playing well on the floor. (Assistant coach) Billy Taylor said that after the Minnesota game that he had one combination and he stuck with that group."
The combination in the second half of the Minnesota game was Bohannon and Ulis, who combined for 35 of 40 possible minutes. Against Maryland it was different: Toussaint tripled his minutes from six to 18, Bohannon led all guards with 31 minutes, Perkins played 18 minutes and Ulis played 14 minutes.
"I thought we got great play from everyone that I put in," McCaffery said. "That's the kind of team we have and that's how it's going to be moving forward."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.