Iowa basketball forward Patrick McCaffery returns to practice as team prepares for Ohio State
Note to readers: This story has been updated to correct the TV network for Saturday's game. Iowa vs. Ohio State will be shown on Fox.
Iowa men's basketball's recent momentum was halted on Tuesday when its scheduled Wednesday night game against Northwestern was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols within Northwestern's program. On Thursday, the game was rescheduled to Jan. 31; Iowa's next contest is Saturday at Ohio State (1 p.m. on Fox).
How much did the last-minute change in scheduling affect the program? Not much, according to coach Fran McCaffery.
"Just get ready for the next one. We've done this before," McCaffery said on Thursday afternoon. "Last year we couldn't go to Ohio State (due to travel issues and inclement weather). The year before we had Nebraska (postponed), they got hit with COVID. No big deal."
The Hawkeyes were given an off day on Wednesday but players were still in the facility getting up shots, lifting weights or getting treatment on their own. They returned to practice on Thursday to begin prep work for Ohio State.
"We were in a rhythm, but I think we'll be fine," forward Payton Sandfort said. "Have a good practice (Thursday) and we'll just get right back to it."
There were a few noteworthy items that came out of Thursday's media availability with McCaffery and players. Here are four takeaways:
Starting forward Patrick McCaffery has returned to practice
Fran McCaffery provided an update on junior Patrick McCaffery, who stepped away from playing this month to battle anxiety. Patrick practiced this week and again on Thursday. There had been brief speculation Sunday that he was eyeing a return against Northwestern on Wednesday, but the university quickly refuted the report and said that no timetable has been set.
Coach McCaffery said there is no set date for a return to game competition, but the fact that Patrick has returned to on-court activities is a positive sign.
"The first step was obviously to get back for practice and see where he was physically in terms of his conditioning," the Hawkeye coach said. "He was pretty good, so that was good to see."
What can Iowa expect in its road trip to Ohio State?
The Buckeyes are on a five-game losing streak entering Saturday's game, but Iowa is not taking the matchup lightly. Despite the recent skid, Ohio State still ranks among the top five Big Ten teams in several categories, including points per game (77.1), opponent shooting percentage (40.4%) and team rebounds per game (39.3). And all five of its losses have been by single digits.
"They're a really impressive team," McCaffery said. "They were sitting there at 10-3 with a loss at Duke, in overtime to North Carolina and to a ranked San Diego State team, and then they lose five (straight games) games by a total of 19 points.
"They have a lot of different weapons. (Forward Zed Key) was hurt for a minute there and was on a minutes restriction, but he's back. He's one of the better big guys in our league. (Projected first-round pick Brice Sensabaugh) is probably one of the best freshmen in the country. They get really good play out of the point guard position ... They have some grad transfers that are really effective, so it's an old team with a couple of young guys that are really playing well."
Last season's game in Columbus was significant to Iowa's season. A desperate Hawkeye team secured its first Quad 1 win (a critical metric in determining NCAA Tournament bids) in a 75-62 win. Iowa is expecting a similar effort from Ohio State, which is looking to get its season back on track and re-enter the NCAA Tournament conversation.
"Obviously they're a very talented team," Sandfort said. "They're going to be desperate, they're going to be playing really hard. We just have to bring it even more, it's a big road game and will be a big environment. We're going to have to bring all we got."
Kris Murray's progression is garnering national attention
On Thursday, star forward Kris Murray was named to the Oscar Robertson Trophy midseason watch list, an award given to the nation's most outstanding player by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. This is Murray's second midseason honor after being named to the Wooden Award midseason Top 25 this month.
The junior is averaging 21.2 points and nine rebounds while shooting 51.6% from the field and 37% from 3-point range. His progression from last season to now is apparent, and it's a big reason why Iowa is surging.
"I'm playing with a lot more confidence this year," Murray said. "Going through the pre-draft process in the off-season, going to (NBA All-Star Damian Lillard)'s camp in August gave me confidence in myself and showed me how good of a player I can be and helped give me the confidence to lead this team."
Murray's biggest growth this season has come mentally more than physically, and Iowa's win over Maryland on Sunday was an example. He struggled in the first half with two points on 1-of-4 shooting and a pair of fouls that kept him off the court. Then he dominated down the stretch in the second half with 17 points that helped Iowa seal the win.
Last season Murray's mistakes might linger and create a domino effect, but this year he is better at managing the ebbs and flows of games, and it's making the difference.
"He's a completely different person," Fran McCaffery said. "Kris is just a real conscientious guy, and I tell him I'm not taking you out, I'm not going to get mad at you, just keep firing, keep attacking, and over the course of 40 minutes a lot of good things are going to happen for you and for us."
Iowa men's basketball shares positive reviews of Chris Street documentary
Wednesday's postponed game was also scheduled to be "Chris Street Remembrance Day" to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Hawkeye legend's death. The Big Ten Network featured Street's life and impact in its documentary series "The B1G Story" on Wednesday night. The night off allowed Iowa's program a chance to watch the premiere live.
It was particularly special for Kris Murray, who is named after Street. His father Kenyon was Street's teammate and close friend. He knew of Street's legacy, but the documentary put it in a new perspective.
"I knew a lot beforehand just from my dad telling stories and (Street's parents Mike and Patty)," Murray said. "But just being able to watch and see how it impacts other people's lives was truly special and it hit home for me a lot more."
Sandfort recalled playing in the annual Chris Street Memorial Tournament as a kid. Watching the special gave him a new appreciation for being a part of Iowa's program.
Fran McCaffery offered praise to the Big Ten Network for providing a full scope of Street's life and how his impact is being felt today.
"I think in a situation like that it's very important that you tell the story effectively," McCaffery said. "And I thought that's what (the Big Ten Network) did. I think that was important to us in our program, but it was important to the Street family that the story be told properly, and I thought it was."