On short rest, Iowa men's basketball relies on 'smart' preparation with Rutgers looming

Kennington Lloyd Smith III
Des Moines Register

Iowa's men's basketball team rarely dwells on losses, and this week's schedule doesn't allow for much contemplation anyway.

The Hawkeyes lost 63-61 at Michigan State on Thursday night, returned to Iowa City around 1 a.m. Friday and were back at the practice facility Friday afternoon to begin preparation for Rutgers on Sunday (1 p.m. on Big Ten Network).

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Friday that it helps that his team played Rutgers a few weeks ago. As for the quick turnaround, McCaffery doesn't believe it will affect his team too much.

"It's pretty routine. You can't be nuts," McCaffery said. "You're smart with what you do in practice and how hard you go and how long you go and how much you practice versus film review on us and our opponent. You kind of figure it out."

Iowa's quick turnaround followed by a busy week (three home games in seven days) is compounded by the fact that the team's depth is thinner than usual. With forward Patrick McCaffery (anxiety) and center Josh Ogundele (knee) out, Hawkeye starters and top reserve Payton Sandfort are handling a larger load of minutes. Four of Iowa's five starters played every minute of the second half on Thursday night. Starting center Filip Rebraca emphasized the importance of every player taking the necessary steps to recover in between games.

"We got to live with Brad Floy, our trainer," Rebraca said. "Hydrate and eat well, we can't be eating bad stuff. You got to take care of your body and have a professional approach. Not everything is just about on-court work, shooting and skills. You got to take care of yourself 24/7."

Iowa's Filip Rebraca drives against Michigan State's Mady Sissoko during Thursday's game in East Lansing, Mich. Iowa lost 63-61 and now enters a critical three-game homestand that will have Big Ten and NCAA Tournament implications.

Iowa (12-8, 4-5) is entering a critical three-game homestand over the next seven days that will have Big Ten and NCAA Tournament implications. The Hawkeyes are one of 10 teams separated by just two games in the conference standings. The competitiveness of the Big Ten top-to-bottom shrinks the margin for error. On the NCAA side, Iowa is 41st in the NCAA NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) rankings and the upcoming games against Rutgers, Northwestern (Tuesday) and Illinois (Saturday, Feb. 4) are either Quad 1 or Quad 2 games, meaning there's a chance to continue building a Tournament resume.

It starts with Rutgers on Sunday. The Scarlet Knights have posted a 3-1 record since Iowa won in Piscataway, New Jersey, on Jan. 8. McCaffery was pleased with how his team responded defensively at Michigan State, allowing just 63 points on 39% shooting from the field. However, it was a cold shooting night for Iowa, too, including a 3-of-17 showing from the 3-point line and 6-of-13 from the free-throw line. And now the Hawkeyes face a stiff challenge in the Scarlet Knights' stingy defense.

McCaffery noted that the offensive execution has been there but the shots haven't fallen. Free-throw shooting will be a metric to watch on Sunday. Iowa is usually strong from the foul line but ranks No. 7 in the conference (135th nationally) at 72%. With points at a premium, the Hawkeyes must take advantage of every opportunity.

"What you do is you look and say are we taking bad shots, are we getting guys good threes," McCaffery said. "I don't remember too many bad ones. I'm a little more concerned that we missed the free throws. We usually don't miss free throws like that.

"We were in a position to go up a couple times (at Michigan State), either tie the game or go up on the road. We missed seven (free throws) and I don't remember if there was a one-and-one in there, so maybe you're leaving more points up there that you're not getting. In a game like that, you're playing a game in the low 60s, every point is critical."