By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - In years past when the Iowa men’s basketball team would struggle, Fran McCaffery sometimes would be criticized for using too many players.
Iowa’s ninth-year head coach has been known to rotate as many as 10 or 11 players if he feels they can help the team win and they deserve to play.
My how times have changed.
The only way McCaffery could use 10 or 11 players now is if he emptied his bench, and that still would would be cutting it close.
Iowa’s depth took another hit when McCaffery said on a Friday teleconference that his son, freshman point guard Connor McCaffery, would not play against Savannah State on Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena due to being in concussion protocol.
Fran McCaffery said Connor took some friendly fire in the form of an elbow to the face from teammate Tyler Cook in the 78-60 victory over Western Carolina on Tuesday.
Iowa also dealt with concussions last season as forward Ryan Kriener and former guard Brady Ellingson both missed multiple games due to concussions.
Fran McCaffery doesn’t expect that to be the case with the 6-foot-5 Connor McCaffery, who dealt with injury and illness last season.
“Kriener’s problem was that he has two of them,” Fran McCaffery said. “That obviously was problematic. He had two (concussions) in the same year, and Brady’s lasted a little longer than we thought.
“But Connor is progressing rapidly. I would expect him to play in the next game.”
Connor McCaffery joins a growing list of Iowa players who aren’t available to play. The others are junior forward Cordell Pemsl, who recently had season-ending knee surgery; sophomore forward Jack Nunge, who is being redshirted, and freshman guard C.J. Fredrick, who is also being redshirted.
The good news is that Kriener and sophomore walk-on forward Riley Till both are expected to play against Savannah State on Saturday, Kriener for sure.
Kriener limped off the court late in the Western Carolina game, but said afterwards that he was fine, while Till has been nursing a twisted ankle that occurred in a recent practice.
Iowa’s lack of depth shouldn’t be a problem on Saturday against a 3-10 Savannah State team that is in the middle of a 12-game road trip. Saturday’s game will be the Tigers' ninth straight away from home, and it would be a huge surprise if the game was even competitive.
Iowa is in the middle of a four-game stretch against overmatched nonconference opponents that it shouldn’t lose to under any circumstance, including a short bench.
The Tigers rank first in the country in 3-point attempts (43.6) and third in 3-point makes per game (12.5). Savannah State also ranks 15th in offensive rebounds per game (14.23) and 36th in rebounds per game (40.46).
“They play a very unique style,” Fran McCaffery said.
Savannah State relies heavily on the 3-point shot, but shoots poorly from behind the arc at less than 30 percent.
Iowa should have its way on both offense and defense and improve to 10-2 on the season.
The 23rd-ranked Hawkeyes will then finish nonconference play against Bryant on Dec. 29 at home before returning to Big Ten action on Jan. 3 at Purdue.
Barring a monumental upset in the next two games, Iowa should finish nonconference play undefeated (11-0) for the first time since the 1986-87 season.
So there is a lot riding on the final two nonconference games, even if the opponents leave much to be desired from a competitive standpoint.
Iowa needs all the momentum and wiggle room it can get before returning to Big Ten play where its record currently sits at 0-2 after losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State.
The next two games against Savannah State and Bryant are part of what Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta refers to as balancing the schedule.
What Barta means is that Iowa has to play a certain number of games against vastly overmatched nonconference opponents who are simply looking for a pay day to compensate for the damage that is caused by playing in the Big Ten.
So if you were to pick a game for Connor McCaffery to miss, Savannah State would be high on the list.
Iowa has played Savannah State once before, winning 116-84 on Nov. 13, 2016.
The result on Saturday could be similar.
Iowa vs. Savannah State
When: Saturday, noon
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
Stream: BTN Plus