By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Point guard Connor McCaffery is a go, but center Luka Garza is a no-go for Saturday’s final nonconference game of the season against Bryant at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
No offense to the 6-foot-11 Garza, who is recovering from a sprained ankle, but it shouldn’t matter if he plays on Saturday because the 23rd-ranked Iowa men’s basketball team should defeat 3-7 Bryant under any circumstance.
It might be more difficult without Garza controlling the paint, but if the 10-2 Hawkeyes truly are one of the top 25 teams in country, then they should easily have enough firepower to overcome Garza’s absence.
A victory over Bryant would mark the first time that Iowa has finished undefeated in nonconference play since the 1986-87 season.
The 1986-87 squad would go on to finish 30-5 and fall just one win short of making the NCAA Final Four.
So to match anything it did is a worthy accomplishment, but there is one significant difference in that the current Iowa team is 0-2 in Big Ten play.
It is easy to forget that sobering fact with Iowa having won four games in a row, and with its last Big Ten loss to Michigan State having occurred nearly a month ago on Dec. 3 in East Lansing, Mich.
You know, sort of out of sight, out of mind.
The hope is that Garza will be healthy enough to play when Iowa returns to Big Ten action on Jan. 3 at Purdue.
His availability will be critical for the Purdue game because an 0-3 start in Big Ten play might be too much to overcome.
“It’s just day to day,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Garza’s ankle Friday on a teleconference. “He’s making progress, really working hard, has been really diligent with his treatment and he’s just not ready to go (Saturday).”
Garza’s absence will mean more playing time for 6-9 junior Ryan Kriener.
He and Cook will be Iowa’s only low-post options with Garza out and with junior forward Cordell Pemsl having recently had season-ending knee surgery and with sophomore Jack Nunge being redshirted this season.
“He’s just a guy that understands how to play,” Fran McCaffery said of Kriener. “He’s got a complete skill set and he’s playing with confidence right now. It’s never good to have a guy out, but it’s another opportunity for him to grow and get some quality minutes.”
As for the 6-5 Connor McCaffery, he missed last Saturday's game against Savannah State due to being in concussion protocol.
Iowa vs. Bryant
When: 7 p.m., Saturday
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena