By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Adversity is always lurking in sports, and no team, or person, is immune from it.
A team’s path to success sometimes gets filled with obstacles that either get cleared or that ultimately cause the season to unravel.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery is dealing with that circumstance right now with his team besieged by injuries and illness heading into Tuesday’s game at Nebraska.
Redshirt freshman shooting guard C.J. Fredrick is questionable for the Nebraska game, according to what Fran McCaffery said Monday morning on a teleconference, while sophomore guard Connor McCaffery was starting to feel better on Monday after “throwing up all day yesterday,” according to Fran McCaffery, who is also Connor’s father.
Iowa already is without three scholarship players due to health issues, including starting point guard Jordan Bohannon and starting forward Jack Nunge, both of whom had season-ending surgery on their hip and knee, respectively.
Freshman forward Patrick McCaffery also has appeared in just two games this season because of health concerns.
So if Fredrick can’t play on Tuesday, that would leave Iowa without three starters and without four scholarship players overall.
Fredrick averages 10.3 points per game and plays an average of 26.2 minutes per game.
“I think we’ll know a lot more about that in the next day or so,” Fran McCaffery said of Fredrick Monday morning. “I’m not ducking the question. We’re looking at a variety of things with him. We want to make sure before we run him back out there that he’s ready to go. Clearly, he was not ready to go in the second half.
“When your trainer says you can’t go, then you shut him down. You’re out, next man up. That’s kind of how it was, that’s kind of how it is right now. Until I hear otherwise, that’s how it is.”
Fran McCaffery only used seven players in the second half of this past Saturday’s 89-86 loss to Penn State at the steamy Palestra in Philadelphia.
Fredrick played in the first half, but was ineffective due to what is now being described as an ankle/foot injury. Fredrick did not play in the second half against Penn State, while junior center Luka Garza and sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp both played the entire second half.
Garza led Iowa with 34 points, but he also missed half of his 14 free throw attempts, including some critical ones down the stretch.
His struggles at the free throw line have caused some to wonder if fatigue was to blame.
That type of narrative is a dramatic change from seasons past when Fran McCaffery was criticized for using too many players in a rotation.
McCaffery has used as many as 10, and sometimes, even 11 players in a rotation, and when those teams would struggle, he would be criticized for not letting the players get into a rhythm.
The current players certainly don’t have to worry about that because now it’s just a matter of keeping enough of them healthy.
Iowa’s bench consists mostly of senior forward Ryan Kriener, junior forward Cordell Pemsl and senior guard Bakari Evelyn, with former walk-on Riley Till another option at small forward.
Fran McCaffery said Monday that the 6-foot-9 Kriener likely would start if Fredrick can’t play against Nebraska.
There was some concern about Kriener’s status after he banged his knee in the Penn State game and was in obvious pain.
“He’s doing pretty well,” Fran McCaffery said. “I was really concerned about him when I went on the floor. He was hurting.
“He’s a tough kid. Once they figured out it was nothing serious, he said ‘I can go back in.’ He looks OK.”
Speaking of looking OK, point guard Joe Toussaint was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Monday after having scored 18 points against Penn State, including 16 in the second half. The Bronx, N.Y., native also had four assists and two steals against Penn State.
Toussaint, Garza and Wieskamp combined to score all but 11 of Iowa’s 86 points against Penn State.
Toussaint’s quickness has provided a spark on both ends, and he brings a level of toughness and moxie that seems to inspire his teammates.
What this Iowa teams lacks in depth, it makes up for with grit and determination, and Toussaint is a big reason for that.
His emergence is one positive to come from Bohannon’s unfortunate situation.
And while it might seem early to call the fourth of 20 conference games a must-win, there is a lot riding on Tuesday’s game for Iowa, including the threat of being 1-3 in conference play with a loss.
Nebraska, with records of 6-8 overall and 1-2 in conference play, is also a program in transition under first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg, and is vulnerable in many ways because of that.
Iowa vs. Nebraska
When: Tuesday, 8 p.m.
Where: Lincoln, Neb.
TV: Big Ten Network