By Pat Harty
It would be easy to make excuses for the short-handed Iowa men’s basketball team, but that wouldn’t change what happened against Nebraska on Tuesday.
Iowa’s lack of firepower, which was caused by the loss of three starters and four scholarship players overall, was too much to overcome as the lowly Cornhuskers hung on for a 76-70 victory in Lincoln, Neb.
It was announced just prior to Tuesday’s game that redshirt freshman guard C.J. Fredrick would not play due to a stress reaction in his foot.
Fredrick leads the Big Ten in 3-point field-goal percentage, and that’s an area where Iowa struggled big time on Tuesday, making just 4-of-33 attempts from 3-point range.
Iowa was also without senior point guard Jordan Bohannon, who is already the school’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals made, without starting power forward Jack Nunge, who suffered a season-ending knee in the fifth game, and without freshman forward Patrick McCaffery, who has only appeared in two games due to health issues.
Bohannon and Nunge definitely aren’t returning this season, and it’s looking more like Patrick McCaffery will redshirt, so reinforcements aren’t coming anytime soon.
Fredrick also had his left foot wrapped in a protective boot, so it’s hard to know when he will return.
Iowa’s next game is against Maryland on Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and the Terrapins are as step up from Nebraska in terms of talent.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was in no mood for excuses after Tuesday’s game.
“We have other guys,” McCaffery said. “We have to play better than we played tonight. Give credit and respect to our opponent, but we didn’t play as well as we had been playing. And I’m not going to put that all on the fact that C.J. Fredrick was not on the floor.
“Because we had somebody in there. It wasn’t like we played four-on-five. Somebody else was playing. We’ve got to play better.”
One of the best things Nebraska did in Tuesday’s game, besides keep Iowa off the free throw line, was pack the lane and make things difficult for junior center Luka Garza on offense.
The Big Ten’s leading scorer faced constant double-teams as Nebraska dared Iowa to take 3-point shots.
The strategy worked as Iowa missed 29 shots from 3-point range, while Garza was held to 16 points, which is nearly six below his per-game average.
Sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp led Iowa with 21 points, but he also struggled from 3-point range, making just 1-of-10 attempts.
“Iowa does a great job of pushing the pace and getting the ball down the floor and we always wanted to have somebody on the back side, and then we were going to try and rotate, especially on to Wieskamp on the back side,” said first-year Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg. “So that’s what it was all about, getting back and I thought we did a real good job of it.”
McCaffery praised Wieskamp for figuring ways to compensate on offense for his poor shooting.
“I don’t think he’s probably ever gone 1-for-10 in his life, but he still fought his way to 21 points,” McCaffery said. “So I told him I was really proud of his effort. He got on the glass. He drove the ball. He got some second shots.
“So from that standpoint, I was really proud of him.”
It might seem premature to call the fourth of 20 conference games a must-win for Iowa. But Tuesday’s matchup in Lincoln was big for lots of reasons because the loser fell to 1-3 in conference play.
Nebraska also might be one of the easiest places to win on the road in the Big Ten this season, along with Northwestern, due simply to a lack of talent in Hoiberg’s first season as head coach.
The challenge for Iowa was more about avoiding what would be considered a horrible loss, but that proved to be too daunting of a task for lots of reasons besides having a depleted roster.
Fran McCaffery set the tone for moving on by refusing to use his depleted roster as an excuse. The Big Ten Conference shows no mercy for depleted squads, because as McCaffery said, every team has injuries.
Iowa’s situation might be extreme, but the challenge now is to make the best out of what you have.