By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – There is little room for mercy or sympathy in sports, especially when that sport is the hotly contested Big Ten men’s basketball race.
While Hawkeye fans are sad and disappointed with all of the roster shakeup that has occurred this season, Iowa’s opponents are glad to exploit it.
Of course, nobody wants anyone to get injured regardless of allegiances, but it’s fair to assume that Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon would prefer to face Iowa on Friday without redshirt freshman guard C.J. Fredrick playing for the Hawkeyes.
Fredrick is dealing with a stress reaction in his left foot and is doubtful for Friday’s game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
He also missed this past Sunday’s 76-70 loss at Nebraska, and the Hawkeyes could’ve used the Big Ten’s leader in 3-point field-goal accuracy (.56.6 percent) as they only made 4-of-33 attempts from behind the arc.
Nebraska clogged the lane and blanketed Iowa center Luka Garza with two and three defenders at all times, while just daring his teammates to shoots threes.
“I promise Nebraska is not mad that C.J. didn’t play,” said Iowa sophomore guard Connor McCaffery. “It’s not like they’re worried about it.
“People talk about it because it’s happening and that what’s going on. But we try to not focus on it as much, because at the end of the day, what are you going to do at this point? You’ve just got to play through it at this point”
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who is also Connor McCaffery’s father, made it abundantly clear after the Nebraska loss that he was in no mood to talk about excuses.
Fran McCaffery could certainly make excuses with two starters out for the season with injuries, including senior point guard Jordan Bohannon, who is Iowa’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals made.
Assuming Fredrick doesn’t play on Friday, Iowa will be without three original starters, with the third being 6-foot-11 sophomore forward Jack Nunge, who suffered a season-ending knee in the fifth game.
Freshman forward Patrick McCaffery also has appeared in just two games this season due to health issues.
So there are plenty of excuses to go around, and it would be easy, because of the lack of depth and firepower, to excuse Iowa, which is 1-3 in the Big Ten and 10-5 overall, for losing to certain teams now.
Some fans, obviously, have lowered their expectations for this Iowa team now that the roster has been decimated.
But the players and coaches have to guard against that way of thinking because it’s dangerous and could prove costly.
“I think you can really fall into a trap with that,” Fran McCaffery said. “We're not the only team that's going through this. We're not the only team in this league that's going through this. There's guys injured, there's guys that leave.
“Bottom line is we have other players that we believe in or they wouldn't be wearing this uniform. And so that's an opportunity for them to step up and produce when given the opportunity.”
Iowa’s depleted roster also gives the healthy players a chance to prove the doubters and naysayers wrong.
Friday’s game against Maryland will be a huge opportunity to send a message that Iowa still is team that deserves respect.
“It’s easy to look at it from an outside perspective and say, oh, wow, look at what could have been because we have so many guys down,” said senior forward Ryan Kriener. “Look at Jack Nunge and Jordan and Pat and everyone. It’s easy to look at that, and I think a lot of the outside noise is kind of using that as an excuse.
“And I think us internally, at least for me anyways, I kind of use it as a motivator. Since I’ve been here, it’s always been about proving people wrong. People have never really given us the credit I felt that we deserved, especially after my sophomore season. So there’s just kind of been a continuous chip on the shoulder, something to prove. And coming out and having a little extra edge and something to prove is never a bad thing.”
Kriener’s outlook is just what you would hope from a veteran leader. He isn’t asking for sympathy or making excuses.
He instead is determined to make the best out of a bad situation by using adversity as motivation.
That is Iowa’s only option at this point.
Maryland vs. Iowa
When: Friday, 6:01 p.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
All-time series: Maryland owns a 6-3 advantage in the series, and won last year’s only meeting, 66-65, in Iowa City.