By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Part of what makes the Iowa men’s basketball team so appealing is its toughness and ability to overcome adversity.
Even without two starters, including record-breaking 3-point shooter Jordan Bohannon, Iowa is well on its way to making the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in the last seven seasons under head coach Fran McCaffery.
It would take a major collapse for it not to happen, but every team has its breaking point with regard to handling adversity.
The concern now is that Iowa (17-8, 8-6 Big Ten) has reached that breaking point with a third starter, redshirt freshman guard C.J. Fredrick, out indefinitely due to a high ankle sprain that happened in the first half of Thursday’s 89-77 loss at Indiana.
Iowa is now missing three-fifths of its original starting lineup and down to having just seven scholarship players available for Sunday’s game at Minnesota.
And that includes junior forward Cordell Pemsl, who is expected to return for the Minnesota game after being suspended for the Indiana game due to being charged with driving with a revoked license.
Fredrick’s uncle, Joe Fredrick, said Friday on the Allhawkeyes/KCJJ radio show and podcast that his nephew’s injury is a high ankle sprain, and there is concern that C.J. could miss the remainder of the season.
However, Joe Fredrick also noted that C.J. Fredrick is a quick healer based on previous injuries, so Joe also didn’t rule that C.J. could return this season.
What seems certain, though, is that Iowa will be without its third leading scorer for the foreseeable future.
You now wonder if Luka Garza and his cohorts can hang on and keep playing at a level that is worthy of making the NCAA Tournament.
With a healthy Fredrick, Iowa is clearly an NCAA Tournament team, and has the record to prove it.
But without the 6-foot-3 Fredrick, it’s hard to say because he has only missed one previous game this season, and that was against Syracuse on Dec. 3rd when a stress reaction in his foot kept Fredrick from playing in Iowa’s 68-54 victory at Syracuse.
Bohannon did play, however, and scored 17 points and led Iowa with five 3-point baskets.
So Iowa is entering into uncharted territory with Fredrick expected to be out for some time, and without Bohannon to fill that void.
Iowa whipped Minnesota 72-52 on Dec. 9, but that game was at Carver-Hawkeye Arena where Iowa has a 12-1 record, and Fredrick also played more than 28 minutes and scored 10 points.
Bohannon also played in the first game against Minnesota, and while he was held scoreless, he still had ahuge impact with 10 assists, five rebounds and zero turnovers.
Garza has been dominate on offense throughout the season, and still scored 38 points against Indiana despite Fredrick missing most of the game.
"That's what I've got to do night in and night out," Garza said. "Obviously, I have to do a better job in the future, especially with all the adversity we're facing. So I'm just going to continue to do that, and we've won without some of our guys in the past, and we're going to continue to try and work through all this adversity. And I'm going to keep leading this team no matter what.
"And I'm going to get us some wins."
Sophomore Joe Wieskamp is Iowa’s only other double-digit scorer without Fredrick in the lineup, so expect defenses to focus even more on containing Wieskamp and Garza.
That’s why senior forward Ryan Kriener has to step up and play a bigger role on offense. The 6-9 Spirit Lake native has been held below 10 points in each of the past six games, and that has to change.
Kriener can score with his back to the basket or from the perimeter. And with Garza always drawing a crowd, there should be open looks for Kriener around the basket.
The 6-8 Pemsl also has to step up and play with more consistency, especially on offense.
Iowa needs veteran leadership right now, and despite all the injuries, there still is plenty of veteran leadership on the team.
Even sophomore guard Connor McCaffery is in his third season after having redshirted, while senior guard Bakari Evelyn is in his fifth year as a graduate transfer.
Iowa has six games left in the regular season, three on the road where it’s 1-5 in the Big Ten, and has been a sieve on defense, and three at home.
There still is reason for optimism, considering how well Garza is playing, but a team can only take so much adversity and roster shake-up.
Iowa has gone from exceeding expectations with a depleted roster to now trying to hang with a roster that keeps getting smaller.