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Iowa’s Fran McCaffery: Hawkeyes “veteran group playing like a veteran group”

If you had to have two consecutive games to play without your second-leading scorer, the Iowa men’s basketball team couldn’t have picked a better pair than Savannah State and Bryant.

Luka Garza sprained an ankle the day before the Hawkeyes’ 110-64 win over Savannah State last Saturday. Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Friday that the 6-foot-11 sophomore will miss Saturday night’s home game against Bryant.

“He’s making progress, really working hard, has been really diligent with his treatment,” McCaffery said. “He’s just not ready to go (Saturday).”

Which is fine. But will Garza be good to go when the 21st-ranked Hawkeyes resume Big Ten play with a game at Purdue next Thursday? We’ll probably know the answer to that on, oh, next Thursday.

“Even though you point toward the Purdue game,” McCaffery said, “he’s still missing practice time. He’s not where he would be even if he’s OK to play in the Purdue game. Either way, it’s just not a good thing.”

There is good news. Guard Connor McCaffery, who missed the Savannah State game because he was in concussion protocol, will be back Saturday. So Iowa will have eight scholarship players available for Bryant instead of the seven they sent out to decimate Savannah State.

Bigger picture, there’s no question that, so far, things are better with Iowa men’s basketball than they were a year ago. What is left to be seen is how much better. The two best teams the Hawkeyes have played are Big Ten mates Wisconsin and Michigan State, which coincides with their 10-2 overall record.

What will this Iowa team have to offer over its 18 remaining Big Ten games?

The Hawkeyes took a 9-6 record into 2018. Included were losses to Louisiana and South Dakota State. They proceeded to win just five of their last 18 games.

Last week I asked McCaffery how he viewed his team’s season to date. His comments:

“When you look at our body of work so far, we’re obviously a different kind of team. A team that’s a year older, of the guys we have back. We’ve got some other pieces that really fit what we needed.

“So you’ve got a lot of different options that we didn’t have last year. We can survive a couple guys having an off game. Other guys step up. I think that’s been the most-important thing. Various people have had big nights at different times. And sometimes they had quiet nights and others had really good games. That’s what you need. You need that kind of depth.

“We’ve got a veteran group that’s playing like a veteran group. Obviously, we’ve made some improvements in our ability to defend as a unit. But at the same time, I think our offense has looked good.

“We’re getting a lot out of our running game. I’d like to see us get a little more. But I think our ball-movement has been good, our ability to share the ball and establish the fact that we can go inside and get fouled, get to the free throw line. That has been impressive.”

Iowa leads the nation in free throws made and attempted per game.

“Our perimeter group has done a good job of getting the ball inside and recognizing we have some players who can score in there. So that diversifies what you’re doing. You’re not a jump-shooting team, you’re not a post-up team, a running team. You’re all of that.

“I think when you look at its entirety, I’m pleased with where we’re at. But we obviously recognize we’ve got some tough games coming up the rest of the season and have to continue to get better.”

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