Iowa Hoops Presser Notes: On Schedules, Bubbles, COVID-19, and Freshmen

By RossWB on October 8, 2020 at 12:30 pm
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© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

PRESEASON PRESS CONFERENCE SZN was in full swing in Iowa City this week, between a pair of football pressers with players from the offensive and defensive sides of the ball as well as a basketball presser to give an update where things stand on the 2020-21 season. 

* The new season is officially set to start November 25, a few weeks later than normal due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Official practices will begin October 14, a week from yesterday. That's also when Iowa will begin undergoing daily antigen testing for COVID-19; the breakthrough in developing that testing protocol was what enabled the Big Ten presidents to feel comfortable resuming sports this fall and winter. There are still details to be worked out re: what happens if (when?) a player test positive. 

* Iowa is looking to play 27 games in the regular season, down just a handful from the standard length of around 31 games. At least 20 of those games are set to be Big Ten conference games, although Fran did mention that the league could look to add additional league games to the slate if planned non-conference games get scuttled due to the pandemic. That invites the possibility of some teams playing more Big Ten games than others, though that's probably a likely scenario even with a standard 20-game conference slate. This is going to be a weird season; we're just going to have to get used to that. Flexibility and adaptability are going to be key. 

* Of those 7 potential non-conference games, Iowa plans to maintain its annual series with in-state rival Iowa State. (That game was previously slated to be in Iowa City this year, though times and locations for all games remain in flux at this point.) Fran also noted that they're planning to play an ACC opponent (identity TBD later) as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge at this time. Fran also noted that Iowa intends to host a four-team tournament at Carver-Hawkeye Arena; the Hawkeye Challenge is BACK, baby! That tournament would encompass a further two non-conference games, leaving three games still to be determined. One of those would seem to be the Iowa-Gonzaga game in Sioux Falls that has been reported (but not yet formally announced). Scheduling is very much in flux right now, so it's hard to say when we might see a prospective schedule. 

* Fran also threw a little cold water on the idea of a "bubble" environment for NCAA hoops this winter. The NBA and NHL successfully completed their seasons (and postseasons) in closed-off bubble environments in Florida and Canada, respectively. That also came at great cost -- the NBA's bubble in Orlando reportedly cost $170 million. As Fran told Hawk Central, “There is no such thing as a bubble” for college basketball, McCaffery said. “All it means is you’re going to one location and maybe you sequester in a hotel and they clean the arena really well.” 

A true bubble environment -- sending all the teams to a single location for the duration of the season -- isn't feasible for college basketball and even conference-only bubbles likely aren't feasible (to say nothing of how much the creation of such would further trample on the "student" portion of "student-athlete"). I do wonder if the schedule will be modified to incorporate bubble-ish environments, though. Maybe a handful of teams go to a single location for a long weekend and play 2-3 games in order to cut down on travel. The main benefits of home and away games in college basketball are the home court advantage you get from playing in front of your fans and the money derived from attendance and concessions, but if fan attendance is allowed at all it's sure to be significantly reduced, which would massively reduce the impact of those aforementioned benefits. If nothing else, I would expect to see more clustering in terms of the league schedule; it would make sense for Iowa to host a stretch of home games before heading out for, say, a pair of road games at Illinois and Northwestern. 

* McCaffery confirmed that "multiple" players were afflicted with COVID-19 this summer (Jordan Bohannon is the only one who has confirmed his illness), with varying levels of impact. He did note that all players appeared to have recovered from the illness at this time. 

* Bohannon is one of two Hawkeyes who missed most of last season due to injury who is back and hoping to make a big impact in 2020-21. The other is Jack Nunge, who's barely been seen in an Iowa uniform of late after deciding to redshirt in 2018-19 and then tearing his ACL just a few games into the 2019-20 campaign. Nunge's rehab from that serious injury is almost complete, though, and he's set to begin on-court scrimmages next week. Nunge has added considerable size (and strength) to his frame in his time away from the court; after arriving at Iowa at around 200 lbs, he said he's now up to 245 lbs and regularly setting personal bests in the weight room. The Des Moines Register's Mark Emmert wrote a good profile on Nunge's comeback earlier this week. 

* In addition to the returning Nunge and Bohannon, Iowa is also set to add five true freshmen to their roster this season: twin wings Kris and Keegan Murray, guards Ahron Ulis and Tony Perkins, and British big Josh Ogundele. During his presser, Fran noted that at least two of them are likely to see playing time. Projecting which of those five might see the floor is difficult, given the crowd of experienced players ahead of them. Ogundele probably has the clearest path to playing time, given the relative lack of other bigs on Iowa's roster (just Garza and Nunge), but he's also had the least amount of time to practice or even develop his fitness as a result of COVID-related travel issues and a recent illness that's prevented him from working with the rest of the Iowa team. 

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