IOWA CITY – As the Iowa basketball team prepares for a series of exhibitions on a foreign tour that begins with a game in Germany on Tuesday, coach Fran McCaffery has a big problem.
And he loves it.
The depth the Hawkeyes have at the interior positions on the roster this season presents the Iowa coach with some challenges as he works to carve up minutes to keep everyone involved.
“It’s not going to be easy, but if they all deserve to play, they’ll play,’’ McCaffery said last week prior to one of the last of Iowa’s 10 practices it held before leaving for Europe.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, McCaffery has seen growth from Iowa’s interior players. The addition of two freshmen, 6-foot-11 Jack Nunge and 6-11 Luka Garza, has only made the coach’s challenge a little more difficult.
He describes their contributions as “phenomenal’’ and expects both to help strengthen the Hawkeyes’ interior defense, an area where Iowa lacked consistency on its way to a 19-15 record last season.
Their presence has also pushed a large contingent of returning frontcourt players, 6-9 Tyler Cook, 6-8 Cordell Pemsl, 6-9 Ryan Kriener, 6-9 Dom Uhl and 6-7 Ahmad Wagner, to elevate their games.
“I’m a firm believer that in time, it will manifest itself,’’ McCaffery said. “What I’m going to try to do on this trip is a completely fair dispersal of playing time, not even breaking it down into this is my starting lineup, this is my next three, this is my next three, then these guys, they won’t play so much.’’
McCaffery said he won’t do that in part because he can’t.
“Nobody is in that last group that I can see,’’ he said.
So during the exhibition tour, McCaffery simply plans to mix and match Hawkeyes.
The plan is to designate four players per game who will likely sit out and rotate that.
“This game, these four guys aren’t playing, these guys are, and then that will change the next game,’’ McCaffery said. “Obviously, Dom (Uhl, a native of Germany) is going to play the games in Germany. We’ll mix the others up and when we come back it will really be a pretty even situation in terms of who played how many minutes.’’
One of the things McCaffery likes about his frontcourt is the versatility.
Cook, Pemsl, Kriener, Garza and Nunge have all rotated between the power forward and post positions this summer and McCaffery expects that to continue in his eighth season at Iowa.
“We have more low-post scoring threats than we’ve ever had. We have so many guys who can score inside, but the great thing about Ryan, Luka and Jack is that they can all make threes,’’ McCaffery said. “That’s going to create a little more space for Cordell and Tyler.’’
McCaffery has watched Cook become more aggressive off the dribble, attacking the rim more frequently, and has seen Kriener become more consistent with his play.
He believes that the comfort Garza and Nunge have both inside and out along with their willingness to share the basketball will help the Hawkeyes create match-up headaches for opponents.
“Coach is going to have a lot of options and a lot of decisions to make,’’ Cook said. “We can see all of the talent around and you better bring it every day or you’re going to get left behind.’’
So far, that hasn’t happened.
“If anything, I think truthfully it’s probably gotten worse from that standpoint,’’ McCaffery said. “It’s become harder because of how they’ve all been working and the way they’ve improved their games.’’