Fran McCaffery has known Jim Boeheim for a long time.
McCaffery coached for five seasons at Siena College in upstate New York, just two hours east of where Boeheim has been a fixture at Syracuse for about half a century. They have worked together on Coaches vs. Cancer endeavors — Boeheim is a cancer survivor — and have matched wits head-to-head on the basketball court four times.
So the Iowa head coach knows enough not to be fooled by the fact that Syracuse is only 4-3 heading into their 6 p.m. matchup Tuesday night at the Carrier Dome in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
“They’re always going to be very good,’’ McCaffery said Monday on a teleconference with reporters. “They’ve got really good players and a Hall of Fame coach.
“They’re going to play the zone although they will change defenses more than people think, if necessary. It’s a challenge for your team to attack. It’s a unique place to play … It’s a situation where we’ve got to be ready to compete.’’
Nevertheless, it is apparent that this might not be the usual Syracuse team. At least not yet.
The Orange scored only 34 points in a season-opening loss to Virginia. That’s right, 34. They lost a pair of games last week, to Oklahoma State and Penn State, in the NIT Season Tip-off.
Penn State, picked by most to finish lower than Iowa in the Big Ten, hammered them by 21 points (85-64) on Friday night.
The Orange are playing several freshmen and have lost sophomore point guard Jalen Carey for 8 to 10 weeks because of a thumb injury.
“This is going to take time,’’ Boeheim said following the Penn State loss. “Anybody that didn’t understand that wasn’t really paying attention. We’ve got a long way to go. We’re going to have to go through some painful time.’’
Boeheim, 75, is now in his 44th season as the head coach at Syracuse, where he has won 946 games (not counting 101 victories that had to be vacated as part of NCAA penalties in 2015). He’s 4-0 against McCaffery, including one game when the Iowa coach was at UNC-Greensboro, two at Siena and one since he has been with the Hawkeyes.
While McCaffery might not admit it, you have to think it would be gratifying for him to finally beat one of the legends of his profession.
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“I have a lot of respect for him,’’ McCaffery said of Boeheim. “He’s really a lot different than I think a lot of people think he is. He’s easy-going, he’s got a great sense of humor. I have a lot of respect for him and I recognize the challenge before us.’’
Son vs. son: McCaffery and Boeheim each has a son who is a sophomore in eligibility who will be in their respective starting lineups Tuesday. In fact, there is a good chance that Connor McCaffery and Buddy Boeheim could guard one another at times.
Buddy is Syracuse’s No. 2 scorer at 13.4 points per game. Connor averages only 7.4 points, but he currently leads the Big Ten and is fourth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Bohannon progressing: McCaffery said Jordan Bohannon, who is in the process of recovering from off-season hip surgery, felt “pretty good’’ after playing games on back-to-back days in Las Vegas last week.
He admitted Bohannon didn’t do much in practice on Sunday, though.
The senior guard collected 20 points and six assists while playing 33 minutes in a victory over Texas Tech on Thursday, but then had only three points and two assists in 23 minutes in a Friday loss to San Diego State.
McCaffery attributed that more to the Aztecs’ defense than Bohannon’s hip.
“I think we’ve got to do a better job screening for him and they were really doubling him to get the ball out of his hands …’’ McCaffery added. “I thought he played well in that sense. You don’t want to force the issue. We’ve got to do a better job of getting him more shots.’’
Patrick update: McCaffery said his son, Patrick, who has been dealing with physical issues related to his 2014 battle with cancer, is doing well but the 6-foot-9 freshman apparently isn’t yet ready to return to the court.
“We’re still working through the stuff he’s been through and trying to figure out how best to maximize his opportunity,’’ McCaffery said. “We’ve seen a lot of people and we’ll continue to do so. It’s a lengthy process for him. It’s a different kind of journey. I think he’s doing really well. He’s in a good place mentally.’’
Travel grind: The Hawkeyes returned home from Las Vegas at 2 a.m. Saturday, then left for Syracuse at 2 p.m. Monday. After getting back home very late Tuesday night, they’ll take off again late Thursday afternoon for their Big Ten opener at No. 4-ranked Michigan on Friday night.
“We said from the beginning this is a difficult stretch for us but that’s what the game is …’’ McCaffery said. “It’s not something that we really talk about, to be honest with you. It’s next game on the schedule.’’
Big Ten POWs: Michigan center Jon Teske and Maryland guard Anthony Cowan, each of whom was the MVP of a tournament last week, shared Big Ten player of the week honors.
Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis was the freshman of the week after averaging 20 points and 12.5 rebounds in two games last week.