By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The six-day layoff between games has given the University of Iowa men’s basketball team a chance to prepare for a grueling two-week stretch that begins Tuesday with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The No. 14/15 Hawkeyes will host undefeated Pittsburgh at 8:05 p.m. (CT) on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. From there, Iowa opens Big Ten Conference play Friday against No. 22 Wisconsin, plays at No. 8/9 Michigan State on Dec. 3, and hosts Iowa State on Dec. 6.
“We have an intense stretch coming up,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery during a Monday teleconference. “The focus is on the next game in terms of scouting, but (the time off) gave us a little time to work on things we want to do.
“You give (the players) an opportunity to have rest (during that time) because the stretch that is coming up is going to be an intense couple of weeks.”
It starts Tuesday with a Pittsburgh team that is 6-0 under first-year head coach Jeff Capel. It’s a complete turnaround for a Panthers’ team that went 8-24 and 0-18 in the ACC last season.
“I like their team,” said McCaffery. “They play together, play hard, and defend. They are organized, run good stuff, and they have a good blend of young players, veteran returnees, and a couple of transfers.
“They have blended well together, that’s why they are 6-0.”
The Panthers have four players averaging in double figures with freshman Xavier Johnson leading the way at 16.7 points per game. Senior Jared Wilson-Frame averages 16 points off the bench, while St. John’s transfer Malik Ellison (11.3) and freshman Au’Diese Toney (10.5) also average in double figures.
Toney also leads the team with 6.8 rebounds per game.
Pittsburgh played its first five games at home before defeating Atlantic 10 favorite Saint Louis, 75-73, in Brooklyn on Nov. 21.
“Jeff is an experienced coach,” said McCaffery. “He is a guy that has a plan and he came in with a plan and has put it together. He has implemented what they want to do on the court.”
McCaffery said the Hawkeyes will be without junior forward Cordell Pemsl for a fifth straight game Tuesday with an undisclosed injury.
“Cordell has not been practicing,” said McCaffery. “He is a little ways from being back. He is still being evaluated and we’ll see where it goes from here.”
Tickets are available for Tuesday’s game through the Iowa Athletics Ticket Office at hawkeyesports.com/tickets. The game will be televised on ESPNU with Jay Alter and Brook Weisbrod on the call.