By JAMES ALLAN
HAWKEYES STEP UP
CJ Fredrick was a game-time decision at Syracuse; he stayed in his street clothes. Cordell Pemsl was a no go… so was Jack Nunge and Patrick McCaffery. Despite being short-handed, the Hawkeyes won their sixth game of the season over the Orange on Tuesday night in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
“Right before the game we found out that neither CJ nor Cordell were going to play,” said redshirt sophomore Connor McCaffery. “We had the next man up mentality.
“Someone like Riley Till, we trust Riley. We know he’s going to come in and do what he needs to do and he did. We have had a lot of adversity early on, but moving forward, having guys stepping up and playing different roles, that’s going to help as people get more comfortable with everything.”
Connor McCaffery is a point guard by trade. He also is a Hawkeye asset at the two, three, and four positions (and five in a pinch).
“I know the 1-2-3-4-5 every play we have,” said McCaffery. “I have to know those spots to successfully run what we want to run.”
McCaffery has 38 assists and only seven turnovers this season, tops in the Big Ten, and he’s fourth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (5.4). McCaffery hasn’t committed a turnover since the Cal Poly game Nov. 24.
“(His flexibility) is critical because we have guards that we like in (Joe) Toussaint and Bakari (Evelyn) and with Cordell (Pemsl) being out, we need somebody to step up,” said head coach Fran McCaffery. “Connor, it’s a different component and dimension.
“He can still feed Luka (Garza) from the wing, make plays from there and score. He recognizes we have other guys that he needs to get the ball to, whether it’s Joe (Wieskamp), JBO (Bohannon), CJ, or Luka and still knows what his responsibility is.
“Physically, he’s in a good place to be able to do that for us.”
What has been the key to Luka Garza’s 20-point, 10-rebound production during the first eight games of the 2019-20 season?
Staying on the court.
“I have been more conscious about it this year,” said Garza, who is the only player from a Power 5 Conference to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. “Looking back to last year, a lot of it came on defensive stance, standing up then I have to get low to go somewhere.
“That’s when I get late to places and get cheap (fouls). I have tried to reduce as many stupid fouls as I can. It has been my focus. We have injuries, and I have to do a little more. That means I can’t be in foul trouble on the bench.”
Garza has committed more than three fouls just twice in eight games this season.
3 WINS, 3 DAYS
The Wolverines started the season 7-0 under first-year head coach Juwan Howard before falling, 58-43, at top-ranked Louisville on Tuesday night. Among the seven-game winning streak was winning three games in as many days to win the Battle 4 Atlantis title. Michigan defeated Iowa State, North Carolina, and Gonzaga.
“That was impressive,” said Fran McCaffery. “A lot of those three-game tournaments, there is a day off in between — you play two, day off, play one. Playing three games in three days in that tournament, that’s not easy, especially with that level of competition.
“Having watched all three of those games, all three teams were different. That’s what is impressive about what they did. The challenge of a one-day prep, then beating teams that have different pieces says a lot about who Michigan is.”
A DYNAMO GUARD
The Hawkeyes will have to contend with an All-America-type point guard Friday in their Big Ten Conference opener. Senior Zavier Simpson is the Wolverines’ catalyst, averaging 11.9 points, 8.9 assists, and 4.3 rebounds during the team’s 7-1 start.
“He plays with tremendous confidence, is talented, and has great vision,” said Fran McCaffery. “He’s an aggressive guy offensively, so he’s coming at you, and he puts pressure on the defense in a lot of ways. He has been a good player in this league for a long time.”