By Pat Harty
Iowa basketball player Aaron White found relief in the form of a question before practice on Tuesday.
“Thank you, I appreciate that, there we go,” White said to reporters after being asked his thoughts on Northwestern, who is Iowa’s next opponent on Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Talking about Northwestern was a nice diversion for White, who up until that point had been peppered by questions about the controversy surrounding his head coach.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery has been suspended from the Northwestern game for violating the Big Ten’s Sportsmanship Policy. The University of Iowa also was fined $10,000 as part of the punishment for McCaffery being ejected about midway through the second half of Sunday’s 75-71 loss at Wisconsin.
White defended McCaffery for standing up his players in the Wisconsin game. McCaffery became upset after Iowa junior center Gabe Olaseni was called for a defensive foul.
“He wasn’t doing that to make a spectacle of himself,” White said of McCaffery, who is in his fourth season as the Iowa coach. “He did it to back us up. He didn’t like the whistles that we were getting. And that’s why he did what he did. He didn’t mean to get the second (technical foul), and I understand. And he apologized about it.”
Assistant coach Kirk Speraw will assume the head coaching duties in McCaffery’s absence. Speraw grew up in Sioux City, played basketball at Iowa under Lute Olson and was the head coach at Central Florida for 17 seasons.
As for Northwestern, it’s now being led by first-year coach Chris Collins, who is the son of former NBA player and former NBA coach Doug Collins. The younger Collins grew up near Chicago and considered playing basketball at Iowa before signing with Duke, where he became a standout guard in the mid-1990s. Collins also spent the past 13 seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater under Mike Krzyzewski, helping Duke win two national titles.
Collins, 39, was hired to replace Bill Carmody as the Northwestern coach in late March. Carmody coached at Northwestern for 13 seasons and had the program close to making the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, only to come up short several times. The best Carmody could do was four consecutive trips to the National Invitation Tournament from 2009-12.
But that ultimately wasn’t good enough.
“They’ve got a new system,” White said of the Wildcats, who are 7-8 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten. “In the past, they’ve gotten us with the dribble and back cuts and all the stuff they used to run, shooting behind ball screens.
“They still have the same personnel, but they have a different staff there.”
Northwestern played a slow and deliberate style of offense under Carmody in which the players relied heavily on ball screens and back-door cuts to the basket to score points.
Collins is still implementing his system, but it hasn’t been easy with Northwestern losing its first two Ten games to Wisconsin and Michigan by scores of 76-49 and 74-51, respectively.
The Wildcats are led by 6-foot-5 senior Drew Crawford, who is ranked sixth in the Big Ten in rebounding with a 7.3 per-game average and 10th in scoring at 16 points per game.
Iowa (12-3, 1-1 Big Ten) ended a five-game losing streak against Northwestern last season by defeating the Wildcats three times in a row, including in the Big Ten Tournament. The Hawkeyes have won 18 consecutive home games dating back to last season and have a 24-4 record against Northwestern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
But they won’t have their head coach leading the way on Thursday.
McCaffery was asked at Tuesday’s news conference how tough it would be to stay away from him team during Thursday’s game.
“It will be extremely difficult, but I have confidence in them that they’ll handle the game very well,” he said.
McCaffery also feels confident about handing the coaching reigns over to somebody with Speraw’s experience.
“Kirk has established himself on a national level as being very talented in this profession, and I feel very confident that he’ll do a terrific job on Thursday,” McCaffery said.
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball