B10 Wisconsin Iowa Basketball

Iowa guard Connor McCaffery (30) celebrates in the closing minute as Iowa defeated Wisconsin in a Big Ten Conference tournament quarterfinal game last March. He doesn't mind low expectations that Iowa has entering the upcoming season.

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INDIANAPOLIS — Connor McCaffery almost wouldn’t want it any other way.

"We’re never picked very high in those polls, but we always seem to find a way to finish higher, be right in the thick of things," the Iowa senior guard said Thursday at the Big Ten basketball media day at the Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Beyond the confines of the Hawkeye locker room, lofty expectations do not accompany Iowa into the 2021-22 season.

In a Big Ten filled with returning talent, the Hawkeyes find themselves replacing consensus national player of the year Luka Garza and sharp-shooting Joe Wieskamp, a pair of players now employed by NBA teams.

Iowa was picked ninth in a league-wide media poll released earlier this week, unfamiliar territory even for coach Fran McCaffery as he begins his 12th season with the Hawkeyes.

"This is going to be a really new experience for all of us," McCaffery said. "When you graduate the national player of the year and have two guys going to the NBA and a team of really talented young players, all of whom are going to be in new roles, I think that is an exciting challenge for any coach."

Jordan Bohannon, returning for a sixth season but opting to shift from the point to a shooting guard spot, is among the Hawkeyes adjusting to new roles.

Like his coach, he welcome that challenge.

"It’s an opportunity for me to work on some things that will benefit me with my game into the future," Bohannon said. "It’s been good for me. We have a good point in Joe and Connor can slide over there, too. I’m learning along with everyone else."

He believes Iowa is positioned to compete at a level higher than its preseason expectations as the season progresses.

"We’re going to be able to play an up-tempo offense, put some points on the board, and I feel like a lot of people are going to be able to contribute," Bohannon said. "I feel like we have a lot of potential and the more we work, the more I feel that way."

Connor McCaffery has recovered from having surgery on both of his hips during the offseason.

He returned to the baseball field earlier this fall for the Hawkeyes, meeting the Sept. 1 deadline he had set for himself to get back on the diamond and returning to the basketball court later in the month.

Having a set goal to work toward and lessons learned from Bohannon and his rehabilitation from surgery similar to the two Connor McCaffery underwent were a benefit.

"They did one hip and then the other, so I was even able to learn from things from the first surgery when I rehabbed the second," McCaffery said. "It felt good to be back on the baseball field and now, the court."

He said he has probably worked out with his basketball teammates just under a dozen times since being cleared to compete.

There’s a different feel on the practice court this year, he said.

"I think with everybody trying to figure out where they fit in, it has added some competitiveness to our practices," Connor McCaffery said. "That was always there in the past for games and big days, but now it’s every day."

Fran McCaffery hasn’t hesitated to go deep into his bench in the past and he said this may prove to be the deepest team he has had a Iowa.

"We have great character, great ability, we just have to figure out everybody’s roles," he said.

That remains a work in progress and he said Bohannon and Connor McCaffery, along with third-year point guard Joe Toussaint will be counted on to lead a relatively young team.

"We need our veteran guys to play like veterans," the Iowa coach said. "This is a good league, always is."

Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State and Purdue have been at the epicenter of the postseason chatter in the conference.

Welcoming the return of Kofi Cockburn, fifth-year Fighting Illini coach Brad Underwood sees another scrambled chase toward the championship.

He said current work will only be part of the equation in determining which team might emerge in March as the Big Ten tourney champs when conference teams return to renamed downtown Indianapolis arena.

“We had a very productive summer. That’s something none of us were able to have a year ago and I think it is going to benefit everyone," Underwood said. “There are a lot of good players who opted to come back this season, guys who will make a difference."

This article originally ran on qctimes.com.

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