Fran McCaffery is no stranger to Big Ten play. This will be his seventh season coaching in the Big Ten and his team has gotten better ever since he took over in the 2010-11 season. So, he knows the challenges the conference slate brings, and it starts from game number one.
"With all due respect to the teams we've played, we're playing the 15th ranked team in the country (Purdue), with a lottery pick (Caleb Swanigan) who is a guy who seems to get 20 and 20 every night. You know, and Isaac Haas is probably a first round pick," McCaffery said when asked about his team's next opponent.
"It's probably as deep as they've been, they're athletic and you know the thing with Purdue is they always defend. So, it's not easy to score against them typically, especially down there. So, you just want them [his team] to know and understand that we've accomplished a great deal, but from here on out it's going to be different. And we have as tough of a first game as anybody," he admitted about the Boilermakers.
And he's right.
It's going to be extremely different for this young Hawkeye team. This will be their second true road game, both of which have been in the state of Indiana. Iowa's first road contest came in South Bend, IN against Notre Dame.
When you have younger guys on your team sometimes it can be hard to just get them to relax coming out of the gate. But Fran McCaffery says the biggest thing is keeping his big guys out of foul trouble when going up against such a big front line.
"The hardest thing is to keep your big guys out of foul trouble, because they [Purdue] just keep throwing it in there," McCaffery said regarding Purdue's style of play.
Caleb Swanigan at 6'9" and Isaac Haas at 7'2" make up the largest front line in the Big Ten and they are also the team's leading scorers.
"Those two can play together, they can play one behind the other and they're both going to go get it on the defensive and on the offensive glass," he said when asked how hard it is to stop Swanigan and Haas.
But Purdue doesn't just run through these two and that's it. Carsen Edwards, Vincent Edwards, and Dakota Mathias all average double figures as well for Matt Painter's team and they shoot the three at an amazing 41% clip. So, there are other challenges outside of Haas and Swanigan, but McCaffery is well aware of that.
"You know with them, they have so many other good players," he said. "You can say, okay we're going to really lock in and stop Haas, stop Swanigan. They got a lot of other weapons, so it's going to be a really interesting challenge for our young team to see what we can do down there," he proclaimed.
McCaffery is sure that senior leader, Peter Jok, will talk to the younger guys about what to expect on Wednesday night, but he also said they'll be prepared.
"We'll show them (the freshmen) a lot of film too, you know, how did they play against Villanova, against us in the past, and at home or on the road," he said about pre-game preparations. "But remember, Tyler Cook has played against Swanigan before, so he respects him obviously, but he knows him," McCaffery said.
So, his guys aren't going in completely blind.
It's going to be fun and engaging to see what this team will do with a big time conference road test. I remember feeling the same way last year because the first conference road test came against Purdue as well. The Hawkeyes just got done beating #1 ranked Michigan State, but it was without Denzel Valentine. So, I thought a road test against a good Purdue team would tell us a lot about them.
They went into the break down 17, but wound up coming back to win the game by 7.
Fran McCaffery is going to get a good idea of where his guys are at tomorrow night in West Lafayette, IN. The return of Tyler Cook should help the Hawkeyes, but you just hope the groove the Hawkeyes have found themselves in isn't disrupted.