Dec. 2, 2013
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa head men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery did a double take when the Big Ten/ACC Challenge schedule was released in May. The Hawkeyes drew Notre Dame, a program where McCaffery served as an assistant coach from 1988-99.
"I was surprised because I don't know if myself or anybody else was thinking of Notre Dame as an ACC member," McCaffery said during a teleconference Monday. "They had just joined and you were thinking of the traditional ACC schools. It will be a great game for our fan base."
An estimated 200 tickets remain for Tuesday's matchup on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Tipoff is slated for 8:15 p.m. (CT) and fans are encouraged to wear black to "Blackout" the venue.
McCaffery spent 11 years in South Bend, where he met his wife, Margaret -- a former Irish women's basketball player. McCaffery says that won't have any bearing on Tuesday.
"Margaret had a great experience at Notre Dame, and she loves that institution," said McCaffery. "She's still very close with coach (Muffet) McGraw and the women's program there. In terms of (Tuesday's) game, it won't have a different impact than any other game. She recognizes how good they are, and it's a prominent opponent, but she's a Hawkeye through and through."
"I think he is one of our best players, no question. He is able to bring the same thing night-in-and-night-out. He shoots, rebounds, isn't a mistake guy, makes foul shots, is a physical presence and an experienced player. He is playing at a high level right now."
The matchup will be Iowa's fourth in six nights following its runner-up finish in the Battle 4 Atlantis holiday tournament, but McCaffery doesn't anticipate fatigue being a factor.
"These kids are in great shape," he said. "It is something we have prepared for, and we have experienced guys. Our guys know what is at stake, and I'm going to play a lot of guys. I'll make sure they're rested, and we'll be ready to go."
Notre Dame, which brings a 5-1 record to Iowa City, has four starters averaging in double figures. Guard Jerian Grant paces the team with a 19.5 per game scoring average, shooting 58 percent from the floor, 48.1 percent from 3-point range, and 88.9 percent from the charity stripe.
Forward Pat Connaughton averages 11.3 points and a team-best 6.7 rebounds.
"It's always harder to guard a player of that caliber when he has so many weapons around him," said McCaffery. "This team shoots the ball as well from 3-point range as anybody we'll see. They are a team that you have to beat because they don't beat themselves. They take care of and move the ball, take open shots and make them. It's going to test our defense."
The Irish average 83.7 points per game, while shooting 50 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from behind the 3-point arc in six games. All six contests have been played at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend.
Even with the Hawkeyes surrendering a 15-point lead in an eventual 88-83 overtime loss to Villanova in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game, McCaffery came away impressed with the team's mindset during its trip to the Bahamas.
"I was impressed with how locked-in we were mentally and with our focus, concentration and competitive instincts," he said. "They paid attention to the next task at hand. I was pleased with the professionalism for which we approached the tournament."
One of the team's unheralded players -- senior Zach McCabe -- garnered praise from McCaffery. McCabe averaged 13 points, while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 3-point range en route to being selected to the all-tournament team.
"I think he is one of our best players, no question," said McCaffery. "He is able to bring the same thing night-in-and-night-out. He shoots, rebounds, isn't a mistake guy, makes foul shots, is a physical presence and an experienced player. He is playing at a high level right now."
The game will be televised on ESPN2 with Joe Tessitore and Sean Farnham calling the action.