Hawkeyes look ahead to tough schedule following win over Mustangs

After toppling Cal Poly on Sunday, Iowa will prepare for its upcoming gauntlet of a schedule.

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Hawkeyes look ahead to tough schedule following win over Mustangs

Iowa center Luka Garza celebrates the win after the   men's basketball game against Cal Poly at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, November 24, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Mustangs 85-59.

Iowa center Luka Garza celebrates the win after the men's basketball game against Cal Poly at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, November 24, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Mustangs 85-59.

Katina Zentz

Iowa center Luka Garza celebrates the win after the men's basketball game against Cal Poly at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, November 24, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Mustangs 85-59.

Katina Zentz

Katina Zentz

Iowa center Luka Garza celebrates the win after the men's basketball game against Cal Poly at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, November 24, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Mustangs 85-59.

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

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When the final buzzer reverberated throughout Carver-Hawkeye Arena following Iowa’s 85-59 victory over Cal Poly on Sunday, the Hawkeyes’ attention had shifted.

Iowa had just notched its third win of the season, setting it up for a battle with defending national runner-up Texas Tech in Las Vegas on Thursday before another game against either Creighton or San Diego State Friday.

It marks the start of a new season. Not one filled with mid-major opponents in countless home games. Instead, the Hawkeyes stare at a stretch of seven games against high-major teams as they begin to head into Big Ten play.

“Obviously, we’re playing better than we did against DePaul,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “I think we learned from that game, and we recognized the quality of competition we’re going to see out in Vegas — the reason we got into that tournament in the first place … All four teams out there, I think, are really good teams. Should be a good barometer for us.”

Iowa’s 93-78 loss to DePaul in its second game of the season on Nov. 11 was its worst performance of the early nonconference schedule by far.

After similar performances that left much to be desired against Missouri-Kansas City and Green Bay last season, Iowa traveled to the 2K Empire Classic in New York and beat No. 13 Oregon and Connecticut to take home the tournament title.

The Hawkeyes eventually made the NCAA Tournament.

If Iowa can overcome its mistakes against DePaul and stack some quality wins together in Las Vegas, it could be looking at something similar.

“If that turns out well, we can win [the Las Vegas Invitational] like [the 2K Empire Classic] last year,” Iowa forward Ryan Kriener said. “That probably shoots us up in the rankings, and everyone’s talking about repeats to March Madness and stuff like that instead of everyone saying the season’s over because we lost to DePaul and stuff like that. Because the sky was falling after that one, I guess.”

Iowa may have to begin the schedule gauntlet with health concerns swirling.

Jordan Bohannon (hip soreness) and Patrick McCaffery (residual health effects from a previous illness) both sat out against the Mustangs, and Jack Nunge went down with a knee injury late in the first half.

Nunge underwent an MRI on Monday, and he is out for the season with a torn ACL.

Despite the injuries, it’s clear Iowa has improved. After allowing teams to shoot 38.9 percent from 3-point range going into its game against Cal Poly, the Hawkeyes held the Mustangs to 14 percent shooting from deep. For comparison, DePaul shot 55 percent.

Iowa has also scored at least 83 points in each game since its loss to the Blue Demons, winning both by double digits.

After its trip to Las Vegas, Iowa will play at Syracuse in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge before beginning conference play against Michigan and Minnesota. Then, a Cy-Hawk matchup against Iowa State awaits.

“I think just performing in the pre-Big Ten season is really important for the team’s confidence and to see where you match up,” Iowa forward Luka Garza said. “They’re good tests that help you get ready for the big stretch, and it helps for the tournament as well.”

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