DANVILLE, Ill. — Tuesday’s game at Indiana was to be a big contest, on a national stage, a chance for Iowa’s men’s basketball team to take another step closer to an elusive Big Ten title.
Instead, the steel beam that fell from the ceiling in the northwest corner of Assembly Hall in Bloomington, about 6 1/2 hours before the scheduled tipoff Tuesday, made that title chase a bit more daunting.
Iowa is facing a three-game week somewhere down the stretch.
“I mean, if you look at the schedule, it’s almost a probability, right?” McCaffery told me Tuesday evening, before the team returned to Iowa City. “There’s no other way around it.”
First, it must be said that we’re lucky that the steel beam broke loose when it did. Had it happened later, when people were in those Section F seats, that is a sobering thought. Life and death replacing winning and losing.
Fate won that game. Both McCaffery and Indiana coach Tom Crean agreed.
“It’s just one of those things, out of your control,” McCaffery said. “You deal with the consequences. What are you going to do? It’s a safety issue. We’ll figure out a day to play it, and we’ll play it.”
When — and where — remains up in the air.
Iowa, 19-6 overall and 8-4 in the Big Ten, was three games back in the loss column of the Big Ten standings less than two weeks ago. Now, they’re one game behind Michigan and Michigan State. The Hawkeyes haven’t won a share of the regular-season title since 1979. That year, Coach Lute Olson’s team shared the championship with Purdue and Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans.
“Obviously, we are disappointed,” Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said in a statement. “Fran and his team are in contention for a Big Ten title and were looking forward to the opportunity to getting back on the court.”
Barta and McCaffery both said they agreed with the decision to postpone.
Indiana athletic director Fred Glass said at a news conference Tuesday that a decision would be made by noon Wednesday whether or not Assembly Hall would be available for a March 2 game against Ohio State. That seems to make it a real possibility that Iowa and Indiana will play at another site. Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis offered the facility for Wednesday, with the NBA’s Indiana Pacers on the road. That offer was declined, Glass said, because of “logistical challenges.”
This Thursday? That’s not happening, not with Iowa playing an 11 a.m. game against Wisconsin Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. And playing early the week of the Big Ten Tournment doesn’t look like a possibility, either.
“I don’t think they would do that,” McCaffery said.
Indiana plays at Northwestern on Saturday, when Iowa is hosting Wisconsin. On Tuesday, Feb. 25, the Hoosiers play at Wisconsin when Iowa plays at Minnesota. And here’s the window, as unappealing as it is: Iowa hosts Purdue on Saturday, March 1. Indiana hosts Ohio State on March 2. Feb. 27 seems a likely destination.
This is the second straight season Iowa’s Big Ten schedule has been adjusted on the fly. A year ago, Iowa’s Feb. 21 game at Nebraska was postponed two days because of an expected blizzard that never arrived. The Hawkeyes lost that Saturday game. A game, it turns out, that might have gotten them in the NCAA Tournament.
The stakes are biggest this time. An NCAA bid is tantalizingly close. More importantly, a Big Ten title is within reach. And the news of Tuesday made that climb a bit steeper.
McCaffery has preached a one-game-at-a-time mentality, and his players have bought in. McCaffery acknowledges that the challenge ahead has grown. But his plan is to embrace that challenge, not complain about it.
“That’s just how you have to look at it,” he said. “You can’t overanalyze it. You can’t get upset with it. You just deal with it and move on. That’s the approach I take with the players and my staff. You know what happened. We’ll deal with it.”