NORTH LIBERTY — Zach McCabe took one for the team last year as a sophomore, and repeatedly took one against himself in the process.
McCabe, a 6-foot-7 junior forward on the Iowa basketball team, started 30 games as an out-of-position center last year. He was Iowa’s most physical player in the post, but he often was at a mismatch defensively against much taller centers.
McCabe led the Big Ten with 119 fouls, 10 more than second-place Jared Sullinger of Ohio State. McCabe fouled out of seven games and had four or more fouls 19 times. In the team’s season finale, a 108-97 NIT second-round loss at Oregon, McCabe fouled out after only 13 minutes.
Adjustments were necessary for McCabe this offseason. He has focused on better footwork and defensive positioning to avoid unnecessary fouls.
“Coach Fran (McCaffery) just told me I did a lot of good things for the team and I need to obviously work on the foul situation,” McCabe said. “I need to change my aspects during the game. If they call something, I need to realize that I can’t keep doing the same thing. It’s just something I’m working on.”
While McCabe’s foul issues were obvious, so were his improvements. In Iowa’s NIT opener against Dayton, McCabe was 9-of-9 from the field for 20 points and he added eight rebounds. In mid-January he posted back-to-back games of 20 points against Purdue and Nebraska. McCabe averaged 7.8 points and 4.6 rebounds a game.
McCabe, a Sioux City native, combines an inside-outside game that’s better suited to his natural position as a forward. He’s a prolific outside shooter and connected on 22-of-49 3-point attempts. But McCaffery said McCabe’s game may have developed simply because McCabe played in the post.
“We limited his play at the three, which I think is really helpful, plus he got bigger and stronger which helped him the post, whether it’s the four or the five,” McCaffery said. “He’s just a guy you need on the floor. He’s helps you win. He makes shots. Defensively in the post he’s tremendous.”
McCabe mostly played forward as a freshman, starting two games and averaging 5.8 points. He’s shifted away from center and is working primarily at both forward spots, but he can shift to center if necessary. Iowa will look to incoming freshman Adam Woodbury (7-foot-1) and returning sophomore Gabe Olaseni (6-10) to man the middle, which McCabe said will help the team all around.
“Wherever they want me to play, I’ll play,” McCabe said. “If they need me at the five, I’ll play five. We’ve got a big guy (Woodbury) now so that helps. We’re going to mix things up a bit just to see where everybody matches up at.”
McCabe will compete with several players for playing time at both small and power forward, primarily junior Melsahn Basabe, sophomore Aaron White and senior Eric May. McCabe said the competition has helped everyone.
“We’re going to fight for our positions,” McCabe said. “We’re going to have to fight for minutes. I personally like it. I think it makes us better as a team, and I’m excited to see what everyone does. Everyone has to step up their game.”
BIG TEN’S MOST FOULS 2011-12
Zach McCabe, Iowa, 119
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State, 109
Draymond Green, Michigan State, 105
Evan Smotrycz, Michigan, 104
Rodney Williams, Minnesota, 103
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