IOWA CITY — From three games in a 50-hour period to the opponents his team faced, Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery described the Battle 4 Atlantis as a grueling tournament. Then it got worse.
A capacity-filled charter plane with the team and fans left the Bahamas around 3 a.m. Sunday. The plane stopped in Sanford, Fla., for nearly two hours for customs, was airborne and then ran into a mechanical issue. It was grounded in Atlanta and didn’t return to Cedar Rapids until about 3 p.m.
The massive delay forced McCaffery to alter his approach to his Sunday routine.
“Once we had the travel issues, we fed the kids and put them to bed,” McCaffery said.
With the Battle 4 Atlantis behind the No. 23 Hawkeyes (7-1), Notre Dame has their full attention. The Fighting Irish, which come to Iowa City as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, are 5-1. The schools have not played each other since 1990, yet each side shares affinity and familiarity.
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery spent 11 seasons as a Notre Dame assistant from 1988-1999. He met his wife, Margaret, who briefly served as a Notre Dame women’s assistant coach after an All-American career. McCaffery was on staff when current Irish assistant Martin Inglesby and director of basketball operations Harold Swanagan played at Notre Dame in the late 1990s.
“I recognize the fact that there are two guys on that bench that I recruited and coached,” McCaffery said. “Mike (Brey is) somebody that I have unbelievable respect for. I really consider him a very good friend and have a lot of memories there. But that won’t impact our preparation in any way and we’re excited for the opportunity.”
Brey, who is in his 14th season as Notre Dame’s head coach, recruited against McCaffery in the 1990s when Brey was at Duke. They joked about playing one another while attending a camp in Orlando over the summer.
“We sat in a lot of the same gyms recruiting a lot of the same guys,” Brey said. “I’ve know him for a while — we’re the same age — we went a lot of the same camps together.
“A good friend, a guy I really admire and I just think one of the underrated coaches in our profession. But I’d say in a couple of years that won’t be the case because he’ll be very well known.”
The match-up is one of several high-profile games in this year’s annual challenge. It earned a prime-time start, and the game is likely to sell out. Notre Dame qualified for the NCAA tournament last year, where it was blasted by Iowa State 76-58 in its first game. Iowa barely missed the tournament but advanced to the NIT finals.
Notre Dame is guided by second-team all-Big East guard Jerian Grant, who recently scored his 1,000th career point. Grant, a 6-foot-5 senior, leads the Fighting Irish with 19.5 points a game, boasts 33 assists to eight turnovers and has 13 steals. Iowa counters with 6-7 senior shooting guard Devyn Marble, who averages 16.8 points, 4.0 assists and 2.6 steals, which ranks 21st nationally.
Notre Dame boasts four players who average more than 11 points and at least 22 minutes a game. Iowa has only two scorers who average more than 10 points a game, but the deep Hawkeyes put up more than 89 points a game to Notre Dame’s 83.7.
It’s Notre Dame’s first road game and its inaugural challenge game. Brey said he’s “intrigued” by how his team will respond to a hostile environment for the first time.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Brey said. “I don’t know that anyone gives us much of a shot over there given how they’re playing and we’re still trying to figure it out,” Brey said. “But it’s a great opportunity for us.
“Can we be posed enough? Can we be mentally tough enough? Can we be physically tough enough?”
McCaffery’s crew had a normal practice on Monday, and the travel problems are over. Now he’s more concerned with stopping Notre Dame’s long-distance shooting than long-distance travel. The Irish shoot 42.6 percent from 3-point range.
“This team shoots the ball from 3-point range as good as anybody we’ll see,” McCaffery said. “It’s really going to test our defense.
“It will be a great game for our fan base.”
Big Ten-ACC Challenge games:
Illinois at Georgia Tech, 6:15 p.m. (ESPN2)
Indiana at Syracuse, 6:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Penn State at Pittsburgh, 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Michigan at Duke, 8:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Notre Dame at Iowa, 8:15 p.m. (ESPN2)
Florida State at Minnesota, 8:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Wisconsin at Virginia, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
Maryland at Ohio State, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Northwestern at North Carolina State, 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Boston College at Purdue, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
North Carolina at Michigan State, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
Miami at Nebraska, 8:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Here are the team records in the 143-game series:
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