IOWA CITY — Iowa junior Aaron White stood in front of a mosh pit of recorders and cameras and spoke with exasperation about Coach Fran McCaffery’s personality and suspension.
Within three minutes the 6-foot-7 forward’s answers were shorter and sharper. Finally, he was asked about Northwestern, Thursday’s opponent (8 p.m. ESPNU).
“Thank you. I appreciate that,” White said, releasing some frustration. “There you go.”
White talked about the respect he and his teammates have for Northwestern players Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb. Then the next question dealt with how the team will function without McCaffery.
“Right back to it,” White said. “It’s the same staff, the same mindset, they’ve got the same game plan. It will be the same; it will just be a different voice.”
Big Ten officials suspended McCaffery for Thursday’s game following his ejection from Sunday’s 75-71 loss at Wisconsin. McCaffery is allowed to participate in all activities leading into the game but cannot lead the team. Assistant Kirk Speraw will serve as the interim coach.
For 17 years Speraw worked as Central Florida’s head coach and took the Golden Knights to four NCAA tournament berths. Speraw, a former Iowa player under Lute Olson, was named Conference USA’s coach of the year in 2006-07. Olson openly touted Speraw for the vacant Iowa job in 2007, but the school instead hired Todd Lickliter. Speraw returned as an Iowa assistant in 2010.
“Coach Speraw has been a head coach before, and he’s done it in the past,” Iowa guard Devyn Marble said. “I think we’re old enough and mature enough to understand what needs to be done with or without (McCaffery) there.”
Iowa’s players are confident in Iowa’s coaching staff and themselves. Northwestern (7-8, 0-2) has limped to a tough start under new coach Chris Collins. The Wildcats feature three players with considerable success against Iowa in Crawford, Cobb and Dave Sobolewski. All three were instrumental in building a five-game winning streak against the Hawkeyes through 2011-12.
Last year a season-ending injury to Crawford and the loss of Cobb, who was withheld for a rules violation, crushed the Wildcats. Both were red-shirted and the Hawkeyes routed Northwestern three times last year. Coach Bill Carmody was replaced by Collins in the off-season.
This year’s Northwestern squad has struggled, dropping conference games to Wisconsin and Michigan by a combined 50 points. But with their veterans, plus 7-foot center Alex Olah, the Hawkeyes aren’t penciling in the game as automatic.
“It’s a talented team, an experienced team, and a team that’s going to challenge us in a lot of ways,” McCaffery said.
“They’ve still got that same personnel,” White said.
More than anything, No. 20/23 Iowa (12-3, 1-1) is anxious to put all frustration from the Wisconsin loss and McCaffery suspension in the rearview mirror.
“You’ve just got to take it out on your next opponent,” White said. “You’ve got to go out and prove how good of a basketball team you are, and it’s great to have an opportunity Thursday to do it, especially at home.”