IOWA CITY, Iowa — Injured junior forward Nicholas Baer has become a linchpin of intensity and leadership the last two years with the Iowa men’s basketball team.
Baer has missed three weeks this season because of a broken pinky finger, and the Hawkeyes (4-2) in turn have missed the energy he brings to the court. On Tuesday in a Big Ten-ACC Challenge game against Virginia Tech (8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT, ESPN2), Baer is slated to return as the Hawkeyes’ top bench performer.
“You’re talking about a guy who was one of the most valuable players in college basketball coming off the bench,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Monday. “He helps you with 3-point shooting, he helps you with savvy. Leadership. Just a veteran guy. Sometimes you need a shot. Sometimes you need a rebound. Sometimes you need a steal. He does all of that for you in pretty much every game.”
Baer averaged 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds a game for the Hawkeyes last season. He started 10 of 34 games, but was a high-impact performer off the bench. Big Ten coaches saw his value, too, and voted him as the league’s sixth man of the year.
“He was one of our leaders last year, he and Pete [Jok],” McCaffery said. “We need his leadership and he’s really good in practice and in the locker room on the road. He was really good down in the Caymans as a leader, but having him back on the floor is obviously better.
“He can impact the game more and utilize his leadership on the floor better, especially on the road. Guys who have performed in those type of environments and been successful are who you need tomorrow night, so he will be out there a lot.”
But not joining the team quite yet is freshman guard Connor McCaffery, who remains sidelined with mononucleosis. McCaffery, son of the Iowa coach, missed the first two games with an ankle injury before finding out he has mono. He didn’t travel to the Cayman Islands Classic and spent two days in the hospital last week. His status return remains undetermined.
Connor McCaffery initially planned to redshirt this season and concentrate on baseball, but shortly before the season began, backup guard Christian Williams elected to transfer.
“He will probably be cleared to play by the end of this week, but it will take him awhile because your body is severely compromised,” coach McCaffery said. “So we will see how long it takes him to be able to run consistently. The plan is for him to play. We will see how long this period takes. It might take a week. It might take two or three. If it takes two or three, then you re-evaluate at that time.”
Junior forward Ahmad Wagner missed the last game with a shoulder injury but he should play against the Hokies. Coach McCaffery will wait until after practice Monday before determining whether Wagner or freshman Jack Nunge will start on Tuesday.
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