IOWA CITY — Last year the Big Ten began scheduling one conference basketball game every Friday night during the league season.
Fran McCaffery hates it.
"I think Friday night should be for high school games," the Iowa coach said Thursday, "but it's the world we live in. We made a decision as a conference to play every night. It does provide maximum exposure for our conference so I understand it. I support it in that sense."
McCaffery does like one other thing about the fact that Iowa will be playing its second-ever Friday night conference game tonight. He knows it is going to lead to a raucous atmosphere when the Hawkeyes host No. 5-ranked Michigan at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It is Iowa's first sellout of the season. It has been designated as the annual Black and Gold Spirit Game, with fans in certain sections being asked to wear either black or gold apparel to give the arena a unique striped pattern. It’s not going to be your ordinary, run-of-the-mill setting.
"It’s awesome," junior guard Jordan Bohannon said. "It’s going to be a packed arena. I think it sold out early last week, and that says a lot about the passion the fans have for coming out on a Friday night. It’s going to be a fun environment. … It’s going to give us another advantage."
Michigan (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten) played on Friday last week so coach John Beilein knows exactly what he and his team are going to be walking into.
"This Friday night game on Fox has become almost like Monday night football used to be back in the day," Beilein said this week on a podcast. "People are excited. It will be a wild sellout in Iowa and people will be there, and then here is this 20-1 team coming in.
"Everybody is looking for quality wins so they can make the NCAA tournament, and beating a 20-1 team is a pretty quality win. As a result, it will be a jacked-up atmosphere."
The Hawkeyes could use some extra crowd support as they seek to end a two-game losing streak that has them nestled in the middle of the Big Ten pack at 5-5, 16-5 overall.
They had their five-game Big Ten winning streak snapped last week by No. 6 Michigan State, then lost again Sunday on the road at Minnesota.
Now they face the daunting task of opposing a team that has won 34 of 36 games over the past 12 months or so. The Wolverines defeated the Hawkeyes in overtime in the Big Ten tournament last March, then went all the way to the NCAA championship game before losing to Villanova.
They returned only two starters from that team but have picked up where they left off, winning their first 17 games this season before losing at Wisconsin two weeks ago.
It is one of those teams on which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
"There’s no superstars," Beilein said. "It’s just a bunch of guys who play together."
Junior Zavier Simpson has emerged as one of the best floor generals in the country. Center Jon Teske has shown a toughness that wasn’t always in evidence last season. Wing players Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole are very capable at both ends of the floor. And freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis has a physique and demeanor that make him seem more like a junior or senior.
"They’re just a solid group," Iowa forward Tyler Cook said. "They play together more so probably than any other team we play. They’re so connected out there on the floor."
The Wolverines rank first in the nation in defensive efficiency on the KenPom.com rankings. Beilein admitted that he has emphasized defense more in recent seasons, employed less zone defense and delegated more to his staff. Assistant coach Luke Yaklich functions as a defensive coordinator.
"It’s sort of like, over time, we’ve just really grown defensively," Beilein said.
McCaffery has noticed something else about the Wolverines.
"The thing that impresses me about them is they play with an incredibly high confidence level," he said. "They believe in each other, they believe in themselves, they believe in the coaches."
But the Hawkeyes, in Cook’s words, are "super excited" to take on the challenge. Especially with about 15,000 friends behind them.
"I love the fact that it was sold out awhile ago," Cook said. "I think it will be a fun night."