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Iowa's non-conference basketball schedule takes shape, includes 3 ACC opponents


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Fran McCaffery’s 2022-23 basketball offseason has been an eventful one. Two of his three full-time assistant coaches moved on (and were replaced). There was drama involving the NCAA transfer portal (including Joe Toussaint's surprising exit and the empty quest for a big man). And there was the celebrated June 1 decision by expected star Kris Murray to return to the Iowa program.

Now, let’s talk about some of the games.

The Hawkeyes’ nonconference schedule is starting to take shape, and it’s looking like a challenging gauntlet for what will be a pretty experienced team under McCaffery in his 13th season at the Iowa helm. The Hawkeyes will have three games against Atlantic Coast Conference schools (including THE biggie) plus at least three others against power-conference foes.

Here’s what we know so far … some of it has been officially announced, some of it hasn’t been.

The Hawkeyes will open the season Nov. 7 vs. Bethune-Cookman, which was first reported by The Athletic. The Wildcats (9-21 last season) are getting $100,000 to show up and will be the first of five “buy” games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

For the first time since hosting DePaul in 2019, Iowa will take part in the Gavitt Games — which pits a Big Ten Conference team vs. the Big East. The Hawkeyes will be the road team this year against an opponent to be determined. (Wouldn’t it be something if Iowa traveled to Xavier and faced former Hawkeye Jack Nunge? Or how about a Philadelphia return for McCaffery in a matchup at Villanova?) The Gavitt Games usually tip off in mid-November, so that'll be Iowa's first good early-season test.

A Nov. 21 home matchup against Omaha (which had a KenPom rating of 344 last season) was announced Tuesday by Iowa as a preliminary-round game for the Emerald Coast Classic in Destin, Florida, at which Iowa will face the first of three ACC teams. The Hawkeyes will meet Clemson at 6 p.m. CT on Nov. 25 on the campus of Northwest Florida State College. Hawkeye fans tuned into that day’s Iowa football game vs. Nebraska (3 p.m. kickoff on BTN) might miss the tip-off of the game against Clemson, a solid program which is 47-45 in ACC play with two NCAA Tournament appearances (including a Sweet 16) over the past five seasons.

On Nov. 26, Iowa would face either California (where former assistant Andrew Francis is employed) or TCU (which had a No. 26 KenPom rating last season under Jamie Dixon). Beating Clemson and then facing a solid Big 12 team like TCU in the Emerald Coast championship would be a good way for the Hawkeyes to strengthen their NCAA Tournament resume.

That Thanksgiving-weekend doubleheader leads into what is likely to be one of Iowa's most daunting stretches of the season.

Sometime during that week after Thanksgiving, Iowa will tackle an ACC opponent to be named later. (Wake Forest would make too much sense, considering McCaffery once played there, and it would be a chance for Demon Deacons coach Steve Forbes — originally from Lone Tree — to come home.)

Then the Hawkeyes will probably have to squeeze in at least one Big Ten game (maybe two) before facing Duke — yes, that Duke — on Dec. 6 in New York City before turning around and hosting Iowa State two days later, on Dec. 8.

The Duke matchup, as part of the Jimmy V Classic, was tweeted by reputable national reporters earlier this month. Though Iowa hasn’t announced the first Iowa-Duke meeting since the 2001 Big Ten/ACC Challenge, junior forward Patrick McCaffery has tweeted his approval of playing in Madison Square Garden. Iowa is 1-7 all-time against the Blue Devils, who will feature a star-studded freshman class against the Hawkeyes' older lineup.

Of Iowa’s 11 scholarship players, seven are juniors or seniors. Sixth-year senior Connor McCaffery will turn 24 in July; fifth-year senior Filip Rebraca will be 25 in September. Murray will be one of five juniors, a list that also includes returning starters Patrick McCaffery and Tony Perkins.

After that Iowa State grudge match — the rival Cyclones are a reigning Sweet 16 team, after all, and trounced Iowa by 20 last season in Ames — there should be a few more games (yet to be revealed) in mid- to late-December before the Hawkeyes resume their 20-game Big Ten schedule, bringing them to 31 regular-season games as usual.

But from Nov. 7 to Dec. 8, an action-packed first month awaits the Hawkeye men's basketball program. This veteran group should be ready for it.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.