IOWA CITY — Some people call it an “edge.’’ Others prefer the word “swagger.’’
Whatever terminology you use, it’s something the Iowa basketball team misplaced sometime back in the middle of February. The Hawkeyes, once 19-6 and ranked as high as 10th in the country, have won just one game since Feb. 15.
But they’re certain they will get that competitive edge back before they open play in the NCAA Tournament Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio, against Tennessee.
“It’s a fresh start, it’s a new season,’’ senior forward Zach McCabe said Sunday, shortly after the Hawkeyes learned their post-season destination.
“We know what we need to do to play our best basketball. Today (Sunday) in practice was very physical and rough, a lot of work on our defense. It’s just competing. Who wants it more? We just need to get back to playing the type of basketball we were earlier in the year.’’
McCabe, for one, thinks the Hawkeyes’ psyche might actually be helped by getting a lower seed than most experts predicted and being placed in the “First Four’’ in Dayton, essentially having to earn their spot in the round of 64.
They are the first Big Ten team to have been placed in the First Four since the field expanded to 68 teams in 2010 and that could place a very necessary chip on their shoulders.
“We see our seed and that people undervalue us,’’ McCabe said. “We’ve always had that underdog mentality and we just need to get back to that. Our guys are ready to go and excited to have that opportunity, and we can’t wait to play.’’
Teammate Aaron White isn’t as sure about the whole chip-on-the-shoulder thing.
“I don’t care. I’m just excited to play,’’ he said. “First four, no matter what the seed, no matter where we’re going, I’m just excited for the opportunity…
“I know people are frustrated with how the season ended. Nonetheless, we’re in. That’s all you can ask for. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity.’’
White said he and his teammates took some time to regroup after suffering an embarrassing defeat to Northwestern in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament. It was their sixth loss in the past seven games.
“I really got a chance to clear my head,’’ the junior forward said. “I didn’t really want to watch the games. I didn’t care who won or lost. I didn’t want to watch it. It’s just kind of how it goes after you lose like that … We relaxed the last couple days, then got back to work.’’
Senior forward Melsahn Basabe said he felt Iowa’s edge returning as it got further away from the disappointing end to the regular season.
“I think the energy had to be renewed …’’ he said. “We fell into a little slump but that doesn’t mean you should forget who you are or what you are, or lose your swagger.’’
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin, who starred at Purdue in the 1990s and admitted he watches a lot of basketball on the Big Ten Network, said he also expects to see an Iowa team with a sharpened edge Wednesday night.
“For them and like everybody else going into the NCAA Tournament, it’s a new season,’’ Martin said. “There’s no question they’ll look at it the same way … They’re probably saying ‘We didn’t play very well but now we’re in the tournament.’ They’ll be rejuvenated, ready to go.’’
It would not be unprecedented for a No. 11 seed to make an extended tournament run. Virginia Commonwealth went from the First Four to the Final Four in 2011. Two other No. 11 seeds — LSU in 1986 and George Mason in 2006 — have reached the Final Four.
“We have a chance to go deep, I think,’’ McCabe said. “With the great teammates we have, the depth we have and the experience. Collectively, I think that will help a lot.’’