Considering their position into the weekend, things couldn’t have worked out much better for the Iowa men’s basketball team.
Hopes of notching a spot in the National Invitation Tournament, with an RPI well outside the top 100, were bleak, so the season could realistically have ended with a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal loss to Michigan State on Friday.
But then, a three-pronged set of good news arrived in Iowa City on Sunday night:
* Iowa was granted admission to the NIT, its first postseason appearance in six years.
* Brandishing a 7-seed, the Hawkeyes expected to hit the road for any and all NIT games … except they were paired with No. 2 Dayton, which was unable to host the first round due to UD Arena serving as the First Four site to open the NCAA Tournament. Thus, Iowa (17-16) got to host the Flyers (20-12).
* If Iowa can use home cooking to beat Dayton, and No. 6 seed LSU wins at No. 3 Oregon, the Tigers would own home-court advantage by virtue of better seed … except LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center is in use for the NCAA women’s tourney. Thus, again, Iowa would prospectively host the Tigers in the second round.
Ticket sales for tonight’s postseason opener (6:30 p.m., ESPN) were encouraging, and time will tell if Carver-Hawkeye Arena will buzz with some of the regular-season intensity.
“Our fans have just responded to this team, and continue to prove what Hawkeye fans are throughout the United States,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “They have made it a very difficult place to play, and that’s what we want.”
McCaffery dismissed the notion the NIT is a consolation event, and in this year’s case, it’s certainly a pleasant reward for an Iowa team which surprised many of the Big Ten’s top dogs.
“It’s a terrific tournament with excellent teams. It’s a first-class event in every way, and it’s an opportunity to continue to play, and play for a championship,” McCaffery said.
“The NCAA Tournament is wonderful, and it gets most the publicity, but … you look at the teams top to bottom in this tournament. If it wasn’t a first-class event, ESPN wouldn’t be televising it.”
From year to year, the NIT doesn’t bring out the best in some squads which were disappointed by missing out on the Big Dance. However, the Hawkeyes don’t view their upcoming challenge that way.
“Everybody I’ve talked to is extremely excited, because this program hasn’t been to a postseason in a few years,” senior guard Matt Gatens said. “I’m sure the fans are really excited about it and looking forward to Tuesday. This team is (going to) be ready. I don’t think motivation will be a factor.”
Participating in their 24th NIT, the Flyers finished tied for fifth in the Atlantic 10 Conference, and are 4-1 against teams from BCS leagues.
Dayton coach Archie Miller, the 33-year-old younger brother of Arizona’s Sean Miller, is in his first year as coach. He was Thad Matta’s assistant at Ohio State from 2007 to 2009.
“(Iowa) plays up-tempo, they switch, they can mix their defenses. They’re a very fast-playing team,” Miller said. “What I realize is offensively, they’re very difficult to cover. If you watch them on tape, they’re not that typical Big Ten, beat-you-up type of team.”
Who: Dayton (20-12) at Iowa (17-16)
When: Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
Radio: WOC 1420-AM, KROS 1340-AM
* Matt Gatens will be making his 127th start in a Hawkeyes uniform, and his first in a postseason game. The second-team all-Big Ten selection is playing the best basketball of his Iowa career, averaging 21.1 points over the past seven games.
* Dayton ranks second nationally from the line, making 77.8 percent of its free throws. From the field, the Flyers favor the 3-point shot, launching 720 tries this year with a 34.4 percent success rate. However, away from UD Arena, that figure dips to 31.6 percent, leading to Dayton’s 3-7 record in true road games.
* The Hawkeyes took on eight teams that made the NCAA Tournament, with a 4-8 record that included a sweep of Wisconsin and wins over Michigan and Indiana. Each of those teams earned No. 4 seeds. Conversely, Dayton went 4-5 against six qualifiers to the Big Dance.