IOWA CITY — The Iowa basketball team’s late-season slide didn’t keep the Hawkeyes out of the NCAA tournament.
But it prompted the tournament’s selection committee to make the Hawkeyes put in a little extra work.
Iowa will take on Tennessee in the opening round of the tournament Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Dayton, Ohio, in what used to be referred to as a play-in game. The game will be televised on truTV.
If the Hawkeyes (20-12) defeat the Volunteers (21-12), they would then play No. 6 seed Massachusetts on Friday at 1:45 p.m. at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.
The Hawkeyes, who have lost six of their last seven games, were given a No. 11 seed and will be involved in one of the four first-round games by virtue of being one of the last four at-large teams to be selected for the field.
Head coach Fran McCaffery said he and his players were thrilled nonetheless.
“Last year we were sitting right on the bubble and a little disappointed,’’ he said. “Now we’re in. It’s the greatest accomplishment. I’m very happy for our seniors.’’
And he wanted to get one matter of semantics straight right off the bat.
“It’s not a play-in game …’’ he said when a reporter phrased it that way. “First round NCAA tournament game.’’
McCaffery said there wasn’t necessarily a huge celebration in the locker room when Iowa popped up at the bottom of the Midwest Regional bracket during the tournament selection show.
“Our team is incredibly business-like in how we approach everything,’’ McCaffery said. “Obviously, there was a lot of hugging. It was not jumping up and down on each other’s heads and stuff like that. We’re not that kind of team.
“They knew they were going to get in. They knew our body of work was deserving. It’s just a matter of when our name was going to come up.’’
It is the Hawkeyes’ 23rd NCAA tournament appearance, but their first since 2006.
“I think we’re just happy that we’re finally getting an opportunity to play in the tournament and get back on track,’’ senior guard Devyn Marble said.
The Hawkeyes know a little about Tennessee because they were preparing to play them back in November. The Volunteers were a possible second-round opponent for Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. But Iowa beat Xavier in the opening round while Tennessee lost to UTEP so the two squads never met.
Ironically, Xavier also is playing in a first-round game in Dayton on Tuesday night.
Tennessee, coached by former Purdue star Cuonzo Martin, is led in scoring by 6-foot-6 senior Jordan McRae, who averages 18.6 points per game. The Vols also feature a pair of 6-8, 260-pound big men, Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, who combine for 24.8 points and 18.5 rebounds per game.
“We got an opportunity to see them play in the Bahamas and a few times on TV,’’ Marble said. “They have good guard play and good big men. It should be a very competitive game.’’
The timing of the game creates one logistical problem for McCaffery. His 13-year-old son, Patrick, has a tumor on his thyroid that is scheduled to be surgically removed Wednesday morning. He said he is hoping he will be able to travel with the team to Dayton today, go through workouts and news conferences on Tuesday, fly home for the surgery, then go back to Dayton on Wednesday prior to the game.