If Fran McCaffery feels the need to get his team’s attention regarding its first-round game in the National Invitation Tournament, all he needs to do is mention that the South Dakota team it will be playing is the regular-season champion in the same conference as Nebraska-Omaha.
A Dec. 3 loss to Omaha likely played a big role in keeping the Hawkeyes out of the NCAA Tournament when the selections came out Sunday night.
Instead, Iowa was selected to play in the NIT and was made the No. 1 seed in one of the four quadrants of the 32-team tournament. That means it would play all its games at home prior to the final four, which is played at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The Hawkeyes (18-14) host South Dakota (22-11) at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in a game that will be nationally televised on ESPN2.
While McCaffery was disappointed not to make the NCAA Tournament, the Iowa head coach said he was “thrilled’’ to be a No. 1 seed in the NIT.
“I felt like we were right there for the NCAA Tournament so being given a No. 1 seed is a great accomplishment for our players,’’ he said. “But I have unbelievable respect for the quality of teams in this tournament and always have. So it really doesn’t matter where you’re seeded now. You’ve got to beat a really good team that won over 20 games to advance and that’s how we’re looking at it.’’
McCaffery said he and his players didn’t even watch the NCAA selection show late Sunday afternoon. They were going through a practice at the time and didn’t learn until later that they were in the NIT.
He said the fact that South Dakota is from the Summit League, which also includes Omaha is “irrelevant.’’
“They’re just two good teams that are completely different,’’ he said.
The Coyotes split two games with Omaha and won the regular-season championship of the league, winning seven straight games before stumbling against rival South Dakota State in the conference tournament.
McCaffery said he is a little bit familiar with South Dakota head coach Craig Smith from his days as an assistant coach at Nebraska, but he’s very familiar with the Coyotes’ starting point guard. Trey Dickerson played at Iowa in the 2014-15 season before transferring to South Dakota.
“We obviously know the qualities he has,’’ McCaffery said. “He’s quick, he can score, he’s a guy that’s an older guy that’s been around, he’s been through a lot. He was a great player in juco, played a year in the Big Ten, sat out a year, and now he’s really doing well there.’’
Dickerson averaged 10.1 points per game this season, third best on the team, and also contributed a team-leading 2.8 assists per game.
“I think he’s continued to mature as a player,’’ McCaffery added. “He always had talent and I just think over time he was going to put it all together. So you have to give him credit for that.’’
The Hawkeyes returned home from the Big Ten Tournament on Friday after suffering a 95-73 loss to Indiana, which also made the NIT. McCaffery gave his players a few days off while he went and watched his sons, Connor and Patrick, lead Iowa City West to the Iowa Class 4A state championship.
The Hawkeyes are in the NIT for the eighth time, the third under McCaffery. They obviously would love to duplicate what they did in 2013, when they went all the way to the championship game before losing to Baylor.
McCaffery said he knows getting to play in Madison Square Garden would mean a lot to his players, but he’s not likely to bring it up.
“Regardless of what I say, people are going to say that to them …’’ he said. “The fact is, to get to New York, you need to beat three really good teams, which is very difficult to do. If we play the way we played against Indiana, we’re not going to get to New York.’’