After 126 games, one head coaching change and three consecutive losing seasons, senior guard Matt Gatens has finally made it to a postseason tournament as a member of the Iowa men’s basketball team.
It took longer than he had hoped, but Gatens said Sunday night in a teleconference that having to wait this long makes him more appreciative of Iowa’s opportunity to play in the 32-team National Invitation Tournament.
“Absolutely,” Gatens said. “It proves that it’s all worth it, all the hard work and the ups-and-downs.
“Of course, going into this year, we wanted to be in the NCAA Tournament. But the NIT is a pretty good alternative. They have a lot of good teams in it and a lot of teams who were wishing they were in it and they’re not. So it’s a great opportunity for us and it’s great for this program. It shows that we’re taking steps forward.”
Iowa (17-16) is seeded seventh and will play No. 2 seed Dayton (20-12) of the Atlantic 10 Conference in a first-round game Tuesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN.
The higher-seed usually gets to host, but Dayton’s home arena is being used for the NCAA Tournament, giving the seventh-seeded Hawkeyes home court and Gatens another chance to play in front of the Iowa fans.
“It means a lot to have another chance to play in Carver,” Gatens said. “It’ll be great to go out with a win and to play in front of the fans again and in front of the family on that court.”
The winner of the Iowa-Dayton game will play the winner of the game between Oregon and Louisiana State.
The 6-foot-5 Gatens has a chance to add to his sparkling career numbers, which includes being Iowa’s sixth all-time leading scorer with 1,621 points. The former City High star is one of four seniors on the team.
Gatens came on strong down the stretch, scoring at least 15 points in 10 of the last 12 games. He scored 30 and 33 points in back-to-back victories over nationally ranked Indiana and Wisconsin in February.
“It is incredibly gratifying for me as a head coach to watch Matt Gatens trot on the floor in the postseason,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Sunday on a teleconference.
McCaffery said he was optimistic about Iowa’s chance of making the NIT even though his team was coming off a 92-75 loss Friday to Michigan State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
Iowa also had a RPI ranking in the 120 to 130 range, which is considered low, but the Hawkeyes compensated by defeating four top-25 opponents, including Wisconsin twice this season.
“I thought we had a good shot, I really did,” said McCaffery, who is in his second season as the Iowa coach. “I felt like our resume with four wins over ranked opponents would be very helpful to us and how we’re playing lately.”
Dayton has five players who have made at least 41 3-point baskets this season and nine players who are averaging at least 4.0 points per game.
This will be Iowa’s sixth appearance in the NIT and its first since losing to Saint Louis in the first round in 2004 when Steve Alford was coaching the Hawkeyes.
Northwestern, Minnesota and Northern Iowa also made this year’s NIT field.
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ticket information from the University of Iowa:
University of Iowa basketball season ticket holders can order tickets for Iowa’s first round National Invitation Tournament (NIT) game immediately. The Hawkeyes will host Dayton (20-12) of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tuesday, March 13 at 6:30 p.m. CT. the game will be televised nationally on ESPN (HD).
Only season ticket holders will be allowed to order tickets tonight until noon (CT) Monday. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for UI students and younger. Season ticket holders may order as many tickets as they would like, but seat locations are not guaranteed to be the same as during the season.
Tickets will go on sale to the general public beginning at 1 p.m. (CT) Monday. Tickets may be ordered online, at hawkeyesports.com, by calling 1-800-IA-HAWKS, or in person at the UI Athletic Ticket Office in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The ticket office windows are open daily from 8 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m.
Fans are encouraged to select the “Print at Home” ticket option, due to the short turnaround before Tuesday’s contest. The winner of the Dayton at Iowa game will meet the winner of a first round contest that has LSU playing at Oregon.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball