Making a postseason tournament for the first time in six years is one thing. Advancing in the tournament is another, especially when your opponent has won 20 games and is seeded five spots ahead of your team.
That’s the circumstances facing the Iowa men’s basketball team heading into Tuesday’s game against Atlantic 10 Conference member Dayton (20-12) in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and the game will be televised by ESPN.
Dayton is seeded second, but with its home arena being used for the NCAA Tournament, the seventh-seeded Hawkeyes (17-16) get to host.
“We were fortunate to get the home game because of the unique circumstances,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “But I think it’s great. Our fans have just responded to this team and continue to prove how great Hawkeye fans are throughout the United States.
“They have made it a very difficult place to play and that’s what we want. We have played a style that they enjoy watching and that they have embraced. And I just encourage all the Hawk fans from all over the place and all over the state to come out and support us as we take on a very, very good Dayton Flyer basketball team.”
Freshman forward Aaron White was pleased to see fans lined up to purchase tickets when he arrived at Carver-Hawkeye Arena for practice on Monday.
There were approximately 8,500 tickets sold as of late Monday afternoon, according to the Iowa sports information office.
“It was really crowded,” White said. “Hopefully, that’s a good sign for tomorrow.”
Iowa was one and done the last time it played in the NIT, losing a first-round game on a last-second shot to Saint Louis 70-69 on the road in 2004.
The current Iowa team is coming off a 92-75 loss against Michigan State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament this past Friday in Indianapolis.
Before that, though, Iowa had won four of its last six games and also defeated four top-25 games during the regular season.
A victory on Tuesday would secure Iowa its first winning season since 2007 and its first victory in the NIT since a 54-53 win at Iowa State on March 21, 2003.
Senior guard Matt Gatens is confident that the Iowa players have moved on from the thrill of making the NIT and will be ready to compete Tuesday.
“I think we’re all motivated and really happy to be in it,” Gatens said. “I don’t think they’re going to be happy with just getting into the field of 32 (teams). I think they really want to compete and continue to fight and play together.
“It’s a group that enjoys playing together and enjoys competing with one another. So I think we’re going to really fight and try to keep winning.”
In addition to winning 20 games, Dayton finished 9-7 in the Atlantic 10 Conference this season under first-year coach Archie Miller. The Flyers defeated Minnesota 86-70 in late November and also defeated then 15th-ranked Alabama 74-62 at home on Dec. 7.
Junior guard Kevin Dillard leads a balanced scoring attack for Dayton in scoring with a 13.0 per-game average. The 6-footer from Homewood, Ill., is among nine players for Dayton that average at least four points per game.
The Flyers also have five players that have made at least 41 3-point baskets, led by 6-6 junior Chris Johnson, who had made 69-of-171 3-point shots.
Miller praised McCaffery for turning the Iowa program back in the right direction in his second season as head coach. Iowa has won six more games than it won last season and received its first postseason bid since playing in the NCAA Tournament in 2006.
“I think he’s got momentum,” Miller said of McCaffery. “He’s got a great style about him. We’ve have our work cut out for us. He’s a terrific coach.”
The winner of the Iowa-Dayton game will play the winner of the game between Louisiana State and Oregon. Iowa likely would host a second-round game if LSU wins because LSU’s home arena won’t be available.
“You just have to take it one game at a time,” said senior point guard Bryce Cartwright. “I think if you get caught looking ahead you lose sight of your opponent.
“I think if you take it one game at a time the rest is going to take care of itself.”
This will mark just the second time that Iowa has faced Dayton. The first time came on Dec. 23, 1979 in the championship game of the Dayton Classic. Iowa won the game 61-54, but lost star point guard Ronnie Lester to a knee injury that plagued him throughout the season, which ended with Iowa advancing the 1980 NCAA Final Four.
Iowa will be making its sixth appearance in the NIT and has a 4-5 record in the event. Iowa’s best finish in the NIT was advancing to the quarterfinals in 1995.
The semifinals and the title game will be played at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball