Sunday probably was bittersweet for Iowa senior Eric May knowing that he had played his last game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but at least he was still playing.
May’s fate was decided when No. 1 seed Virginia defeated fifth-seed St. John’s 68-50 in the second-round of the National Invitation Tournament on Sunday morning at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Va.
May was hoping for a victory by St. John’s because that would’ve made No. 3 seed Iowa the home team against St. John’s in Wednesday’s quarterfinal round. It also probably would’ve meant playing before a third consecutive sellout crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena instead of having to travel to Charlottesville.
It’s impossible to predict a sellout crowd before it happens. But if Iowa can produce a sellout in barely 48 hours for a game that started at 8:30 p.m. — as was the case against Stony Brook in Friday’s second round — than it’s reasonable to think the same thing would’ve happened with three days to sell tickets for an NIT quarterfinal game that starts at 6 p.m.
But instead, May and his cohorts will face a Virginia squad that currently has the nation’s fourth-longest home winning streak at 19 games. Wednesday’s winner will advance to the NIT semifinals April 2 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Wednesday’s loser will be left to reflect on a season that was special in many ways, but also filled with many near misses.
The inability to win on the road probably has more to do with Iowa and Virginia being in the NIT instead of in the NCAA Tournament than anything else. Iowa finished 7-2 at home in the Big Ten, but just 2-7 on the road, while Virginia was 9-0 at home and 2-7 on the road in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
That’s why both teams were hoping for a No. 1 seed in the NIT: The higher-seeded teams by NIT rules get to host games through the quarterfinals. Virginia got its wish, whereas Iowa dropped to a No. 3 seed despite reportedly being one of the last six teams along with Virginia to not make the NCAA Tournament.
You could argue that Iowa deserved a higher seed in the NIT, perhaps even a No. 1, but not at the expense of Virginia, whose resume includes victories at home against North Carolina, Duke and North Carolina State, all of whom made the NCAA Tournament.
Virginia achieved more than Iowa did during the regular season and now is rewarded by getting to host three consecutive NIT games.
For Iowa, it’s another chance to get that elusive signature win on the road. The same thing that kept Iowa from making the NCAA Tournament this season ultimately could keep it from making the NIT semifinals in New York City.
Or perhaps this will be the time when Iowa finally gets over the hump by defeating a quality opponent on its home court in a game with major ramifications. A victory would not only mean a trip to the Big Apple, but also help to build confidence for next season.
The matchup on paper looks even in so many ways, as do the records with Iowa and Virginia each at 23 wins. Both teams also have just one senior on scholarship with May and Virginia point guard Jontel Evans sharing that distinction. May and Evans both play significant roles, especially on defense where Evans is considered one of the best back court defenders in the ACC.
Whoever draws Devyn Marble on defense will face a daunting task with Iowa’s 6-foot-6 junior guard on the verge of taking his game to a higher level. Marble has combined to score 52 points in the first two NIT games while committing just two turnovers.
Marble also scored a career-high 31 points in his last NIT game on road. That happened during a loss at Oregon in the second round last season.
This winning on the road thing has hampered Iowa for quite a while. It’ll either be more of the same misery on Wednesday or arguably the biggest victory in three seasons under head coach Fran McCaffery.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball