Regardless if some fans aren’t willing to admit it, the Iowa men’s basketball team is part of March Madness for the first time in seven years.
And don’t try telling Fran McCaffery any different.
Iowa’s fourth-year coach takes exception to even calling Wednesday’s matchup with Tennessee a play-in game.
“It’s not a play-in game,” McCaffery fired back at a reporter who referred to it as such on Sunday. “It’s a first-round NCAA Tournament game.”
McCaffery is technically correct. Wednesday’s game is now part of what’s called the First Four in the field of 68. It matches the four lowest-seeded automatic qualifiers and the four lowest-seeded at-large teams. These games used to be referred to as play-in games, which suggests that the teams still were one victory from actually making the real tournament.
What can’t be disputed is that Iowa, once ranked as high as 10th, barely made it into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large qualifier. Losing six of the last seven games nearly cost the Hawkeyes dearly, but now just be happy and relieved that it didn’t.
It’s sad how negative and dismissive some people are about this latest milestone. One person said to me on Twitter that Wednesday’s game in Dayton, Ohio was a glorified NIT game, while several others said Iowa has to defeat Tennessee to officially be considered in the tournament.
To each his own, but why not enjoy this latest accomplishment instead of trying to minimize it?
Former Hawkeyes Jarryd Cole, Matt Gatens and Eric May would cherish being in this position. They all played a significant role in building up to this point as the senior leader on each of the past three Iowa squads.
But they never experienced the thrill of representing Iowa in the NCAA Tournament. Gatens and May both played in the National Invitation Tournament, with May helping Iowa to a runner-up finish last season.
But that’s still not the same as being in the Big Dance.
As foolish as this might sound, given the current circumstances, Iowa still has a chance to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. It won’t happen unless the team improves drastically on both ends of the floor in a hurry.
But the point is, it could happen because the Hawkeyes are in a position to make it happen as one of the 68 teams competing for a national championship.
You have to feel happy for Iowa’s three seniors because they’ve been here since the beginning of McCaffery’s rebuilding project. Zach McCabe, Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe all came to Iowa when the program was in shambles.
They took a leap of faith, as McCaffery puts it, and now they’re finally being rewarded for it by being invited to college basketball’s most prestigious event.
“I’m just happy,” said the 6-foot-6 Marble, a first-team all-Big Ten selection this season. “We’re finally getting to go and play in the tournament and getting another opportunity to get back on track and just continue to keep playing.”
That was the theme among the Iowa players Sunday. They’re just happy to finally have achieved this elusive milestone.
This will be just the fourth time that Iowa has played in the NCAA Tournament since Tom Davis was forced to resign as coach after leading the Hawkeyes to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 1999. That’s 11 out of 14 seasons without making it.
So, while some fans seem unimpressed by Iowa’s spot in the tournament, I prefer to look on the bright side and remember all the great players who never made it this far.
Playing in the NCAA Tournament is a privilege that Iowa earned with its entire body of work. Now it’s time to rally around the team and remember that anything can happen. That’s why it’s called March Madness.
My only disappointment with Iowa’s selection is that the Tennessee game will be played on the same day as McCaffery’s 13-year old son Patrick’s surgery to remove a tumor on his thyroid. I was hoping the NCAA Selection Committee would show McCaffery some mercy.
Fran McCaffery plans to be at his son’s surgery on Wednesday before traveling to Dayton for the game, which will start at approximately 8:10 p.m.
It’s a big deal making the NCAA Tournament, something fans should embrace. But even March Madness takes a back seat to family.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball