Playing in the toughest conference in the nation and finishing 9-9 in that league did not outweigh so many close road losses this season for the Iowa men’s basketball team.
The Hawkeyes were one of six teams that saw their bubbles burst during selection Sunday. Iowa was, however, invited to play in its second straight National Invitational Tournament and will host sixth-seeded Indiana State (18-14) at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“It’s definitely a good thing for us to be able to continue playing,” Iowa junior Roy Devyn Marble said. “That’s always an honor and a blessing. We’re looking forward to it and making sure we stay focused and take care of business. We’re going to come in with the same focus and mindset we’d have if they were a Big Ten team.”
The winner between Iowa and Indiana State will face either second-seeded Massachusetts (21-11) or Stony Brook (24-7) in Round 2.
“There are a lot of teams that want to be playing right now that aren’t,” Iowa senior Eric May said. “We’ve worked all season long and this will be a great opportunity. It’s going to be a lot of fun. There are some great teams in the field.
“(Indiana State) beat some really good teams this year. They’re a tough team, so we have to bring it. It’s going to be a good game.”
The top seeds for the NIT were given to Kentucky, Southern Mississippi, Alabama and Virginia, which all were teams on the proverbial bubble for the NCAA Tournament. The two seeds are UMass, Baylor, Maryland and Tennessee.
The Hawkeyes were predicted to be above Baylor, UMass and Maryland during the NCAA Tournament selection, but those three schools received two seeds instead of Iowa.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said he would have liked to have been higher but is just happy his program can keep playing.
“You always hope you are little higher but you never know,” he said. “Those rooms are difficult in so many different ways. I just look at ‘are we in or not?’ I’m just happy we’re in.”
It is possible for Iowa to host the first two rounds of the NIT if it can get past Indiana State. The only issue would be with the NCAA Women’s Tournament, which plays its first two rounds in Iowa City as well.
The Iowa coaches, players and fans all wanted to see the Hawkeyes name come across the screen on Selection Sunday. But playing in a national tournament like the NIT can help a young team – with mostly underclassmen – continue to develop and prepare them for a possible run at the NCAA Tournament in the future.
“It gives you an opportunity to play in a national tournament against great opponents,” McCaffery said. “It’s a phenomenal experience in so many different ways. Everyone’s hope is that they can play more than one game and recognize that it’s hard to get in and it’s going to be difficult to advance because of the quality of opponents that we are going to play. It’s an opportunity to keep playing when a lot of other teams aren’t.”
Tickets to Wednesday’s game are $15 for adults and $5 for youth and UI students.
Iowa men’s basketball season ticket holders can order tickets starting tonight and until Noon on Monday. 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 Monday at 1 p.m.
Iowa sold 13,000 tickets for last year’s NIT home game in around 12 hours. McCaffery is excited that his team gets another chance to play in front of its home fans.
“Our fans were unbelievable that day,” McCaffery said. “We sold 13,000 tickets in 12 hours; hopefully we will do the same this year. We need our fans to do that again for us because our student body is on spring break. We’re relying on our fan base to create the kind of atmosphere we hope to see on Wednesday night.”
The NIT is a 32-team tournament that plays its Final Four at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Iowa is the only Big Ten team playing in this year’s field. Seven Big Ten teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re thrilled with the opportunity to play in a phenomenal field in the NIT and host a first round game,” McCaffery said. “It’s an exciting opportunity for our fans and we have tremendous respect for Indiana State. You look at some of the incredibly impressive wins that they had and they’ve got some really good players. We have great respect for Greg Lansing and the job he has done there (at Indiana State) and throughout his career. We know what’s in store for us.”