Wow, Iowa didn’t even get a good NIT draw.
The No. 3-seed Hawkeyes host Indiana State in their first-round game Wednesday, not a Stony Brook or Robert Morris. If they win that, they would almost surely play the second game on the road, against 2-seed Massachusetts. If they win that, they would play at 1-seed Virginia unless the Cavaliers are upset at home in the first two rounds.
UMass and Virginia aren’t Duke and Louisville, but they’re better than anyone the Hawkeyes have beaten on the road this season.
The committee can’t just say, “Look how hard Iowa pushed Michigan State Friday night. Look how close the Hawkeyes came to so many wins in the nation’s best conference. Iowa clearly belongs among our 37 at-large picks.”
On a neutral court, who among you wouldn’t pick Iowa as at least even-Steven against at-large choices Middle Tennessee State, St. Mary’s, Boise State, LaSalle, … Illinois and Minnesota?
But results are results. With a fluffy nonconference schedule and a Big Ten slate that let the Hawkeyes play Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Illinois just once, Iowa simply didn’t win enough games.
Iowa was 5-9 against NCAA tourney teams, and didn’t beat any of them away from home except for Western Kentucky on a neutral court. It only won two true road games all season. It beat only one team that is higher than a No. 7 NCAA seed (No. 5 Wisconsin). It lost at Purdue and Nebraska. Worst of all in the NCAA’s eyes, probably, it played way too many nonconference teams that were among the worst teams in the worst leagues.
Had the Hawkeyes just mildly altered any of those facts and figures for the better, they’re probably playing in the big tournament this week.
Iowa is better than last season, is clearly pointed in the right direction, all that good stuff. But while the NIT was a fun deal last year for a Hawkeyes team lucky to get invited, it will only be enjoyable for Iowa this season if it wins its way to New York for that Final Four. Which it certainly could, by the way.
Still, it’s the NIT. And, it’s a seventh-straight season without an NCAA appearance for Iowa. That’s a long time. This program would have been been better off with a first-game loss in the NCAAs than a multiple-game stint in the NIT. March Madness is the only event in which you would rather perform in Dayton, Ohio, than Madison Square Garden.
Iowa State is going to Dayton. It has work to do to match its accomplishment of last year, which was winning a second-round game and getting to the first weekend of the NCAAs.
The difference between the resumes of the Cyclones and Hawkeyes isn’t great, but ISU owns wins over No. 4 and No. 5 (Kansas State and Oklahoma State) seeds, and played NCAA teams Cincinnati and UNLV away from Ames. Beating NCAA-bound Oklahoma last Thursday in Kansas City sure helped, too.
As a 10-seed, Iowa State’s road was going to be tough no matter where it was sent. Notre Dame is a formidable first foe. The Fighting Irish are 6-5 against NCAA teams. They beat NCAA overall No. 1-seed Louisville (well, once out of three times). They beat NCAA 3-seed Marquette in the quarterfinals of last week’s Big East tourney. They went 11-7 in that league. That was Iowa State’s Big 12 record.
The Irish start three fine guards and have a horse of a center named Jack Cooley, an All-Big East player who averages 13.1 points and 10.3 rebounds. Four of the eight players in Notre Dame’s rotation are 6-foot-9 or 6-10.
But, Notre Dame has seen few teams that play a style similar to Iowa State’s. The Cyclones average 79.6 points, fourth-best in the nation. No Big East team averages more than 73.6 points. ISU averages 9.8 three-pointers on 26.6 tries. No Big East team makes as many as eight 3-pointers per game.
So, it’s an interesting matchup. The winner gets Ohio State in Ohio. That’s still better than playing Kentucky in Louisville, which the Cyclones did in the third-round (second game) last year. And it’s much better to play Ohio State in Ohio this week than to face UMass in Massachusetts.