IOWA CITY -- Brian Giorgis relishes this time of the year.
"It's the time where we get to take the target off our back, and now we get to go out and try to slay one of the bigger schools," said the women's basketball coach at Marist College.
One of the best mid-majors in the nation through the past decade, the Red Foxes have No. 25 Iowa in their sights.
Tipoff for the first-round NCAA tournament game is 7 p.m. Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"We know now that it's win or go home," said Iowa point guard Samantha Logic. "There's a lot riding on every single game.
"We have to be ready to play 40 minutes. Otherwise, we're not going to get another 40 minutes."
The Hawkeyes (26-8) are not looking beyond the hurdle in front of them. Wise move.
The champion of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Marist (27-6) is in the NCAA tournament for the ninth straight year. In that time, the Red Foxes have won five tournament games -- compared to two for Iowa.
"They're good. They're very good," Logic said. "They like to play up-tempo, and that's how we like to play."
Both teams have five starters averaging in double figures.
"I would call them a better version of ourselves," Giorgis said.
"They play in a bigger conference than us," said Marist guard Casey Dulin. "I think they just had more experience than us playing better teams. That's why they can be considered better than us."
Giorgis said, "They just have a little more talent than we do. They're a little bigger, a little more athletic, a little more physical."
Iowa is making its seventh straight NCAA appearance. The Hawkeyes have won nine of their last 11 games, but haven't played since falling to Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament final March 9.
"I've always believed that the Big Ten tournament should be moved back farther so we don't have this big gap," Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said. "We tried to give the players a little time off, let them heal up from playing four games in four days in the Big Ten tournament and work on a couple things we need to work on."
One of them is adapting to Marist's complex motion offense.
"I'm extremely impressed with that," Bluder said. "The way they read screens is amazing. They do as good a job as I've seen with that situation."
Giorgis calls his system "one that can't be learned overnight. Most people I've tried to teach, they give it up within three weeks."
In 12 years at Marist, Giorgis has built a MAAC empire. His teams are 304-86 (.779), giving him the fourth-best winning percentage among active Division-I coaches.
He has had opportunities to interview at larger colleges, including Georgetown. He has turned them down.
"I just really enjoy this level," he said.
Marist's five starters all average between 10.9 and 13.6 points per game. Iowa's starting five score between 12.1 and 14.2 points per contest.
"They will be difficult to defend, but I think we have the same threat," Bluder said.
Bethany Doolittle leads the Hawkeyes, and at 6-foot-4, has an advantage inside.
Fourth-ranked Louisville (30-4), the 2013 national runner-up, faces Idaho (25-8) in Sunday's first game at 4:30.
Sunday's winners play at 8:30 p.m. for the right to advance to the Sweet Sixteen at Louisville, Ky.