March 11, 2012
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Matt Gatens has started all 126 games in his Hawkeye career. Game No. 127 might be the one he has been waiting for the most since putting on the black and gold uniform.
Gatens and the Hawkeyes were selected as one of 32 teams to participate in the 2012 National Invitation Tournament (NIT) Sunday evening, marking Iowa's first postseason appearance since 2006. Not only is Iowa in the NIT, but it will also host a first round matchup against Dayton Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. (CT) with a national audience watching on ESPN.
"It's incredible," Gatens said. "You don't want to take the jersey off. You want to keep playing. It's a great opportunity to continue to play, wear the Hawkeye uniform, try to keep winning and chase a championship."
After Friday's loss to eventual Big Ten Tournament champion Michigan State, Gatens was hoping the Hawkeyes would secure a postseason berth. Seeing his team appear on the selection show bracket is something he will never forget.
"It's incredible. You don't want to take the jersey off. You want to keep playing. It's a great opportunity to continue to play, wear the Hawkeye uniform, try to keep winning and chase a championship."
Senior Matt Gatens
"I was with my girlfriend over at some of the mangers' apartment because they had ESPNU," Gatens said. "It popped up quick and we all went nuts. A few seconds later, the freshmen walked in because they were coming over to watch and they walked in a second too late. They all went crazy and it was really exciting to see their reactions and have that moment with them."
UI head coach Fran McCaffery is ecstatic that his squad earned a chance to play for a postseason title.
"We are absolutely thrilled," McCaffery said. "I'm so proud of our guys and how they persevered and grew throughout the season. We have a phenomenal leader and captain in Matt Gatens and we got great play from Bryce Cartwright. Our young guys really developed throughout the course of the season."
McCaffery knows how hard Gatens has worked this season to try and get his hometown Hawkeyes back in postseason play. Tuesday will be a special moment for the Iowa City native.
"If you had watched him (Gatens) prepare for this opportunity, that's what's impressive to me," McCaffery said. "It's incredibly gratifying for me, as a head coach, to watch Matt Gatens trot out on to the floor in the postseason."
Now McCaffery's focus shifts to a quick turnaround to prepare for a solid Dayton squad. Iowa will only have one day of practice to prep for the Flyers.
"Dayton is a storied program," McCaffery said. "I watched them earlier in the season in the Old Spice Classic when they beat Minnesota, when they had (Trevor) Mbakwe. They are a very well coached team and Archie Miller is one of the great young coaches in college basketball. They have great quickness and shoot a ton of three's, and make them. Twenty wins in the Atlantic 10, with as good as that league is, is quite a statement."
Even with just a quick glance at Dayton, McCaffery was impressed with what he saw.
"This is a very good team off the dribble and they have tremendous guard play," McCaffery said. "They have a number of different shooters and solid post play. They run a lot of ball screens and are going to tax our defense in every way. We are going to have to play the kind of defense we have been playing lately."
Gatens also caught Dayton's game against Minnesota and recognizes the Flyers' starting point guard from AAU basketball.
"I know a little bit about them," Gatens said. "I know (Kevin) Dillard from AAU ball. Obviously a strong program that had great success. It will be a tough task, but it's one we are looking forward to."
"I think it's great because our fans have just responded to this team. They continue to prove what Hawkeye fans are about throughout the United States. They have made it (Carver-Hawkeye Arena) a very difficult place to play, and that's what we want.
UI Head Coach Fran McCaffery on hosting NIT action
One thing McCaffery is hoping for is another raucous Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd. McCaffery had his first taste of a jam packed arena in Iowa City this season and wants the fans to take advantage of hosting a postseason game.
"We were fortunate to get a home game with the unique circumstances (Dayton is hosting NCAA Tournament games)," McCaffery said. "I think it's great because our fans have just responded to this team. They continue to prove what Hawkeye fans are about throughout the United States. They have made it (Carver-Hawkeye Arena) a very difficult place to play, and that's what we want.
"We are playing a style that they enjoy watching and have embraced. I just encourage all fans from all over the state to come out and support us as we take on a very good Dayton Flyer basketball team."
Game No. 127 allows Gatens another chance to play in the arena he dreamt about playing in as a kid. This time, he will be leading his team out on the parquet floor to "chase a championship."
"It means a lot to have another chance to play in Carver," Gatens said. "It would be great to go out with a win and it's great to play on that court again in front of the fans and my family. It's a really special opportunity."