March 16, 2014
By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The seed doesn't matter nor does the fact that the University of Iowa men's basketball team is one of eight teams playing in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio. What matters is the Hawkeyes are among the 68 teams dancing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
"It didn't matter what seed (we were) or where we were going, I am just excited for the opportunity," said junior Aaron White. "These guys (seniors) have worked so hard since they got here from where we've come to where we are. I know people are frustrated with how the season ended, but we're in. That's all you can ask for."
Iowa (20-12) received an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament where it will square off against Tennessee (21-12) in a first round game Wednesday, March 19, at approximately 8 p.m. (CT). The winner will face sixth-seeded Massachusetts on Friday in Raleigh, N.C., as a part of the Midwest Region.
"It has been a long journey to get this team to improve," said UI head coach Fran McCaffery. "You started to see it come together in year one; in year two, we made a little bit of noise, and last year we were sitting right on the bubble. Now we're in, and it's a great accomplishment."
When Iowa's named popped up on the NCAA Selection Show, McCaffery says there was excitement, but not pandemonium.
"It didn't matter what seed (we were) or where we were going, I am just excited for the opportunity. These guys (seniors) have worked so hard since they got here from where we've come to where we are. I know people are frustrated with how the season ended, but we're in. That's all you can ask for."
UI junior Aaron White
"Our team is incredibly business-like in how we approach everything," said McCaffery. "There was hugging, but it wasn't jumping up and down on each other's head or anything like that. We're not that type of team.
"They knew we were going to get in and our body of work was deserving. It was a matter of when our name was going to come up. (When it did it was like) alright, let's go get it done."
The Hawkeyes don't have a blind draw when it comes to preparing for the Volunteers, one of three Southeastern Conference teams selected to the field. Iowa prepared for Tennessee for a potential second-round matchup at The Battle 4 Atlantis in November, but it didn't surface.
"Kirk (Speraw) had them, so he has already watch a million tapes on them," said McCaffery. "Watching them from afar, they have gotten progressively better. I watched two games in Atlantis, and they're athletic, powerful, and can hurt you in a lot of ways. We have to lock into what guys are doing lately and what things have changed."
The Volunteers went 21-12 overall and 11-7 in the SEC in 2013-14 under head coach Cuonzo Martin. Guard Jordan McRae paces Tennessee with 18.6 points per game with 75 3-pointers, while Jarnell Stokes averages a double-double at 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds. Jeronne Maymon is the third Volunteer in double figures at 10.1 points.
Tennessee was the No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament, where it was bounced by Florida, the NCAA's top overall seed, 56-49 in the semifinals.
"If you're in this tournament, you're a good team, and we'll handle them that way," said White. "We're not going to look past them, it will be a good game and atmosphere, and we're looking forward to it."
McCaffery becomes the 12th head coach to lead four different programs to the NCAA Tournament. He says his Iowa journey has been unique and rewarding.
"It seems like some days, it was insurmountable," he said. "We kept plugging, stayed positive, and I was blessed when I got here with great leadership, we didn't have a lot of bodies, but we had Jarryd Cole, Matt Gatens and Eric May. Those guys were huge and are spectacular.
"I hope they feel very much a part of what happened today."
Wednesday's game will be televised on TruTV.