March 18, 2014
By STEVE ROE
DAYTON, Ohio -- University of Iowa head basketball coach Fran McCaffery and Hawkeye basketball players met with the media and held an open practice Tuesday afternoon, working on final preparations for the Wednesday's (8 p.m. CT, TruTV) game against Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
While the Hawkeyes are making their first appearance in the NCAA event since 2006, McCaffery is coaching his fourth team in the NCAA Tournament, and his fourth Iowa team is no stranger to postseason play. The Hawkeyes advanced to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) in 2012 before playing in the NIT championship game last season. When you add the annual early season events and the Big Ten Conference Tournament, the Hawkeyes are very familiar with tournament play.
"What I try to get them to understand is, how good all the teams are, and the seedings are irrelevant," said McCaffery. "I am continuously amazed at the obsession people have with the seedings. All games are at neutral sites; every team has stars, size and great coaches; so it is the teams that are the most prepared, and who truly respect their opponents, that advance.
"Everything is different, and a lot of it comes from the media attention and the obligations. Today's practice (open to the public) will not be a traditional practice. Nothing will be routine, and we are big on routine. We talked about that at length this morning right after breakfast, so we just have to adjust. There is no better preparation for something like this than the Big Ten schedule. We also added in the Battle 4 Atlantis, which is playing three great teams in three days. There are reasons why we did those kinds of things, because we hoped to be here, and here we are."
The Hawkeyes played well in the Battle 4 Atlantis in late November, defeating Xavier and Texas-El Paso before falling to Villanova in overtime in the championship game, a day after the Wildcats defeated Kansas.
"It's a big opportunity being in the NCAA Tournament and an opportunity to play," said senior forward Zach McCabe. "We have to focus like any other game, take it like we've been doing in our routine. We have to be prepared and focused and be ready for a great team in Tennessee.
"It's a different type of environment there (Atlantis) and a tournament setting. I usually play my best in tournament settings. I have to stay confident, believe in my shots, get into a rhythm and play the best I can. (Atlantis) was a great tournament for me, and I hope I can continue to play like that in the NCAA Tournament."
"I give credit to coach McCaffery and the coaching staff," said senior forward Melsahn Basabe. "We're prepared at an elite level for each game, whether it's a preseason scrimmage or nonconference. Any game, we treat as a very important game. This stage is a big stage, and this is an elimination setting. As far as our preparation, the coaches have built the culture of us always being diligent and focusing no matter who you play."
McCaffery also reflected on the journey as Iowa's head coach, making two straight appearances in the NIT with outstanding leaders in Jarryd Cole, Matt Gatens, and Eric May. Marble, McCabe and Basabe represent McCaffery's first class that has been in the program four years.
"We all look at progression," said McCaffery. "Eighteen wins two years ago, NIT bid. Second round departure, then 25 wins, NIT championship game (in 2013). The next step is you've have to go to the tournament. Without question that was on their minds every time we took the floor. It was helpful at times and wasn't as helpful at times.
"Once you're here, we all have an equal opportunity to win a national championship. It starts with the first game and anybody you play against is going to be good. We recognize that and we'll prepare and ready."
The winner of Wednesday's Iowa vs. Tennessee contest will advance to a second round contest against No. 6 seed Massachusetts in Raleigh, N.C. That second round game will take place Friday at 1:45 p.m., CT (CBS).