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Iowa center Luka Garza will fulfill a childhood dream by playing in the NCAA Tournament. Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa men's basketball team will march into the NCAA Tournament on Friday to face off against Cincinnati in Columbus, Ohio.

The Hawkeyes (22-11) earned a 10 seed in brackets revealed Sunday. It is Iowa's first appearance in the tournament in three seasons.

Sophomore center Luka Garza said the players watched the selection show in the locker room and were very excited when "Iowa" flashed on the TV screen.

"When you grow up playing basketball in your back yard, you think about making the tournament. You're watching all the March games. You dream of making upsets. You dream of making a run," said Garza, a native of Washington, D.C. "We have an opportunity to do that. If we play like we're capable of playing, we can play for a while in March."

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Cincinnati (28-6) is a 7 seed and will be playing 107 miles from home. The teams have met eight times previously, with Cincinnati winning six. The most recent meeting was a 76-64 Hawkeye loss in the 2005 tournament in Indianapolis.

"They'll definitely have some fans out there. But I think we'll have some fans out there, too," Garza said. "It's not their home gym, so it's not a home game for them. It's a neutral site."

Iowa went 4-1 in neutral-site games this season.

The Bearcats upset Houston 69-57 to claim the American Athletic Conference Tournament championship Sunday.

Cincinnati is led by junior guard Jarron Cumberland, who averages 18 points and 4 assists per game. The Bearcats are coached by Mick Cronin and are making their ninth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.

Cincinnati prefers to play at a slow tempo, ranking 338th in that category, according to Kenpom.com. The Bearcats are 28th in adjusted defensive efficiency.

The winner of Friday's game will face the winner of 2 seed Tennessee and 15 seed Colgate on Sunday in Columbus.

If Iowa advances to its first Sweet 16 in 20 years, it would be in Louisville, Kentucky.

Iowa enters with five losses in its final six games, including 74-53 Friday against Michigan in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. The Hawkeyes were once 20-5 and thought to be trending toward a 5 seed. They were nationally ranked for 16 consecutive weeks before falling out in late February.

Iowa went 11-0 in non-conference play, including wins over Iowa State, which won the Big 12 Tournament on Saturday, and Oregon, the Pac-12 Tournament champions. The Hawkeyes were 10-10 in the Big Ten regular season, which was highlighted by a home win over Michigan. Iowa beat Illinois in its first Big Ten Tournament game Thursday before falling to Michigan, which went on to finish second.

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Those victories over two teams that won major-conference tournaments undoubtedly helped Iowa's case for getting into the tournament, but not enough to get an 8 or 9 seed, which most experts predicted. The Hawkeyes are one of eight Big Ten teams in the field, the most of any conference.

"I don't really care about the seeding," Garza said. "We have a huge opportunity. Once you get into March, it doesn't matter where you're seeded. We see it all the time."

This is Iowa's fourth NCAA Tournament berth in Fran McCaffery's nine seasons as head coach. He has a 2-3 record.

The Hawkeyes lost in the First Four round against Tennessee in 2014; beat Davidson as a 7 seed in 2015 before losing to Gonzaga; and defeated Temple as a 7 seed in 2016 before losing to eventual national champion Villanova.

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WATCH Cincinnati Bearcats win AAC tournament, get No. 7 seed in NCAA Scott Springer, sspringer@enquirer.com

 

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