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Nicholas Baer is the only Iowa player with previous NCAA Tournament experience. What does he plan to tell his teammates? Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa Hawkeyes expect to be hearing from their lone senior this week. Often.

Nicholas Baer is the only one on the roster who has played in an NCAA Tournament game. That means when he speaks, everyone listens. Especially this week, as the Hawkeyes (22-11) prepare to face Cincinnati (28-6) in a first-round NCAA game in Columbus, Ohio. Tipoff is at 11:15 a.m. Friday on CBS.

“I’m sure he has some stuff that he wants to get off his chest about this time of year that he’ll want to make sure that we’re doing. For this week, especially when it comes to tournament play, I’m all ears from Nicholas. I’ll chime in when I have to,” said Iowa junior forward Tyler Cook, a team captain along with Baer and junior point guard Jordan Bohannon.

“He cares a lot about this group, cares a lot about us all individually. So when he has something to say, we all listen. And he talks often. He’s very fiery. The same fire you see in the game is what he brings to practice. When he has something to say, he says it. He’s not a shy guy by any stretch of the imagination. So we’re happy to have him.”

More: Iowa's NCAA Tournament game gets morning tipoff time, CBS broadcast

Baer was a redshirt freshman walk-on the last time Iowa reached the NCAA Tournament. He watched from the bench as Adam Woodbury tipped in the game-winning basket to upend Temple in overtime in the first round in 2016. Baer, who scored two points in that game, rushed to the court to give Woodbury a jubilant hug.

“That’s what you dream about. That’s something I’ll always cherish,” Baer recalled Sunday after the Hawkeyes learned they were a 10 seed in the NCAA’s South Region.

Baer scored 15 points against eventual national champion Villanova in the second round of the 2016 tournament. Iowa lost that game 87-68.

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Then it was a maddening two-year stretch in which Baer and the Hawkeyes couldn’t get back to the dance. This season, Iowa players say, Baer has made March the focal point of every conversation.

“He’s been on us about preparing right,” sophomore center Luka Garza said of Baer. “He’s going to help us and lead us in every way he can. He’s been doing that all year.”

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The Hawkeyes are four-point underdogs to the Bearcats, who are making a ninth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. Iowa has lost five of its past six games.

None of this matters to Baer. The Bettendorf native said it’s been in the back of his mind all year that his Hawkeye career is about to close.

“I’m not ready to be done yet. I don’t think I ever will,” he said.

“I just want us to make sure that we’re locked in and focused. I understand that it’s win or go home. But at the same time, not getting away from what we do. What will be some things that will successful against Cincinnati?”

Baer tied a season-high with 17 points in Iowa’s most recent win, 83-62 over Illinois in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament last week. Then he failed to score the next night as the Hawkeyes fell 74-53 to Michigan. He missed all three of his shots in that one, but did contribute five rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals in 15 minutes. When he’s shut out in one statistical category, he always seems to find a way to make up for it elsewhere.

“I just go into each game trying to impact the game with my energy and my effort,” Baer said. “We didn’t shoot the ball great against Michigan, but hopefully that changes.”

Baer said he won’t make it a point to sit down the Hawkeyes as a group and lecture them about what to expect on the sport’s biggest stage. He thinks conversations will be more impromptu.

His message will be that tournament games really aren’t that different than what the Hawkeyes have faced 33 times this season already.

“Just understanding that it’s win or go home This is it. And I think everybody knows that. These guys have been preparing for this tournament, this game, for their whole lives,” Baer said.

“You’re a little bit more excited. The juices are flowing, absolutely. But at the same time you have to remember it’s just one game and you’ve got to keep just doing your job and whatever your assignment is and just go from there.”

 

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