Iowa gets a 2 seed in NCAA Tournament and opening matchup with Grand Canyon

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

The Iowa men's basketball team earned its best NCAA Tournament seed since 1987 on Sunday and will begin its long-awaited chase for a championship by facing Grand Canyon on Saturday.

The Hawkeyes earned a 2 seed after a 21-8 season while playing in the nation's best conference, the Big Ten.

The entire tournament is being held in Indiana this spring in order to minimize travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, but an exact venue and tipoff time for Iowa's game were not immediately announced. Hawkeye players and coaches have been in Indianapolis since Wednesday, sequestered in a downtown hotel while competing in the conference tournament and then March Madness.

Iowa center Luka Garza said the team felt a No. 2 seed was an indication of how strongly the Hawkeyes performed throughout the season.

"I think everyone was just really, really excited," Garza said. "This year in the Big Ten, to be able to win the games we won and to put ourselves in that position. So I'm proud of our guys. W'er really excited about the opportunity to get some wins in this tournament. It's going to be fun."

The Hawkeyes lost to Illinois 82-71 on Saturday in the Big Ten semifinals.

Iowa's starting five of CJ Fredrick (5), Connor McCaffery, Joe Wieskamp, Luka Garza and Jordan Bohannon (3) huddle up during a break at the Big Ten Conference tournament in Indianapolis. The Hawkeyes learned Sunday that they will face Grand Canyon in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday in Indiana.

If Iowa wins its NCAA Tournament opener — only eight 2 seeds have ever fallen to a 15 seed — it would face the winner of Oregon-VCU. That game will be played next Monday, March 22.

This is Iowa's 27th NCAA Tournament appearance, and its fifth in 11 seasons under coach Fran McCaffery.

Iowa hasn't reached the Sweet Sixteen since 1999. If it does so this year, a likely matchup with 3 seed Kansas would await. The top seed in Iowa's region is undefeated and top-ranked Gonzaga, which beat the Hawkeyes in December in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Iowa would be favored to win its first three games in the tournament. The 1987 Hawkeye team did that to reach the Elite 8, before falling to UNLV.

The Hawkeyes went 1-4 this season against teams that were ranked in the top 10 of the nation at the time.

The NCAA Tournament was canceled last March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States. Iowa finished the season 21-11.

The Hawkeyes most recently were in the tournament in 2019, when they beat Cincinnati in the opener before falling in overtime to Tennessee, which was seeded second.

Iowa is led by Garza, an all-American and the program's all-time leader in points scored. He returned to Iowa City for a senior season, he said, in order to make a run in the postseason with the likes of senior point guard Jordan Bohannon and junior wing player Joe Wieskamp.

Grand Canyon is in the Western Athletic Conference, with a 17-6 record. It is coached by Bryce Drew, in his first season. 7-foot junior center Asbjorn Midtgaard, a Wichita State transfer, is the Antelopes' star player. The native of Denmark averages 14 points and 9.9 rebounds and will be matched up with the 6-11 Garza.

The Hawkeyes and Antelopes have never played each other in basketball.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.