The side stories for Wednesday's 6:30 p.m. Iowa-No. 12 North Carolina showdown are fun.
ESPN and Dick Vitale. ACC/Big Ten Challenge supremacy. Iowans/former AAU teammates square off in Chapel Hill, N.C.
But the central theme for the Hawkeyes is more important: Win a road game against one of college basketball's most storied programs, and that stays in your pocket until Selection Sunday in mid-March.
"You always want a signature win," Iowa point guard Mike Gesell said. "This would be a huge one for us in a hostile road environment."
Fran McCaffery, Mike Gesell and Josh Oglesby discuss the ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup in Chapel Hill.
All 351 Division I programs covet a spot in the 68-team NCAA Tournament. Once you're there, anything can happen. A No. 7 seed (Connecticut) won last year's national title over a No. 8 (Kentucky).
Iowa gained NCAA entry a season ago for the first time since 2006 — as a No. 11 seed in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio, after a 20-12 season that included a road win at then-No. 3 Ohio State.
The 2014-15 Hawkeyes (5-2) whiffed on two early chances at marquee wins Nov. 20-21 at the 2K Classic in New York City. They turned a 12-point lead into a 14-point loss to now-No. 6 Texas and fell short by three against Syracuse.
Hawkeye players repeatedly brought up those shortfalls Monday during interview sessions in Iowa City.
"We need to get a big win," guard Josh Oglesby said. "Obviously we had two opportunities earlier in the season in New York."
Echoed center Adam Woodbury: "We didn't get the results we wanted to in New York. Now we've got another opportunity."
Absolutely. North Carolina is in the top 10 of ESPN.com's version of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) — a key tool used by the NCAA Selection Committee. Iowa is ranked in the mid-30s.
So how does Iowa steal one in the 21,750-seat Dean Smith Center?
"Definitely rebound. That's the big thing. They've got a big team, as we do," 7-foot-1 Woodbury said. "And limit our turnovers. We've got to get a good shot every time down the court."
Shot selection — that was high on Iowa coach Fran McCaffery's list as well because of the Tar Heels' aggressive transition game.
"They've got a lot of size, so if you get it to the rim, can you finish?" McCaffery said. "Can you make a good decision at the rim?
"(We've) got to be smart with how we move the ball, how we stay spaced. And the shot selection is going to be critical. And we've got to get back (on defense), because they're going to run."
North Carolina coach Roy Williams recruited Woodbury out of Sioux City. He also recruited his Martin Brothers AAU teammate Marcus Paige, of Marion. Paige was Williams' top target in the recruiting class of 2012.
"I'm glad I made this choice," Paige said Tuesday. "It's changed my life for the better in so many ways."
Adam Woodbury turned down Tar Heels to play for Iowa.
Paige, North Carolina's leading scorer at 15.2 points per game, has remained especially close with Gesell, another Martin Brothers teammate. He said Wednesday he had spoken with Gesell "three or four different times this week ... not anything basketball related. Just catching up."
They'll battle Wednesday for the first time since high school.
Even if Paige's Tar Heels emerge, the Hawkeyes can look ahead to future signature-win opportunities with a Dec. 12 home game against Iowa State (No. 7 in ESPN.com's RPI) and an 18-game Big Ten Conference grind.
But a win? That would be a great thing to pack on the plane back to Iowa City.
"It's time to see what we're made of early in the season," Gesell said.
ACC/BIG TEN CHALLENGE SCHEDULE & RESULTS
Entering Tuesday's games, the Big Ten has a 2-0 lead on the Atlantic Coast Conference. There are 14 total matchups.
Rutgers 69, Clemson 64
Nebraska 70, Florida State 65
Pittsburgh at Indiana, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
Minnesota at Wake Forest, 6 p.m. (ESPNU)
Syracuse at Michigan, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Illinois at Miami (Fla.), 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
North Carolina State at Purdue, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
Ohio State at Louisville, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Michigan State at Notre Dame, 6:15 p.m. (ESPN2)
Virginia Tech at Penn State, 6:15 p.m. (ESPNU)
Iowa at North Carolina, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Georgia Tech at Northwestern, 8:15 p.m. (ESPNU)
Virginia at Maryland, 8:15 p.m. (ESPN2)
Duke at Wisconsin, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Iowa (5-2) at No. 12 North Carolina (5-1)
Specifics — 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Following the game — TV: ESPN. Radio: WHO (AM-1040), WMT (AM-600) and the Hawkeye network; XM Satellite Radio (Channel 91). Live scoring: hawkeyesports.com. The Register in Chapel Hill: Follow Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown (@ByRickBrown) on Twitter.
Preview — Iowa is 3-10 all-time in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It won last year's game, 98-93, over Notre Dame in Iowa City. ... In Iowa's only previous trip the Dean Smith Center, the Hawkeyes famously won 98-97 when Roy Marble successfully persuaded officials to let him shoot what would become the winning free throw — instead of Ed Horton, who was the one fouled. ... After the game, Iowa center Gabe Olaseni (7.7 ppg, 2.9 bpg) is planning to return to his native London following the death of his father.