Iowa heads to stacked Orlando tourney with confidence

Chad Leistikow

There’s a lot the Iowa basketball team can accomplish and learn about itself during three games at a stacked Thanksgiving-week tournament in central Florida.

“Hopefully, we’ll learn to win a title,” Iowa senior center Adam Woodbury said. “We’ve come up short a few times in my career in championship games.”

It’s true. The Hawkeyes lost the 2012 Cancun Challenge final to Wichita State. After a great 2013 run at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, Villanova outgunned Iowa in the championship game. And the Hawkeyes’ 2014 trip to Madison Square Garden in the 2K Classic resulted in losses to ranked opponents Texas and Syracuse.

But even though the 2015 Hawkeyes are unranked, they are 3-0 and undeterred going into the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, Fla., starting with Thursday’s stiff 8 p.m. test against 3-0 Dayton. After throttling Big East opponent Marquette on the road, 89-61, last week, Iowa feels confident behind a starting lineup with seniors Anthony Clemmons, Mike Gesell, Jarrod Uthoff and Woodbury and junior Peter Jok.

“People underestimate us this year so far with how much experience we actually do have,” Gesell said. “That helps a lot, especially early in the season. Lots of teams are trying to find their identity.”

So more than a chance for holiday relaxation over Thanksgiving, this is a chance for the Hawkeyes to stuff their RPIs. Dayton is a tough opponent that beat Alabama by 32 and has reached the NCAA tournament the past two years under Archie Miller -- including the 2014 Elite Eight.

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The Flyers are picked to win the Atlantic-10 Conference and have been led so far by James Madison transfer Charles Cooke. They have multiple weapons on offense and will look to score off their pressure defense.

“When we signed up for this tournament, we knew we were going to get somebody really good,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “And we did.”

The Hawkeyes’ blend of experience and youth will face a different four-day challenge than they did in racing to a 28-point first-half lead against inexperienced Marquette.

“I look at the Marquette game, and we really set a tone early,” Gesell said. “That allowed the younger guys to settle in and play to the best of their abilities.”

The Iowa-Dayton winner gets Notre Dame (ranked 17th) or Monmouth (which won at UCLA to open the season) on Friday. On the other side of the bracket sits two more ranked teams in No. 20 Wichita State and No. 23 Xavier (which won at Michigan), plus Southern California (top 20 in the RPI) and Alabama.

“You're getting maximum exposure. There's a lot of teams in this who are going to be in the NCAA Tournament, so you're playing against them,” McCaffery said. “That's why we go, for that opportunity. You can sit home if you want to, or you can go play people. I think ultimately you get rewarded for doing that. If you look at the history of how the NCAA selection committee looks at your team, you will be rewarded for not being afraid to play people.

"Now, you don't ever want to get in a situation where you're burying your own team by over-scheduling. ... But I've tended always to go stronger no matter what. I just don't think it ever hurts you. It only helps you."


A look at the eight-team tournament at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., which runs Thursday through Sunday (all times CT).


11 a.m.: Alabama (2-1) vs. No. 23 Xavier, ESPN2

1:30 p.m.: No. 20 Wichita State (2-1) vs. Southern California (3-0), ESPN2

5:30 p.m.: No. 17 Notre Dame (3-0) vs. Monmouth (2-1), ESPNU

8 p.m.: Iowa (3-0) vs. Dayton (3-0), ESPN2


11 a.m.: Alabama-Xavier loser vs. Wichita State-USC loser, ESPN3

1:30 p.m.: Alabama-Xavier winner vs. Wichita State-USC winner, ESPNU

5:30 p.m.: Notre Dame-Monmouth loser vs. Iowa-Dayton loser, ESPN3

8 p.m.: Notre Dame-Monmouth winner vs. Iowa-Dayton winner, ESPN2


9 a.m.: Seventh-place game, ESPN3

11:30 a.m.: Third-place game, ESPN2

3:30 p.m.: Championship game, ESPN2

6 p.m.: Fifth-place game, ESPNU