The Register's Chad Leistikow looks at Iowa's chance in the NCAA Tournament, where it faces Temple in the first round in Brooklyn, N.Y.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — At some point, we may reflect on Iowa’s first-game loss at the Big Ten Conference Tournament and say that was a pretty good thing.
That’s not to say there was any good feeling about the Hawkeyes’ jarring 68-66 loss to 12th-seeded Illinois in Indianapolis. But as a result of that Thursday-afternoon exit, coach Fran McCaffery gave his players two days off from basketball.
“Just rest. Get in and see (trainer Brad Floy) if there’s any nicks and bruises, jump in a cold tub,” McCaffery said Sunday. “But kind of get away from it.”
For the most part, they did. Some got shots up at Carver-Hawkeye Arena anyway, but the break was welcomed for a team than needed to mentally and physically recharge after six losses in their last eight games.
“Get our minds off everything, and just have some fun,” Adam Woodbury said.
Woodbury was one of the players who watched on TV as Purdue and Michigan State — teams Iowa went 4-0 against in the regular season — played three games Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
And even though it would’ve been great for Iowa to make a conference-title run, there was little evidence that tournament performance positively impacted any Big Ten team’s NCAA Tournament seeding.
Michigan State, despite winning 13 of its last 14 games and capping a 29-5 season with a conference title, wound up a 2 seed it would’ve probably had anyway. And all 26-8 Purdue had to show for its impressive three-day run was a 5 seed — lower than, as an example, the fifth-place Big 12 Conference team that went 21-11.
The first results from Iowa’s two days off rolled in at Sunday’s practice, held before the bracket-reveal TV show that saw the Hawkeyes earn a No. 7 seed in the South Region and face 10th-seeded Temple in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Iowa’s Peter Jok called the practice intense and said it was nice to have “fresh legs.”
“Practice was great today. A lot of energy,” point guard Mike Gesell added. “We were having fun out there.”
It was validation for McCaffery to see that after the unexpected — but maybe needed — time off.
“I thought the kids had a great attitude. Their effort level, concentration level, execution level was terrific as it should be on this day,” he said. “We just need more of the same moving forward.”
The Fran & Philly pod
Iowa’s four-team pod in Brooklyn features familiar programs to McCaffery, a Philadelphia native. The Hawkeyes not only open against Temple, the winner of that game likely will face second-seeded Villanova.
Both programs are Philly-based and comprise 40 percent of the so-called “Big 5” — La Salle, Pennsylvania, St. Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova. Those Philadelphia-area programs play a round-robin schedule against each other annually, something McCaffery experienced while playing college ball at Penn. (Villanova won this year’s informal title with a 4-0 record.)
McCaffery also shares a personal bond with Temple coach Fran Dunphy and Villanova coach Jay Wright.
“I grew up watching the Big 5, played in the Big 5, played against Temple and Villanova a lot,” McCaffery said. “I have tremendous respect for Jay Wright as well. I’ve known he and ‘Dunpher’ for many, many years. We do a lot of stuff together for Coaches vs. Cancer, and we support each other in a lot of different ways.”
Uthoff's latest honor
The honors keep rolling in for Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff, who on Monday was named a second-team all-American by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. He is the first Hawkeye to ever be one of the USBWA’s 10 all-Americans since that organization began naming such teams in 1957.
Last week, Uthoff made The Sporting News’ second team as well. Uthoff goes into the NCAA Tournament with averages of 18.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per game.
The prestigious Associated Press All-American teams are revealed later this month. The last Hawkeye to make the AP’s second team was Ronnie Lester in 1979.
As Iowa heads into the Big Ten Conference men's basketball tournament, relive moments from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. David Scrivner / Iowa City Press-Citizen
New assist king
Three days removed from making school history, Mike Gesell was deferential. With eight assists against Illinois, the senior from South Sioux City, Neb., has 194 for the season — breaking Andre Woolridge’s school record of 193.
Gesell is averaging 6.3 assists per game, the highest number for any Hawkeye since Cal Wulfsberg averaged 6.6 in 1976.
“You know I’ve never really focused on honors like that, but it’s pretty cool to get that record, especially as a point guard,” Gesell said. “I think it shows we have a lot of guys that knocked down shots.”
Familiar name in the news
A troubling series of events at New Mexico has resulted in the intended transfer of 6-foot-4 point guard Cullen Neal, whose father, Craig, was an assistant coach at Iowa from 2004 to 2007.
Neal averaged 17.0 points a game as a Lobos freshman under his father, who succeeded Steve Alford in Albuquerque after he left for the coaching job at UCLA. But as Neal's numbers fell during his redshirt sophomore season (12.3 ppg), Craig Neal said his son received death threats.
Neal will finish undergraduate classwork this spring, meaning he could use the NCAA’s graduate-transfer rule and play immediately in 2016-17 with two years of college eligibility. It’s way too early to speculate where Neal might land, but it’s no secret that the Hawkeyes could use a veteran point-guard presence next year after Gesell and Anthony Clemmons depart. However, Iowa won’t have any available scholarships unless somebody transfers.
Regardless, Neal seems like he needs — and deserves — a fresh start somewhere outside of New Mexico.
At the NCAA Tournament, the Iowa basketball team will stay the Times Square Marriott Marquis in Manhattan — the same hotel it stayed in during its run to the NIT Championship Game in 2013. … Iowa assistant coach Andrew Francis is a Brooklyn native. McCaffery cracked that when it came to dining options, "We’ll get him involved with that." ... The Hawkeyes fell to No. 24 in the next-to-last USA TODAY Coaches’ Poll. Their six-spot drop was the largest among all ranked teams. There will be one final poll taken after the national championship game. Iowa fell to No. 25, down from 20th, in the final AP poll.
IOWA'S NCAA OPENER
Matchup: South Region, No. 7 Iowa (21-10) vs. No. 10 Temple (21-11)
When, where: Approximately 2:10 p.m CT Friday, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
TV: truTV (Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel)
The line: Iowa is favored by 7.5
At stake: The winner faces Friday's Villanova vs. UNC-Asheville winner on Sunday, time TBA.