Selection Sunday: Iowa basketball draws 8-seed, matchup vs. Auburn in Midwest Regional
IOWA CITY − The Iowa men's basketball team learned its NCAA Tournament fate on Sunday evening. The program's body of work earned an at-large bid from the committee and the Hawkeyes will play in the 68-team field for the third straight season and the seventh time under 13th-year coach Fran McCaffery.
The Hawkeyes will be an 8-seed in the Midwest Region. They'll play 9-seed Auburn, a SEC at-large team, on Thursday in Birmingham, Ala. Their tournament résumé features a No. 32 ranking in the NCAA NET rankings, three Quad 1 wins just one bad loss (Quad 3 & 4). It will be an unofficial road game for Iowa, as Birmingham is just two hours from Auburn's campus.
The game will tipoff at 5:50 p.m. (CT) on Thursday and will be televised on TNT.
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"We definitely need to have that mentality we had going into (road wins) Minnesota, Rutgers, Indiana," junior forward Kris Murray said.
Auburn finished seventh in the SEC with a 10-8 record. The Tigers are 20-12 overall. Auburn lost to Arkansas in the second round of the SEC Tournament. Johni Broome leads the Tigers with 14.0 points per game.
Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl served as an assistant coach at Iowa from 1986 to 1992, and Iowa assistant coach Matt Gatens served on Pearl’s staff at Auburn before going to Drake. Per McCaffery, Gatens is expected to serve as lead scout for the matchup.
"I think the one thing is (Auburn) plays hard," Fran McCaffery said. "They compete and they're athletic. It's hard to get done what (coach Pearl) has done and consistently be good, it's a testament to how he's built his program."
Iowa enters the tournament field under much different circumstances than last year. Last February saw Iowa capture the Big Ten tournament championship as one of the hottest teams in the country down the stretch. The Hawkeyes had a chance for a second-place regular season finish this season but lost to Nebraska in the final game to fall to fifth. A few days later Iowa was bounced out of the conference tournament after just one game against No. 13 seed Ohio State. Overall, Iowa enters the tournament field with a 19-13 overall record.
Players noted that there's been a collective sour taste off the heels of their recent losses. But there's an opportunity to wipe the slate clean as a new season approaches.
"A lot of guys weren't happy with our performance over the last week," Murray said. "I think we have to take that anger out next week on both sides of the ball. We've been talking about playing with a chip on our shoulder over the last few days and now it's time to put it into action."
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This year's team is led by Murray, a first-team all-Big Ten selection by coaches and media and Sporting News All-American. Four other Hawkeyes received All-Big Ten distinctions including Filip Rebraca (third team), Payton Sandfort (Sixth Man of the Year) and Tony Perkins and Connor McCaffery (honorable mention).
Iowa will look to advance to their first Sweet 16 since the 1998-99 season. In order to do that, they'll have to beat Auburn and the winner of the No. 1 seed Houston vs. Northern Kentucky. If they do that, the party is on in Kansas City for the Sweet 16.
Last season's NCAA Tournament bid was met with much more optimism as the Hawkeyes rode in on a wave of momentum as a No. 5 seed. This year's feeling is different off a disappointing week to end the season. Senior Connor McCaffery noted that the team's shown resiliency in tough spots this season, and they're looking forward to the chance to show that yet again.
"It's a a lot different being an eight or nine seed than a 5-seed (in 2022) or a 2-seed (in 2021)," Connor McCaffery said. "I feel like you're playing with house money a little bit, it's not like you're playing and you feel like you're supposed to win or have to win. I'm excited.
"You don't need extra motivation at this point. If you can't get up for these games at this point now, you shouldn't be playing."