Hawkeyes happy to be a part of postseason basketball

IOWA CITY – Three higher seeds in the National Invitation Tournament have already lost. And playing in the NIT is not the same as competing in the Big Dance in March.

But the Hawkeyes don’t care. They are playing postseason basketball and are hoping to come away with a championship trophy.

“There’s not a lack of good teams in the NIT,” Iowa senior Eric May said. “These guys all want to win and it has shown early with some of the upsets. We have gotten to the point where we are excited to play. We have a chance to do something great. It’s a great opportunity to keep playing and to play another game in Carver.”

The Hawkeyes overcame a sluggish start against Indiana State on Wednesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena to advance in the NIT. And after seventh-seeded Stony Brook upset No. 2 seed UMass, the Hawkeyes will return to the friendly confines for yet another home game on Friday night.

Top-seeded and defending national champion Kentucky lost on Tuesday night. Second-seeded Tennessee also bowed out early with a loss to Marist on Wednesday.

The Hawkeyes don’t care what postseason tournament it is, they are out to prove that they deserved to be in the conversation for an at-large NCAA Tournament berth.

“This is still a national tournament. We are on ESPN. If you can’t get up for that you have to check where you are at,” said Iowa sophomore Aaron White, who finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds in the win over the Sycamores. “We are fortunate to still be playing. Others are watching us wishing they could play.”

Wednesday’s game wasn’t pretty. But that is what’s beautiful. Postseason wins aren’t judged by their looks. All that matters is winning and advancing.

That is exactly what the Hawkeyes did as they took the lead in the first half with a 13-4 run and then outscored the Sycamores 37-22 in the second half.

“That is an NCAA-caliber team and we knew coming in that we were playing a really good basketball team,” said Indiana State coach Greg Lansing, who spent seven seasons as an assistant at Iowa under Steve Alford. “They are the type of team that can win this thing. And with everyone coming back except for May, they have a bright future.”

Right now, Iowa’s future is in the NIT. The young players are getting postseason experience. And that can go a long way in the development process heading into next season and beyond.

While playing in the NCAA tournament is the ultimate goal, being a part of the NIT is better than sitting at home.

“We are going to continue to try to get wins,” said Iowa guard Roy Devyn Marble, who scored a game-high 24 points in the win. “We are not happy just to be here. We are trying to get the ultimate prize and win that championship.”

With another home game on the horizon, as well as another potential sell-out, Iowa took a step closer to that championship Wednesday. Beating Stony Brook won’t be easy, but being back at home in front of an energized Hawkeye fan base on just one day’s rest will certainly help.

“I want to play two more here if that’s possible,” said May. “The fans have been great. We are really lucky to have fans like that. It will be good to get a third senior day too. I am loving it. I am excited. We all are.”

Iowa sold out its arena on Wednesday. It was the fifth sellout of the season. And the second largest crowd for an NIT game since 2009. Only the Kentucky at Creighton game that season had more fans.

“I think the fans enjoy watching this team play,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “Obviously we’d rather be playing these games at home. Our crowds have been so terrific all year. The energy level in this building has been great and we are excited to be back here at 8:30 on Friday night.”

So is the jacked up Iowa fan base. Even if it is just the NIT.