Cyclones on a fast NCAA track in Louisville; Hawkeyes get best-case first-round NIT scenario

UNI also in NIT field, and Drake's in the CIT.

Iowa State plays UConn here. Yum!
Iowa State plays UConn here. Yum!

Here's all Iowa State has to do to get to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA men's basketball tournament:

1. Defeat the defending national-champion, Connecticut.

2. Beat the No. 1-seed in the entire bracket, Kentucky. In Louisville's KFC Yum! Center.

But teams that lost 10 or more games can't be too choosy. No matter where they get sent and against whom, it's going to be tough. Besides, this year's UConn isn't last year's UConn.

For starters, this year's Huskies won two games in the Big East tourney and were eliminated in the quarterfinals. Last year's Huskies won five games in five days in New York, then won six games in three weeks in the NCAAs.

But UConn prominently uses five players who played significant minutes for the national-champs last season. They also have 6-foot-11 freshman Andre Drummond, who averages 7.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per game.

Drummond and 6-5 sophomore guard Jeremy Lamb (17.6 ppg) are projected as future NBA lottery picks. Lamb is a first-team All-Big East player, which means he's an NBA player.

Oh, the Huskies also have Coach Jim Calhoun, who has three national-championships and a 50-19 career record in NCAA tournament games.

The Huskies also have players who lost nine games in a 12-game stretch of January and February. So there is some mortality to this year's Huskies.

UConn hasn't faced a player like Iowa State's Royce White, and ISU has three other players (Chris Allen, Scott Christopherson, Tyrus McGee) who can catch fire and sting you for 20 points on any given night.


In other words, this is a typical 8/9 matchup, a coin-flip with the winner expected to be punching bags for Kentucky in Kentucky.

As for Iowa, athletics director Gary Barta knew of what he spoke Friday when he said he was confident Iowa would get an NIT berth.

I criticized him in Saturday's Gazette for saying Iowa would spurn the College Basketball Invitational if it didn't receive an NIT berth. That turned out to be a much-ado-about-nothing. Now, the CBI is a total afterthought and Carver-Hawkeye Arena will be gussied up for a game that will be televised by ESPN.

It's a good deal for Barta, his basketball program, and its fans.

Not only did the 17-16 Hawkeyes get into the field with the worst record of any NIT team since California was 16-15 in 2008, they got a Tuesday night home game. Conveniently, Iowa drew Dayton. The University of Dayton Arena will be occupied Tuesday and Wednesday for the NCAA tournament's first-round games.

This couldn't have worked out much better for Iowa. The second-seeded Flyers travel to Iowa and the seventh-seeded Hawkeyes get a home game. The only bad thing about it for Iowa is that Dayton isn't dog food.

The 20-12 Flyers have won 20 games or more in each of the last five seasons, and were NIT champions in 2010. This season, they have wins over clubs from the Big Ten (Minnesota), SEC (Alabama and Mississippi) and ACC (Wake Forest).

For the first time ever, Northern Iowa is in the NIT. The 19-13 Panthers are a No. 7-seed, too. They go to Philadelphia to play St. Joseph's. Like Dayton, St. Joe's was 9-7 in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

St. Joseph's owns an 80-71 home win over Creighton. The Hawks have wins over teams from the ACC (Georgia Tech), Big Ten (Penn State) and Big East (Villanova).

But UNI beat Creighton, Iowa State and Iowa.


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And, Drake is in the Tournament (CIT) That's all four Iowa men's Division I teams in the postseason. That's a first.




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