Iowa's McCaffery: Weekly slate bigger than rankings

Undefeated Xavier up next

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IOWA CITY — Iowa entered the Associated Press rankings for the first time in nearly eight years, but Coach Fran McCaffery is more focused about his squad's brutal schedule over the next eight days rather than relishing in Monday morning's feel-good story.

Iowa (5-0) debuted at No. 23, its first ranking since 2006. But that could fade rather quickly this week. Iowa competes in the eight-team Battle 4 Atlantis starting Thursday and its first opponent is unbeaten Xavier (6 p.m. NBC Sports Network).

"I guess in some ways it (the rankings) creates more interest and more people talk about you, and that’s always good," McCaffery said. "I don’t think about it very much. I’m just thinking about the next game because you lose two or three games and you’re out. Then people talk about you not being ranked because you were ranked."

It's possible Iowa could have a good tournament and fall out of the rankings simply because of its competition. After Xavier (4-0), the Hawkeyes will play either Tennessee (3-1) or UTEP (3-2) on Friday. Potential opponents on Saturday include No. 2-ranked Kansas (4-0), Villanova (4-0), Wake Forest (5-0) and USC (4-1).

"With all due respect to the five teams we just played, we’re stepping up in class with this group coming up," McCaffery said. "But you could look at that schedule in June and see that. It’s no disrespect to the five teams we just played, all of whom are going to be fine in the conferences that they play in. It’s just we’re playing teams that expect to be in the NCAA tournament every year.

"We’re playing a team in Kansas — if we end up playing them — that expects to win the national championship regularly. All of us are trying to get to the tournament, trying to get to the Final Four and when it’s all said and done, hope to win it all. So that will clearly be a better test for us."

Iowa's players are excited to compete in the tournament as well. Iowa's first five opponents have a combined record of 11-17 and only two — Nebraska-Omaha and Maryland-Eastern Shore — have won at least half their games. None of Iowa's earlier opponents can match the cache of any team in the Bahamas-based tournament.

Likewise, Iowa has outscored those opponents by an average of 38 points. Only Nebraska-Omaha competed within single digits of the Hawkeyes.

"Penn’s a great team, but we’re going against better competition," Iowa sophomore Jarrod Uthoff said.

"We obviously have scouting reports that the coaches prepare about other teams (at Atlantis)," Iowa guard Mike Gesell said. "But at the end of the day, it boils down to what we do."

The tournament tips off almost a new season for Iowa in terms of competition and provides a much-needed measuring stick. Next week Iowa plays Notre Dame (4-1) as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, then faces instate foe Drake (3-1) in Des Moines. No. 17 Iowa State (4-0) looms on the horizon in less than three weeks.

"I think by the Notre Dame game we’ll get a gist of how we play against better competition, against top-notch teams," Iowa guard Devyn Marble, the team's leading scorer. "I think that’s a good place to have a progress report, I think, for us as a team."

"We’ve beaten teams that I think everybody has expected us to beat," McCaffery said. "So now we’re playing teams that people aren’t sure if we’re going to beat. So you have to go out and play well against those teams and compete in a way that clearly exemplifies our capabilities moving forward."

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