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IOWA CITY — The Iowa men’s basketball team wasn’t sweating whether or not it would be playing in the NCAA Tournament or the NIT.
While the NCAA Selection Show was airing, Coach Fran McCaffery said his team was somewhere in the middle of practice or a team meal. No matter the perception of either tournament, the Hawkeyes won’t view a No. 1 seed in the NIT as a missed opportunity in the NCAA Tournament — even if they might’ve been one of the first four out of the Big Dance.
Similar to 2013, when Iowa made the NIT final, a young Iowa squad is going to get the chance to play more games in March — this time a Wednesday showdown against eighth-seeded South Dakota at 6 p.m. inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
That much is worth quite a lot.
“(These games are) very valuable, especially when the team (you’re playing) is really good,” McCaffery said Sunday night. “We have to process information very quickly. That’s what you have to do when you get to tournament play in order to advance. You’ve got to be able to assimilate that information and execute it on the floor. And then you’ve got to do it again and again and again and again. That’s what playing in March is all about.”
McCaffery downplayed the comparisons to the 2013 team on Sunday, preferring to view the two situations as completely different experiences. He instead focused on the fact that all the value in the world to be found in the NIT games goes out the window if the Hawkeyes don’t get to play more than once.
The last time out, Iowa looked more like the team that lost to Nebraska Omaha than it did the one that swept the final four games of its regular season — beating Indiana and Penn State at home and Maryland and Wisconsin on the road. McCaffery was blunt about the fact that his team knows if they play Wednesday against the Coyotes like they did against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, the Hawkeyes’ time in the NIT will be short-lived.
“We just approach it as the next game. In terms of what happens after that, if you don’t win, nothing happens after that,” McCaffery said. “We’ll analyze the Indiana game and see what we did do right and didn’t do right. Hopefully we learn from that experience and then we’ll just shift right to South Dakota and what we have to do to beat them.”
The South Dakota matchup will offer a few different intriguing circumstantial aspects.
The first is the game will be played with a few experimental rule changes. The game will be played with each half being split into two 10-minute segments — not defined as quarters — where team fouls reset to zero at the end of each segment, and the teams are limited to four personal fouls per segment before going into the bonus. When in the bonus, teams will automatically shoot two free throws. Additionally, if the ball is inbounded into the frontcourt, the shot clock resets to 20 seconds.
The other has to do with the Coyotes’ personnel — which includes former Iowa point guard Trey Dickerson, who transferred after the 2014-15 season. Dickerson averaged 2.7 points in his one season as a Hawkeye, and averaged 10.4 points and 2.8 assists this season for USD.
McCaffery said he saw film on Dickerson when preparing to play Nebraska — South Dakota faced Nebraska in non-conference play — and that he’s happy for Dickerson that he’s thriving in Vermillion, S.D.
“He’s a guy that’s an older guy that’s been around; been through a lot. Now he’s really doing well there. Obviously he has our full attention,” McCaffery said. “I think he’s continued to mature as a player. He’s always had talent. Over time, he’s sort of put it all together. We’ll have that person figured out regardless of if they played here or not.”
The Hawkeyes know their circumstances. They know they have a far-from-easy road to get to MSG for a second time under McCaffery.
McCaffery knows getting that far will be a goal. He also knows it’ll be an often-brought-up subject to his players and by people around them. As long as they keep their perspective, he said, that kind of talk is fine.
They’re not sweating the overall picture. They’re sweating how they played last time out and will play next time out.
“I think the thing you have to understand is that regardless of what I say, people are going to say that to them. So it’s OK to talk about it. What you can’t do is forget the fact that to get to New York, you’ve got to beat three really good teams,” McCaffery said. “You can’t get there if you don’t win the first one. It’s great to get to New York. It’s great to play in the Garden; yeah, absolutely. But that is so far down the road when you look at the teams we have to beat to get there.
“If we play the way we played against Indiana, we’re not going to get to New York. That’s the bottom line. They know that.”
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