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IOWA CITY — Some see a berth in the National Invitational Tournament as half-empty, others view it as half-full. Iowa considers it filled nearly to the brim.
Iowa is the NIT’s great outlier. It had 12,864 fans for its 87-75 win over the South Dakota Coyotes Wednesday night in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Maybe the Hawkeyes’ 4 p.m. second-round game against TCU here Sunday will be a sellout.
Iowa again showed it’s one of the few Power 5 conference outposts where the NIT isn’t regarded as containing high levels of toxicity. Here are crowd-counts at some of Tuesday’s first-round NIT games:
Georgia, 5,533. Illinois, 4,719. Utah, 4,097. Alabama, 4,041. California, 1,778. Wow. Or rather, the opposite of wow.
Indiana was seeded to host a first-round game, but declined and voluntarily traveled to Georgia Tech (and lost) rather than have an ESPN audience see wide swaths of empty Assembly Hall seats. Weird.
In 2016, the largest of the 16 first-round crowds was 8,420 at BYU. In 2015, it was 6,904 at Louisiana Tech. In 2014, it was 7,697 at Arkansas.
The largest first-round crowd in 2013? It was 15,400, a sellout at Carver for Indiana State-Iowa. Which was followed by a second-round sellout here for Stony Brook-Iowa. That’s right, Stony Brook.
Here we were again Wednesday. Sorry, Coyotes, but you aren’t exactly marquee mammals. Yet, the joint was jumping, unlike the scenes at the rest of the NIT games shown on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU these last two days.
What are we to make of this? Hawkeye fans love their team more truly, madly, deeply than anyone, anywhere? Or, they aren’t as sophisticated or judicious as the basketball fans of Atlanta, Berkeley, or even Champaign-Urbana?
It’s neither. They simply enjoy this year’s Iowa team and heartily welcomed the chance for more basketball. Prices were reasonable, and opportunity was ample for people who don’t normally get a lot of chances to sit in the arena’s better seats.
It’s a shame the fans were treated a bit shabbily by the NIT, owned by the NCAA. It wasn’t Iowa’s fault.
Over 10,000 tickets were sold to people with the understanding the game would start at 6 p.m. Given a choice between a 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. weeknight game, most here will take the former. Especially those with kids who faced a drive home of an hour or two.
On Tuesday afternoon, the start-time for USD-Iowa was changed when the game between UNC-Greensboro and Syracuse had to be postponed a day because of a snowstorm. That game was moved to 6 p.m. (CT) Wednesday. South Dakota-Iowa was shoved to the later time slot.
But all sales are final. Let the buyer beware.
Despite that, families galore still showed up. With kids getting in for five bucks and adults for $20, there was an incentive. It was a fun crowd, a lively crowd,
Late in the first half, most of the fans actually stood throughout a timeout in support of the Hawkeyes. The crowd didn’t wait to be entertained. Rather, it strongly encouraged the entertainers.
A good time was had by all who weren’t from South Dakota. Actually, the pockets of Coyote fans who made the drive here seemed to have a good time, too, at least until the game got away from the Summit League regular-season champs.
Before the game, a group of five USD students were giddy as they made their way into the arena. Two were from northwest Iowa (“The tuition is cheap!,” one said with relish), and they were fired up.
Oh, yes, there was a game. It took a while for the Hawkeyes’ juices to get flowing against a USD team that came to compete. But they did, and now we’ll see if it carries over when they meet a TCU club that beat Kansas a week ago Thursday before getting crushed by Iowa State the next day in Kansas City.
The tournament that matters, the NCAA, starts Thursday morning. But hey, at least the Hawkeyes are still playing.
They would happily have traded places with Indiana late last Thursday night in Washington. But not now.