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WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the locker room Thursday night, after the Iowa men’s basketball team lost, 95-73, to Indiana, the Hawkeyes talked of the postseason.
In one breath, several players still threw out the NCAA tournament as a possibility, but in the other there was resigned admission to their opening-game exit from the Big Ten tournament signaling the end of the bubble talk that had surged in the last week.
Barring an unforeseen change in what’s being projected for the big dance, Iowa will play in the NIT next week.
Everyone wants to play in the NCAA tournament. That’s a given. So it’s not necessarily a slight against the NIT for the Hawkeyes to express their disappointment — which was palpable Thursday night.
“Obviously everybody knew what the stakes were today. Obviously that’s disappointing. At the same time, we’re going to be playing in the postseason somewhere,” forward Nicholas Baer said. “Hopefully it’s the NCAA tournament. But either way, we’re going to be excited we have games after the regular season coming.
“Nothing we do in practice can change the fact we lost (to Indiana). We can help rectify mistakes so losses like these don’t happen in the future.”
It’s that last part that will be the focus of the next week or so.
The NIT bracket is released in the hours following the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, so the Hawkeyes likely won’t know where or who they’re playing until Sunday evening. Until then, Coach Fran McCaffery said “we won’t do anything until we know what we’re doing, and then we’ll go to work.”
Peter Jok struggled to get going against Indiana, saying after the game he was trying to let the game come to him, but “as the game went, they made it tough for me to get open shots. They were really aggressive on me, talking the whole time. Credit them. They played really good defense.” His work will be in recovery initially, and then getting back into the practice gym to prepare for his final college games.
There still is basketball to be played.
“If we have days off, I’m going to take those days off and try to recover, re-energize my body. We’re going to see what we can do better. When we get to practice, we’re going to attack and get ready,” Jok said. “We’re still going to play next week. We’re going to work on ourselves and get better as a team.”
As McCaffery said, it’s hard to prepare for something you can’t know for days, but forward Cordell Pemsl had a little different mind-set.
There’s a difference between waiting and wasting time, and Pemsl said the Hawkeyes don’t want to get trapped in the latter because they’re disappointed things didn’t go the way they wanted in Washington, D.C. Once they land back in Iowa from their return trip home, the Iowa players aren’t going to sit on their hands or just scroll through Twitter.
Having something to prove is a powerful motivator and Iowa seems to still have that working for it despite very likely missing the NCAAs.
“We’ll be together on Sunday and be hoping possibly the committee gets us in, but we’re not going to just sit around and wait for an answer,” Pemsl said. “We knew we probably needed this one to make the NCAA tournament, but regardless, we want to come out and show we’re a team that’s capable of making a run. We’ll get back to it and try to flush this one out to be able to bounce back.”
Being disappointed in missing the NCAA tournament doesn’t mean the Hawkeyes don’t want to play in the NIT. Saying they’re excited about the NIT doesn’t mean the Hawkeyes didn’t care about the NCAA tournament.
The two ideas can coexist, and that was the mood in that locker room Thursday night inside Verizon Center.
“We worked our butts off just to get back into NCAA tournament talk. I’m sure everyone in this locker room knows we’re an NCAA (caliber) team. It’s unfortunate we played like that (against Indiana),” freshman guard Jordan Bohannon said. “It’s the postseason (regardless), so you can’t really complain about it. Not a lot of teams in the country can say they’re in the postseason. We’re going to go into that thing wanting to win it. That’s the mind-set we need to have.”
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