CEDAR RAPIDS - The Cedar Rapids Xavier boys' soccer team immediately smothered any substate suspense.
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IOWA CITY — Iowa players piled into Carver-Hawkeye Arena’s Feller Club room wearing shirts that fit the moment. They filed out of the adjacent atrium with smiles and cheers that befit the occasion.
The roller-coaster drama that represents Iowa’s basketball season appropriately takes the Hawkeyes to Brooklyn, home of the world-famous amusement park at Coney Island. Iowa (21-10) earned a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament and will face Temple (21-11) at around 2 p.m. Friday at Brooklyn’s Barclays Arena.
Selection Sunday brought the Hawkeyes a joy the program hadn’t experienced for nearly a month. Perhaps emboldened by the moment, the players wore black Nike T-shirts with gold lettering that read “IOWA VS ALL.” Iowa, once ranked as high as No. 3 by the Associated Press, dropped six of its last eight games. It’s led to coaches, players, media and fans all on edge. But for one day, Iowa celebrated its third straight NCAA tournament, a feat the Hawkeyes most recently accomplished from 1990-91 through 1992-1993.
“It’s really hard to do that,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “So that’s what makes it feel so good to be able to watch these kids do that.”
“We knew we were going to be in the tournament; it’s just a matter of when and where,” Iowa center Adam Woodbury said. “We’re playing on Friday in Brooklyn. We’re ready to get going.”
Iowa’s opponent, Temple, is a familiar foe to Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery, who grew up in Philadelphia. He faced Temple as both a player at Penn and later a coach and considers Temple Coach Fran Dunphy among his best friends. Dunphy coached Penn from 1989 through 2006 before taking over at Temple. He has won more than 500 career games.
The Owls won the American Athletic Conference regular-season title by a game over SMU. They feature senior guard Quenton DeCosey, who averaged 15.6 points a game. The Hawkeyes own a 2-0 record all-time against Temple, including a 1956 victory that propelled them into the NCAA title game.
“(Dunphy) is one of the most successful college basketball coaches of our generation,” McCaffery said. “So they’ll be a very well-coached team. They’ll defend. I know a few of their players. DeCosey’s terrific. Devin Coleman can really shoot the ball. Jaylen Bond is a really good player. They’ve got talent, they’ve got depth. They’re well-coached. They’re in a terrific league, and they did really well. His teams do well every year. They’re used to playing in the postseason.”
Scouting Temple: Owls boast pedestrian stats, toughness in the clutch
Should Iowa beat Temple, the Hawkeyes’ path toward the Sweet Sixteen likely heads through another Philadelphia team, No. 2 seed Villanova (29-5). The Wildcats, which won the Big East regular-season title outright, face No. 15 seed UNC-Asheville (22-11). The teams are situated in the South Region, which is headlined by top seed Kansas (30-4). The region’s Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games are staged in Louisville.
The Hawkeyes were a No. 7 seed last year in Seattle. Iowa pounded Davidson 83-52 before falling to No. 2 seed Gonzaga 87-68. Two years ago, the team competed in the First Four and was beaten in overtime by Tennessee.
Senior guard Anthony Clemmons has participated in each of Iowa’s recent NCAA tournaments. He said he wasn’t nervous this time but had “an anxious feeling of wanting to know who you’re going to play and when you’re going to play.”
“I’m a senior. That’s the only thing I can think of,” Clemmons said about the differences on Selection Sunday this year and past years. “Just approaching it knowing this is your last go-round in the NCAA tournament. I can say it’s the only difference because I approach every other tournament as this is a moment for us to (make an) impact and go far in the tournament.”
“I don’t think you take this opportunity for granted at all,” Woodbury said. “Not every team gets this opportunity. It’s a special thing to go three years in a row. We’ll try to take full advantage of it.”
Iowa does have a familiarity with New York City. The Hawkeyes played in the NIT semifinals and finals at New York’s Madison Square Garden in April 2013, and played two games at MSG in November 2014. This is Iowa’s first NCAA trip to the New York area since 2001, when it played at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. The Hawkeyes beat Creighton before falling to Kentucky.
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