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BUFFALO, N.Y. — All the Iowa men’s basketball team has to do now is live up to the hype.
Easier said than done.
And yes, the Hawkeyes suddenly have been hyped. They’re the No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament Midwest Region and have all they need to worry about Thursday afternoon with 12th-seed Richmond, Iowa became a chic pick of national basketball media once the NCAA brackets were released Sunday.
That was a half-hour after the Hawkeyes downed Purdue 75-66 in the Big Ten tournament title game. It was Iowa’s sixth win against a 2022 NCAA tournament team since Feb. 19, and fifth by nine points or more.
ESPN’s Dick Vitale picked Iowa to go to the national championship game before falling to Kentucky. His network’s Rece Davis and Seth Greenberg tabbed the Hawkeyes to reach the Final Four. So did Clark Kellogg of CBS, and other well-known basketball people like Andy Katz, Seth Davis, Dan Dakich and Rex Chapman.
That, to worrywarts and superstitious types, is being set up to fail, a recipe for getting bigger heads and smaller focus. The Hawkeyes, however, say they’re coping with good times.
“National people — most people — didn’t think that much of us before the season started,” Iowa forward Patrick McCaffery said here Wednesday. “So why should we start paying attention now?”
“I could care less what anyone says,” senior Hawkeye guard Jordan Bohannon said.
“It's hard not to pay attention to it after winning a Big Ten title and Indianapolis and the run we had, but at the end of the day, we care most about what is happening inside the locker room. We're not listening to anything outside, and that's going to continue to be our focus.”
Their head coach knows the only thing his players need to dwell on right now: The scouting report on Richmond.
Outside expectations, Fran McCaffery said, is something “we really don't talk about at all because that kind of stuff happens all year long. It didn't happen for this team, but it did for last year's team, and it's something that I think our guys have to know and understand.
“That's what people are going to talk about. You're going to be good. You're not going to be good. You're going to be really good. You have a chance.
“The only way we handle that is to specifically focus on the next game and not look too far ahead or not think too much about all of the talk around what's possible.”
Iowa didn’t come unglued when it was 4-6 in the Big Ten at the end of January. Maybe that’s a good sign for how it handles being a 10.5-point favorite in a first-round NCAA tourney game. Maybe.
“I feel like this team has been really good the whole year at kind of turning the page,” Patrick McCaffery said. “Just kind of moving on, win or lose. Don’t let anything linger and get ready for the next game.”
Iowa has an opponent Thursday, a good one. Richmond didn’t win 23 games and the Atlantic 10 Conference tourney by being ordinary.
“I think you have to take care of the present,” Fran McCaffery said. “That's what we're trying to do.”
Oh, it isn’t as if Hawkeye players are lacking their own belief in themselves. Patrick McCaffery was asked if he filled out a tournament bracket. He had.
“We won,” he said.
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