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Hawkeye men to play Bruce Pearl’s Auburn team in NCAA tournament
Iowa is No. 8 seed in Midwest Region, plays Thursday in Birmingham, Ala. If it wins, it likely gets top-seed Houston Saturday.
IOWA CITY — Home-state advantage? Maybe not overwhelmingly so.
Not many No. 9 seeds in the NCAA men’s basketball tourney start the event just 110 miles from their campuses. Auburn will do so Thursday when it meets No. 8 Iowa (5:50 p.m., CT, TNT) in a Midwest Region first-round game at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Ala.
“What you’ve got to know,” Hawkeye senior guard Connor McCaffery said, “is we’re playing in Birmingham and Alabama’s there, so they’re going to be rooting for us. Because they hate Auburn.”
We’ll see how many ‘Bama fans stick around for the evening session after their team plays a No. 16 seed that afternoon. Then again, it is Alabama-Auburn, and the enemy of the Crimson Tide’s enemy is their friend.
Did someone mention Bruce Pearl? It’s been 31 years since he was an Iowa assistant coach under Tom Davis, but he was on the staff the last time (1987) the Hawkeyes went as deep in the NCAAs as the Elite Eight.
The style of his Auburn Tigers shouldn’t be as unfamiliar to Iowa as a typical first-round NCAA foe would be. First-year Iowa assistant coach Matt Gatens worked for Pearl at Auburn from 2017 to 2019 before becoming an assistant at Drake.
Asked if Gatens will be responsible for the scouting report on the Tigers, Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said “That’s probably a good guess.”
The winner will play in Saturday’s second round against the victor of Thursday’s game between No. 1-seed Houston and No. 16 Northern Kentucky. The Midwest semifinals and finals are in Kansas City, Mo., the following week.
This is the fourth-straight NCAA tournament appearance for the Hawkeyes. Auburn is in the event for the fourth time in the last five tournaments. The Tigers reached the Final Four in 2019. They won the Southeastern Conference regular-season title last year.
“I’ve known (Pearl) for years,” McCaffery said. “Consider him a friend. Great guy. I’ve known him since he was an assistant here.
“It’s hard to do what he’s done. They’re consistently good. That’s a credit to him.”
This season’s Tigers are 20-12. They were 10-8 in the SEC. Iowa is 19-13, and was 11-9 in the Big Ten.
Pearl was an Iowa assistant from 1986 to 1992. Pearl has 648 wins as a head coach, at Southern Indiana, Milwaukee, Tennessee and Auburn.
The Tigers’ leading scorer is 6-foot-10 sophomore Johni Broome, who averages 14.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots.
Iowa State and Drake also are in the Midwest Region. The region’s semifinals are March 24 in Kansas City, Mo.