2019 NCAA TOURNAMENT

Iowa men's basketball re-enters NCAA orbit with a tough first-round foe

Hawkeyes get Top 25 opponent right off the bat in AAC-champ Cincinnati

COLUMBUS. Ohio — Iowa got an immediate debriefing on its first-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament opponent from one of its own players.

“They’re going to get on the offensive glass,” redshirt freshman guard CJ Fredrick said Thursday. “They’re going to pressure you. They’re not going to do anything they’re not comfortable with offensively. They’re going to play real slow, deliberate, and get the shots they want.”

Does that sound like an imposing foe? Well, yes. It’s 24th-ranked Cincinnati, making its ninth-straight NCAA appearance. It posted first-round wins in 2017 and 2018.

Fredrick is from Cincinnati. He attended high school at Covington (Ky.) Catholic, a 10-minute drive to the other side of the Ohio River from his home. CovCath, as it's known, won a state basketball championship a year ago this week in Fredrick’s senior season.

“Ever since Coach (Mick) Cronin took over there, I’ve been watching them,” Fredrick said. “They’re just going to try to be the tougher team, play super hard.”

One would expect 10th-seed Iowa to do likewise in its first NCAA appearance in three years, a Friday game with an 11:15 a.m. (CT) tip against the seventh-seed Bearcats (28-6).

Five Cincinnati players, including 2019 American Athletic Conference Player of the Year Jarron Cumberland, had extensive playing time in their two NCAA games a year ago. The lone Hawkeye with experience in this event is senior forward Nicholas Baer.

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“We’re in kind of uncharted territory for myself and Jordan at least,” said Iowa junior Tyler Cook as he, Baer and Jordan Bohannon fielded questions at a Thursday NCAA press conference.

“I wouldn’t say you necessarily have to have tournament experience,” said Baer.

“Being able to execute, like under pressure, and being able to stick to your defensive rules, I think those are more important things than having the experience.”

Here’s what’s also important: Make 3-pointers. The difference between Iowa blowing out Illinois and getting blown out by Michigan at last week’s Big Ten tournament was the Hawkeyes sinking 12 of 23 3s in the first game in Chicago and 1 of 16 in the second.

Asked if he still gets nervous in the NCAAs, Cronin said “I wouldn’t say nervous. I would say excited.” But a few moments later, he added “Always nervous. Then when I watch Iowa make 3s on film I get a lot more nervous.”

Cumberland, a 6-foot-5 guard, can make a few 3-pointers and other shots himself. He sank 77 3s on his way to averaging 18.8 points this season. He also induces contact, having shot 209 free throws. That’s 18 more than Iowa’s foul-drawing machine, Cook.

As for Fredrick’s statement about the Bearcats’ proclivity for offensive rebounding, that’s good scouting. They out-rebound opponents by 5.2 per game, and they average 12.8 offensive boards.

Iowa (22-11, 10-10 B1G) is 4-9 against NCAA teams and sputtered to losses in five of its last six games. Which may mean a lot Friday, or zero.

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Minnesota went 9-11 in the Big Ten, then wore its No. 10 NCAA seed proudly in Des Moines Thursday as it eliminated No. 7-seed Louisville, 86-76.

The Gophers were 5.5-point underdogs. The Hawkeyes are 3.5-point dogs.

“We have eight teams in the NCAA Tournament this year,” Bohannon said. “So that says a lot about what it’s like day-to-day in the Big Ten. It’s tough to even get a win at home against any Big Ten team.

“So traveling and away games is going to prepare us for these neutral-site games. And I think our team’s always done pretty well at neutral sites. We’re really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Iowa has starters from Chicago, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. Cincinnati has starters from Baltimore, Brooklyn and Philadelphia. Yet, this game may come down to a basket off a coast-to-coast drive from Cumberland, who grew up about an hour from Cincinnati in Wilmington, Ohio.

Or, this game may be settled by a 3-pointer from Marion’s Bohannon. It’s happened before, as you may recall.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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