IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa sophomore Aaron White made it clear his team is looking forward, not backward, when it comes to the postseason.
In the aftermath of Iowa's 68-52 win against Indiana State in the NIT's first round, a reporter asked White if they were using an NCAA tournament snub as motivation in the NIT. White said he has a different motivation for the NIT, which is winning the NIT.
"You people always say that, that you win the NIT to try and prove that you belong in the other tournament," White said. "It's still a national tournament. We're still on ESPN. If you can't get up for that, then you kind of have to check where you're at. I think we're fortunate to keep playing and lot of teams are sitting at home right now watching us on TV, watching the NCAA tournament wishing they were still playing."
Iowa does have many things to prove in this tournament, and getting left out of the Big Dance really isn't one of them. The Hawkeyes have a chance to prove they can win big games on the road. The list of close, painful road losses this year is long -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Purdue, Nebraska, Michigan State (Big Ten Tournament) -- and the only way to erase some of those memories is to overcome them in a road or neutral environment. If Iowa can win Friday against Stony Brook, it could get that opportunity at Virginia. I thought Virginia, Tennessee and Iowa were the best teams left out of the NCAA tournament, and two of them could play for an NIT semifinal berth. If Iowa can make it happen and win, it could go a long way toward turning this program into a legitimate Big Ten contender.
NIT ATTENDANCE GROWS
Iowa has become the NIT's new best friend. The Hawkeyes sold out Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday, posting the largest NIT crowd since 2009. Iowa's 15,400 more than doubled the next-closest crowd (7,511 at BYU). Third was Southern Miss at 5,011.
In the last two years, Iowa boasts the two largest NIT crowds. Last year, 13,190 attended the NIT opener between Iowa and Dayton. Only two others last year exceeded 10,000 and both involved Tennessee in the second and third rounds. Tennessee's fans were less enthusiastic on Wednesday, and the Volunteers posted a crowd of 4,460 and were upset by Mercer.
Iowa officials expect another sellout on Friday against Stony Brook. ESPNU will air the game at 8:35 p.m. Mike Couzens and Paul Biancardi have the call.
Indiana State coach Greg Lansing received a warm ovation from the partisan crowd during pre-game introductions. Lansing is a lifelong Iowa fan and served as an Iowa assistant from 1999-2006.
"It's neat," Lansing said. "You know, I didn't want to leave here. I got fired. So maybe it's a little sympathy, too. But I left everything I had here after I got fired; our last year here was the best year of that tenure, and won a tournament championship. I'm still pissed about Northwestern State doing that thing at the end of the game."
Lansing's last game as an Iowa assistant was a 64-63 loss to Northwestern State in the 2006 NCAA tournament. Iowa was a No. 3 seed, and Northwestern State was seeded 14th. Northwestern State's Jermaine Wallace buried a 3-pointer from the corner with .5 seconds left to beat the Hawkeyes. Former Iowa coach Steve Alford later fired Lansing as part of multiple staff changes.
Lansing grew up in Harlan and his father, Dave, is a Hall of Fame high school coach. His family are Iowa fans and one family member said Wednesday it seemed strange to wear blue in Carver-Hawkeye Arena after wearing black and gold for so many years.
"I'm a Hawk fan always, and I appreciate the attention we got and how everybody was so nice to us," Lansing said. "But sure didn't want to lose, either. Even though I'm a Hawk fan, we wanted to beat their butt, and we didn't get it done. This is a great place and I think you guys all know that."
Iowa has some of its future non-conference scheduling completed, but many holes remain for the 2013-14 season.
Iowa opens the season against Nebraska-Omaha on Nov. 10 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa will face Drake at Des Moines' Wells Fargo Arena on Dec. 7 as part of the Big Four Classic and travel to Iowa State on Dec. 13. The Hawkeyes also will compete in the Great Alaska Shootout from Nov. 27-30. Other teams in that tournament include: Denver, Harvard, Indiana State, Pepperdine, Texas Christian, Tulsa and Alaska Anchorage
Iowa director of basketball operations Jerry Strom said the school has discussed dates with several schools, including high-major programs. He expects some scheduling discussions and possible agreements at the Final Four in early April. Television networks like ESPN also can help programs find compelling match-ups.
If Iowa could pick up a few home-and-home games with other high-major schools it would end the RPI issue that likely kept the program out of the NCAA tournament this year. Here are a few regional schools I'd like Iowa to consider:
Missouri. The teams played nine times from 1996 through 2004. The series ended as a byproduct of the schools' scheduling conflict in football. Now with basketball coaches twice removed from that situation, it would be a good time for the schools to move forward in a border series.
Kansas State. The schools have dabbled, playing a home-and-home in 2000 and 2001 and meeting in Las Vegas in 2008. There's a familiarity and respect between the coaches, with former Illinois coach Bruce Weber now leading the Wildcats. Former Iowa graduate assistant Drew Speraw (son of Iowa assistant Kirk Speraw) is K-State's video coordinator.
Arkansas. They've played five times but never on one another's campus. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson plays the hard-charging, uptempo style of ball that Fran McCaffery wants to incorporate here. The programs are at comparable levels and both would provide the other a good test before their conference seasons.
Notre Dame. Fran McCaffery would get a chance to return to a major stop in his life's journey. This one might happen some year as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, too.
Marquette. The Golden Eagles are a top program in a major conference and competing in Milwaukee might help recruiting in that region.
It would be interesting if a neutral city, such as Kansas City, St. Louis or Chicago, would consider staging one of the games. Everybody's got an opinion on scheduling. Who would you like to see Iowa play?
Indiana State guard Jake Odum was an all-Missouri Valley Conference player this yea rand averaged nearly 14 points a game. But Iowa's defense got after Odum on nearly every possession, and it worked.
Odum scored just five points and had six turnovers in 30 minutes for the Sycamores.
"He's a tough player," Iowa senior Eric May said. "If you let him get comfortable, he can really make plays and be a difference maker. We didn't allow that. That was a huge key for us. We took care of business on him."
Iowa switched defenses between man and zone and pressed him throughout the game. McCaffery said keeping Odum off the free-throw line also was a factor. Twenty-four percent of Odum's points were from the free-throw line, and he attempted no free throws against Iowa.
"That kid is as good a point guard as I've seen on film all year long," McCaffery said. "I mean that sincerely."
I'm not sure I'd put Odum up there with Michigan's Trey Burke, Indiana's Yogi Ferrell or Ohio State's Aaron Craft, but Odum is one of the Valley's premier players. There's a chance he could face Iowa again next November in the Great Alaska Shootout.