IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa is heading to the NIT. The Hawkeyes (18-14) are a No. 1 seed and will open up against No. 8 seed South Dakota (22-11) on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
The NIT typically is viewed as desirable a destination as Maine is for college kids heading to spring break. For the Hawkeyes, and their fans, the rest of March should matter. Here are five reasons why Iowa fans should care about the NIT:
1. Any postseason is better than no postseason
No, this isn’t the big dance, and a NIT berth won’t come with the same long-term benefits for this young team.
But it is a postseason tournament. A team that relies as heavily on freshmen as the Hawkeyes do needs those youngsters to dip their toes into the postseason pool — even if it’s not the NCAA Tournament.
Postseason contests are different than regular-season games. Iowa saw as much in the Big Ten Tournament. The Hawkeyes and the players expected to be the backbone of the team for the next several years need to experience it.
No, the NIT won’t completely prepare Iowa for the atmosphere and emotions of the NCAA Tournament, but it is better than nothing for a team that will be facing increased expectations next season.
2. How does Iowa respond to the Indiana loss
The Big Ten Tournament opener was Iowa’s biggest game of the year, on the biggest stage for the freshmen. The Hawkeyes struggled, losing 95-73 to Indiana. Yes, the Hoosiers were great and were likely beating any team in the league on Thursday. That doesn’t excuse how Iowa played. It was far from the team’s best game of the season.
This is the kind of loss that can linger. Can the Hawkeyes overcome it? Will they be able to regroup for another tournament where one loss sends you home?
The NIT is as much about if a team wants to play in the tournament as anything. So how Iowa transitions out of its Big Ten tourney performance matters if the team is to make a deep NIT run.
3. There is a legitimate shot for a deep tournament run
The Hawkeyes are a No. 1 seed. They won’t need to leave Carver Hawkeye-Arena to make a trip to Madison Square Garden and the Final Four.
The path to New York is as easy as it can get. Why not try to make the most of it?
Iowa was one of the first four out of the NCAA Tournament; the #Hawkeyes will earn a No. 1 seed and a home game in the NIT.
— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) March 12, 2017
Home-court advantage in the NIT can, at times, be an oxymoron. Games in front of a few thousand fans can be commonplace across the country, but not having to leave town and disrupt a team’s routine is a plus.
Iowa played its best basketball at the end of the regular season, winning four straight before the Indiana loss. When the defense came around, the Hawkeyes went from a team without postseason hopes to one playing at least one more game, with a good chance at a few more.
4. One last time with Peter Jok
At times, it seems like the All-Big Ten first-team guard is a little underappreciated by the Iowa fan base. He is one of the top players in the tournament and is capable of scoring 30-plus points in any game. Jok could put together another offensive show well worth anyone’s time. He is reason enough to pay attention to Iowa’s NIT run.
5. Iowa plays an entertaining style of basketball
Don’t kid yourself — style of play is a factor when it comes to the NIT. Unless you’re a true basketball junkie, entertainment quality is a key factor that determines whether you’ll turn on the game. People won’t be watching if two teams are trying to do their best Virginia impression, hoping to win a 45-42 game.
The Hawkeyes, with their up-tempo offense and desire to turn the game into a track meet, meet the entertainment factor.