When the Iowa Hawkeyes take the court Thursday night for the championship of the NIT, they'll play their final game of this season and begin the road forward to the 2013-14 campaign.
But before looking forward, the Hawkeyes have business to take care of on the world famous hardwood of Madison Square Garden. Iowa is playing to win their first NIT title in the program's history.
Some Iowa fans felt they were robbed of a spot in the Big Dance. Many have went as far as to say regardless of what happens Thursday night, a first round loss in the NCAA tournament would have been a bigger success than playing for the NIT title.
While I can understand the view, with a team like this, it just is not true. If the Hawkeyes were an older team with more than one scholarship senior on the roster, then perhaps that would be the case. But with this current crop of Iowa hoopsters, winning four games in a tournament format has not only allowed them to compete for an NIT title, it has provided other benefits as well.
For starters, Iowa has won four games on different ESPN networks. With the exception of the Stony Brook game, which was on a Friday night, up against Florida Gulf Coast upsetting Georgetown, Iowa’s games have been broadcast on nights with very little else on for sports lovers. The NBA, now post-Heat streak, is just biding time until the playoffs, and the MLB just got underway three days ago. The NIT operates in a bit of a sports lull time, which is good exposure for the teams playing.
Iowa’s four games have not been boring either. In their two home wins, Iowa played in front of sold-out crowds of 15,400 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena both nights. Being one of those 15,000-plus, I can say with certainty, those were not docile crowds. The Hawkeye faithful were out in full force and wanted the wins as badly as they had for any games all year.
Their other two games came against ACC opponents who also felt they deserved a NCAA tournament bid. This is the exposure that Iowa needs. Iowa State hasn’t been in the news since getting beat by Aaron Craft’s buzzer beater. Illinois is nowhere to be found. Minnesota has had their coaching issues, as has Northwestern. Nebraska has been done for weeks. Wisconsin hasn’t been heard from since being upset by Ole Miss. Yet, Iowa is still playing games for a national audience. Exposure is huge in the recruiting wars of today’s game, and Iowa is getting plenty of it.
Another obvious benefit is the growth of this team. Suddenly, Iowa has learned how to close out games. They have been jumping out to good leads and keeping those leads with smarter basketball than was seen earlier in the season.
Devyn Marble has emerged as a legitimate star. He has taken command of this offense, and with his deadly step-back jumper, has turned into an elite scorer.
The young guys, such as Adam Woodbury have gained two weeks of extra practice and high-profile games against stiff competition. Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni tested their skills against Alex Len, Maryland’s big man and projected lottery pick, and didn’t shy away one bit.
Only good things can come of playing extra games, on national TV, against good teams.
Iowa has embraced the NIT and rode Devyn Marble’s hot hand, Eric May’s leadership and Fran McCaffery’s seemingly perfect adjustments to the NIT title game in Madison Square Garden Thursday night, In the grand scheme of things, the benefits may go far beyond the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” and carry over to next year’s already anticipated run to the Big Dance.