The NIT is a polarizing event in that it means very different things to different programs. For teams with serious NCAA Tournament hopes like Washington and Seton Hall, the NIT might be something of a consolation prize that acts as a reminder that they came so darn close to the big dance. For Iowa, however, at least for this season, the NIT invitation was treated with great regard.
"It's incredible," Gatens said. "You don't want to take the jersey off. You want to keep playing. It's a great opportunity to continue to play, wear the Hawkeye uniform, try to keep winning and chase a championship."
Thanks to a rough start to the season that included losses to Campbell and Northern Iowa, the Hawkeyes didn't come into Big Ten play with many postseason aspirations. However, under coach Fran McCaffery's leadership, Iowa greatly improved over the course of the season and earned victories over some of the best teams in the country.
"We are absolutely thrilled," McCaffery said. "I'm so proud of our guys and how they persevered and grew throughout the season. We have a phenomenal leader and captain in Matt Gatens and we got great play from Bryce Cartwright. Our young guys really developed throughout the course of the season."
One of those young guys,freshman forward Aaron White, talked to The Cleveland Plain-Dealer about what he has to do to get better for next season.
"I came in with the mind-set of wanting to make an impact on this team. I think I did that. Maybe not as consistently early on as I think I could have, but it's a learning process. And I think I learned from every game, every practice. But this is a big off-season for me, and there's a lot to work on because I'm not nearly close to where I want to be. But you have to go through it. You have to play the games and get the mind-set of really learning what to do...
If I'm going to be playing the 4 [power forward] next season, which I think coach probably wants me to, I have to get a lot stronger, and that showed tonight. Draymond Green and Adreian Payne are big dudes. You can't go down there soft. So I'll put on weight and get more explosive."
Of course, Iowa kind of lucked out by being a 7 seed in the field and getting to play 2 seed Dayton. Had Iowa been matched up with any other 2 seed in the NIT, it would have to play its first game on the road. However, UD Arena in Dayton is being used to host the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the same two nights as the NIT first round. That means that Iowa gets a break and an extra chance for Hawkeye fans to send off the senior Gatens.
"It means a lot to have another chance to play in Carver," said Gatens, "It’ll be great to go out with a win and to play in front of the fans again and in front of the family on that court."
Win or lose, it will be the last Iowa game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena this season. Should Iowa win, it will travel to face the winner of the LSU vs. Oregon game.
Iowa vs. Dayton is scheduled for Tuesday night at 6:30 PM CT and will be on ESPN.