After being in the “First Four Out” group and just missing out on the NCAA Tournament, Iowa got a 1 seed in region four of the NIT. This is the third time Iowa has been selected to the NIT under head coach Fran McCaffery.
The Hawkeyes will tip their tournament off hosting South Dakota on Wednesday night. The Coyotes finished 1st in the Summit League, but lost in the semifinal of their conference tournament. Going against Iowa will be one of the toughest tests the Coyotes face this season. South Dakota has only played two teams ranked in KenPom’s Top 50 this season, losing to Gonzaga and Houston.
One thing interesting to note: Iowa has already been upset by a Summit League team this season. Omaha, who finished third in the Summit League, defeated Iowa (98-89) at Carver Hawkeye Arena on December 3rd. Iowa has gotten better defensively since that contest, but McCaffery will need to get his team motivated because South Dakota can really score the ball, the Coyotes averaged 78 points per game this season.
If They Advance
If Iowa moves on from their first-round game, the Hawkeyes will play the winner of TCU and Fresno State. For the sake of previewing a matchup, I am going to say TCU beats Fresno State and moves on to play Iowa.
The Hawkeyes will have their hands full with this TCU squad. Even though TCU finished in the bottom half of the Big 12, the Horned Frogs are a talented young team with a promising future. The Horned Frogs are led by Vladimir Broziansky, who was on the All-Defensive Big 12 team and also received second-team All-Big 12 honors. Broziansky ability to protect the rim will be a challenge for Iowa’s high-flyer Tyler Cook.
TCU also has plenty of talent in the backcourt. Guard Alex Robinson, a transfer from Texas A&M, was selected to the Big 12 All-newcomers team. And guards Jaylen Fisher and Kenrich Williams earned honorable mention All-conference. TCU is rated 41st on KenPom, the second best rating of any team not in the NCAA Tournament field.
If Iowa is able to get past TCU, which is a big if, but if the team does, the Hawkeyes will most likely face Clemson, the #2 seed in their region. This is where Iowa’s NIT run will end. It will end due to Clemson’s leading scorer and NBA prospect Jaron Blossomgame.
Blossomgame and company will be too physical for Iowa’s young squad. Blossomgame is a tough matchup for Iowa on both ends of the court, his athletic ability and strength will be a problem for Peter Jok. It’s not just Clemson’s athletic and physical advantage, it’s the fact that Clemson is rated as the 35th best team on KenPom. That’s the best rating of any team not in the NCAA Tournament field.
With home court advantage, I like Iowa’s chances to win their first game. TCU will be a difficult second game opponent, but I think it will be a game that comes down to the final possession.
Iowa’s hypothetical third game against Clemson will be a major challenge. Even if Clemson is a tough matchup on paper, the way Iowa has improved in the final stretch of the season, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Hawkeyes make it to New York for the NIT Final Four. One final interesting note to keep in mind: Iowa is 5-2 in NIT games under McCaffery, including 3-0 in home games.