Iowa men’s basketball team earns two seed in NCAA Tournament, will face Grand Canyon in opening round

The Hawkeyes and the Antelopes will face off Saturday at 5:25 p.m. CT.


Hannah Kinson

Iowa center Luka Garza catches a rebound and then drops it during the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament semifinals against Illinois on Saturday, March 13, 2021 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Hawkeyes were defeated by the Fighting Illini, 82-71. No. 2 Illinois and No. 5 Ohio State will compete in the championship game tomorrow afternoon.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

The Iowa men’s basketball team earned a two seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on Sunday and will play No. 15 seed Grand Canyon in the first round of the tournament on Saturday.

Iowa’s seed is its best since 1987, when the team reached the Elite Eight. The Hawkeyes bring a 21-8 record into their run at the national championship.

“Everyone was just really, really excited, especially to see ourselves as a two seed,” Iowa center Luka Garza said of seeing Iowa’s name pop up during the tournament selection show. “This year in the Big Ten, to be able to win the games we won, was huge to put ourselves in that position.”

This is the program’s fifth NCAA Tournament appearance under 11th-year coach Fran McCaffery. The tournament was canceled last March because of concerns surrounding the pandemic. Iowa finished last season 20-11.

Saturday’s game is scheduled to tip off at 6:25 p.m. CT at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum. The game will air on TBS with Brad Nessler, Steve Lavin, and Evan Washburn on the call. The entire tournament is being held in Indiana this year in order to minimize travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Iowa has been in Indianapolis since Wednesday and will remain in Indiana until its season is over.

Iowa lost to Illinois 82-71 in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. It was the team’s first trip to the conference semifinals since 2006.

If the heavily favored Hawkeyes win on Saturday, they will play the winner of No. 7 Oregon and No. 10 VCU next Monday. Only eight 15 seeds have ever defeated a two seed.

“We’re going to face an incredibly motivated, really talented, well-coached basketball team,” McCaffery said of Grand Canyon. “And anything short of our best effort, you have a hard time winning. Everyone talks about upsets… I firmly believe there is no such thing as an upset in this tournament. You’ve got to bring it. You’ve got to prepare and compete and play your very best in order to advance. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

Grand Canyon (17-6) won the Western Athletic Conference tournament Saturday with a 74-56 victory over New Mexico State. The Antelopes also finished at the top of the conference’s regular season standings. This is the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance.

The team is led by first-year coach Bryce Drew, who previously led Valparaiso to two NCAA Tournament appearances and Vanderbilt to one.

Grand Canyon’s leading scorer (14 points per game) is 7-foot center Asbjorn Midtgaard.

Gonzaga, the top overall seed in this season’s tournament, is the No. 1 seed in Iowa’s portion of the bracket, the West Region. Kansas is the No. 3 seed, and in-state school Drake is the No. 11 seed (along with Wichita State, who Drake will play in a play-in game) in the region.

The Hawkeyes lost to Gonzaga, 99-88, on Dec. 21 in Sioux Falls, S.D. A rematch could happen if both teams advance to the Elite Eight. Iowa could also play Drake if both teams reached the Sweet 16.

But the Hawkeyes aren’t looking ahead in their bracket.

“[We’re] just locked in and realizing Grand Canyon is the team we have to beat to move on,” Iowa guard Joe Wieskamp said. “That should be our only focus right now. We’re not worried about who we play in the second round, and so forth.”

Iowa’s most recent trip to the second weekend of the national tournament was in 1999, when the Hawkeyes reached the Sweet 16. The last time the Hawkeyes were in the tournament, they defeated Cincinnati in the opening round and then lost to Tennessee in overtime in the Round of 32 in 2019.

The Hawkeyes are led by Garza, the back-to-back Big Ten Player of the Year winner and the program’s all-time scoring leader. The 6-foot-11 center returned for his senior season in the Black and Gold to play with Wieskamp, Jordan Bohannon, CJ Fredrick and the rest of the team’s deep roster.

With that talented of a group, the Hawkeyes had lofty goals entering the season, including national title aspirations.

Now, the team’s postseason quest starts Saturday.

“We can beat anybody,” Garza said. “We’ve beaten some good teams. We set those goals for a reason and we’re going to try and achieve them.”