Iowa men’s basketball team not focusing on national hype ahead of NCAA Tournament

Fifteen members of ESPN’s college basketball panel picked Iowa to make the Final Four.


Gabby Drees

Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon listens as forward Keegan Murray responds to a journalist’s question during a press conference at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y., on Wednesday, March 16, 2022. “We have an inexperienced team… going into this season,” Murray said. “So I just think he [Jordan Bohannon] has really brought us all together.” The Iowa Hawkeyes face the Richmond Spiders at the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament on Thursday, March 17, 2022.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

BUFFALO, N.Y. — ESPN predicted before the 2021-22 season that the Iowa men’s basketball team would finish ninth in the Big Ten. On Wednesday, 15 members of the outlet’s college basketball panel picked the Hawkeyes to make the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.

Not that the Hawkeyes care.

“National people — most people — didn’t think that much of us before the season started,” Iowa forward Patrick McCaffery said. “So why should we start paying attention now?”

No. 5 seed Iowa plays No. 12 seed Richmond in Buffalo, N.Y., on Thursday as part of the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But the postseason is already off to a good start for the Hawkeyes. Iowa won four games in four days last weekend in Indianapolis to win the program’s first Big Ten Tournament title since 2006. Iowa has won 12 of its last 14 games and is beating opponents by 16.4 points per game since the start of February. Six of those wins came against teams that are now in the tournament.

National pundits are keeping those statistics in mind while filling out their brackets.

ESPN’s Dick Vitale picked Iowa to make the national championship game, while Rece Davis and Seth Greenberg — also with ESPN — picked the Hawkeyes to make the Final Four. Clark Kellogg of CBS had Iowa as one of his Final Four teams when he made his picks after the Selection Show on Sunday. Andy Katz and Rex Chapman have Iowa making it there, too. This level of hype is uncharacteristic for a program that hasn’t made the Sweet 16 since 1999.

Iowa players said they recognize that this is the sort of attention that comes with winning the Big Ten Tournament title. But the Hawkeyes are focused on turning success in the conference tournament into success in “The Big Dance” and not on how far they are being picked to go.

“I could care less what anyone says,” Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon said.

“It’s hard not to pay attention to it after winning a Big Ten title in Indianapolis and the run we had, but at the end of the day, we care most about what is happening inside the locker room. We’re not listening to anything outside, and that’s going to continue to be our focus.”

The start of Iowa’s supposed tournament run comes against the Richmond Spiders, a 23-win team that also won four games in four days on its way to winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Iowa is a 10.5-point favorite for Thursday’s game, which is scheduled to tip-off at 2:10 p.m. CT.

“That’s what people are going to talk about,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said of Iowa being favored. “The only way we handle that is to specifically focus on the next game and not look too far ahead or not think too much about all of the talk around what’s possible. I think you have to take care of the present. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

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Iowa started Big Ten play with a 4-6 record before finishing with a 12-8 overall mark. The Hawkeyes lost by two points to Illinois on the road with a double-by in the conference tournament on the line and then won the Big Ten title anyway. The latest challenge for Iowa, even if the Hawkeyes aren’t acknowledging it, is living up to the hype.

And that hype exists inside and outside of the program.

After an interview on Wednesday, Patrick McCaffery laughed off to the side as he admitted that he filled out a bracket for this year’s tournament. His champion? Iowa.

Not that that’s much of a surprise.

“I feel like this team has been really good the whole year at kind of turning the page,” Patrick McCaffery said. “Just kind of moving on, win or lose. Don’t let anything linger and get ready for the next game.”