Iowa men’s basketball nabs No. 8 seed in Midwest Region, will face No. 9 Auburn in first round of NCAA tournament

The Hawkeyes will battle the Tigers in Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday, March 16.


Matt Sindt

Iowa forward Kris Murray jumps to score during a men’s basketball game between Iowa and Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Spartans, 112-106. Murray scored 26 points and 4 assists.

Chris Werner, Assistant Sports Editor

The Iowa men’s basketball team is a No. 8 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes will face No. 8 seed Auburn in Birmingham, Alabama, in the first round on Thursday, March 16 at 5:50 p.m. central time on TNT. Bill Raftery, Jim Nantz, and Grant Hill will be on the call.

The Hawkeyes finished the regular season and Big Ten Tournament 19-13 overall, and 11-9 in conference play.

Iowa lost four of its last six games this season, including a home loss to Nebraska to end the regular season and a one-and-done trip to the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa lost, 73-69, in the second round of the conference tournament to Ohio State. 

Auburn finished the season 20-12 and a seventh-place 10-8 in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers have lost nine of their last 13 games, and defeated the only team both they and the Hawkeyes faced this season when the Tigers defeated Northwestern, 43-42, back in November to win the Cancun Challenge in Mexico.

First-year Iowa assistant coach Matt Gatens received his Master’s degree from Auburn and began his coaching career there too.

Iowa senior forward Filip Rebraca was frank when he talked about what advantage Gatens’ familiarity with the Tigers might give Iowa.

“I guess we might have some of their plays,” Rebraca said with a laugh.

Current Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl was an assistant coach at Iowa from 1096-92.

“I’ve known him for years,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said of Pearl. “I mean, I consider him a friend. Great guy. I mean, I’ve known him since he was here. He’s got a great personality … I enjoy our interactions … good guy.”

Pearl’s Tigers team hangs its hat on defense. Auburn is sixth in the nation in 3-point defense, holding teams to 28.8 percent from deep.

Iowa has shot a combined sub-25 percent mark from beyond the arc in its losses this season, and 16-of-54 from downtown in its lat two defeats.

The Hawkeyes, unlike last year, are approaching the NCAA Tournament with an “underdog mentality.” They are coming off of two straight losses heading into the tournament this season, instead of the four straight wins in took to win the 2022 Big Ten Tournament.

“Last year, we won the Big Ten Tournament,” Rebraca said. “We were a five seed and everyone was expecting a lot from us. This year, you know, some people might think we’re overseeded. We kind of have a different mentality, like an underdog mentality this year, even though we are the eight seed and Auburn’s the nine but like still, we just got to bring that mentality that we can beat anyone here.”

Rebraca said he personally is balancing the frustration he felt and is still feeling after the Hawkeyes’ early exit in the Big Ten Tournament while looking ahead to the Big Dance.

“You gotta flush it in terms of like, you can’t let it linger,” Rebraca said. “You got to can take only so many things from that previous game. But I feel like I want that feeling of anger and disappointment to linger so we know we don’t want that to happen again.”

Hawkeye junior forward Kris Murray said to get back to their winning ways the Hawkeyes need to “get their mojo back” on both ends of the floor.

“Especially just shooting the ball,” Murray said. “We struggled a little bit shooting the ball on the road this year, so I think that just kind of helps us overall. But defensively we’re gonna have be locked in these next few games because it’s win or go home. We don’t got another opportunity to play at this level … We got nothing to lose besides our season ending so I mean, we have everything to gain and its just win or go home now.”