NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament notebook | Former Iowa assistant coach and current Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl talks Iowa, reflects on time as a Hawkeye

The Hawkeyes and Tigers will battle in the tournament’s first round on Thursday at 5:50 p.m. in Birmingham, Alabama.


Matt Sindt

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl speaks during a press conference at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama on Wednesday, March 15, 2023. Auburn faces Iowa on Thursday.

Chris Werner, Assistant Sports Editor

BIRMINGHAM, Al — Auburn head men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl was an assistant coach at Iowa from 1986-92 under Tom Davis. 

Ahead of Thursday’s NCAA Tournament first-round matchup between the Hawkeyes and Tigers, the first time Pearl has coached against Iowa at Auburn, Pearl reminisced about his days in Iowa City.

“It was great to be a Hawkeye for those really, younger, formative years,” Pearl said. “I look back at pictures now and you can’t believe how you look and how much you age over the time. But we had a great, great experience at Iowa.”

Pearl then rattled off multiple of the great coaches he got to know as a Hawkeye in the late 1980s and early 90s. 

“I was there with Hayden Fry,” Pearl said. “His staff was just one of the most incredible football staffs in the country. It was such a great staff that Barry Alvarez was just the linebacker coach. And, you know, being there with Dan Gable his staff at that time, and, you know, C. Vivian Stringer, you know, was such a great coach and a great friend. So, we had six wonderful years at Iowa.”

Pearl then recalled his own coaching run for the Hawkeyes. 

In his six years on the bench, Iowa made the NCAA Tournament five times and made the Elite Eight in his first season. Iowa has not been that far in the tournament since. 

Pearl said the Hawkeyes’ 84-81 loss to UNLV with a Final Four bid on the line still gets to him.

“That first year, that 86-87 team that went to the Elite Eight, we’re up 16 at half against Vegas to go to the Final Four … I can tell you is Kevin Gamble picked up two fouls early in the second half, and that was it, we were in trouble then, because Kevin was such an important player for us. Vegas was a great team, we just couldn’t stop them.”

If Pearl’s 2022-23 Auburn squad hopes to go to the Elite Eight or the Final Four — as the Tigers did in 2019 —  they’ll have to go through his former team. 

Pearl said this year’s Hawkeye team has a talented group of forwards and a collection of shooters that can get hot at any time.

“I like ‘em,” Peal said of the Hawkeyes. “If I didn’t have to coach against them, I like ‘em. I love the front line. Murray can really play and score and Rebraca, man, I like him a lot. He can score, he’s a good basketball player, plays hard. So offensively one of the better frontlines we’ve gone up against, and then they just spread and shoot it.”

Pearl also complimented Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery for allowing his players to “play basketball the right way.”

“Fran lets them play and gives them space,” Pearl said. “His sons are important pieces to the team and chemistry, they got really good pieces.”

Toussaint discusses transfer to West Virginia, staying close with former Iowa teammates

The West Virginia Mountaineers are the No. 9 seed in the South Region and are also set to play their first and second-round games in Birmingham. The Mountaineers will play the Maryland Terrapins at 11:15 on Thursday on CBS.

West Virginia point guard Joe Toussaint transferred from Iowa after last season, but said his former Iowa teammates are still his “brothers.”

Toussaint said he was excited when he found out Iowa and West Virginia would be beginning the NCAA Tournament in the same location. 

“‘I can’t wait to see my old teammates,” Toussaint said. “Those guys are still my friends, I still talk to them on a daily basis.”

Toussaint said he went to West Virginia for a fresh start and to showcase all of his skills. 

“I just wanted to expand my role,” Toussaint said. “It’s not that I had a big problem with my role at Iowa, I just knew what I could do. You know, so I just wanted to show the world what I could do, and [coach Bob Huggins] gave me a chance to do that here.”

Toussaint is averaging 9.5 points, 2.7 assists, and 2.8 rebounds per game at West Virginia, his rebound and assist numbers are similar to what he put up at Iowa, but he has scored 3 more points per contest than his best year in Iowa City.

Toussaint said he watched every Iowa game he could, so it was no surprise what happened when the Hawkeyes and Mountaineers received their first-round opponents. 

“After we got selected, I got on the phone with Connor [MCaffery],” He literally told me everything about Maryland. And then I told him about Auburn because we played Auburn and we beat them. So I told him about Auburn.”