The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Combining dissatisfaction with gratitude: How Iowa men’s basketball copes with likely NIT bid

For a program with 29 appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including four in the last five years, the Hawkeyes don’t neglect the opportunity in front of them.
Carly Schrum
Iowa forward Patrick McCaffery walks away after a foul during a men’s basketball game between No. 7 Iowa and No. 10 Ohio State at the second round of the TIAA Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn., on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The Buckeyes defeated the Hawkeyes, 90-78. McCaffery tallied up 4 fouls in the second half.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – The Iowa men’s basketball team will be in unfamiliar territory this spring. With the exception of the canceled 2019-2020 postseason, the Hawkeyes qualified for the NCAA Tournament four years in a row. 

But after falling in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament to Ohio State, 90-78, the Hawkeyes won’t be dancing in March, but rather relegated to a likely NIT bid pending Sunday evening’s announcement. The Big Ten’s top-two teams in terms of NET rating who did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament will earn an automatic berth. 

“It’s likely that we’re not going to make [the NCAA Tournament], so that will stick forever,” Patrick McCaffery said postgame. 

The last time Patrick’s father, head coach Fran McCaffery, roamed the sidelines in an NIT game was back in 2017, when his top-seeded Hawkeyes dropped an overtime decision to TCU in the second round. Now seven years later with a completely new roster, the head coach isn’t too concerned about this anomaly season, and neither are his players. 

“We have great chemistry in that locker room and I’m proud of this team,” he said in his postgame press conference. “We all wanted to go a little further, but fortunately, we’ll get to keep playing.” 

While the NIT may have less prestige than the Big Dance and no longer holds its championship at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the Hawkeyes don’t lack motivation. Third-year forward Payton Sandfort put it best: 

“If you can’t get ready to play in a basketball game, then you don’t belong in this sport.” 

Transferring to Iowa from Valparaiso over the offseason, grad Ben Krikke had his hopes set on playing in March Madness for the first time in his collegiate career. Krikke, who has never competed in the NIT either, doesn’t let the disappointment of not accomplishing his  “original goal” serve as any deterrence. 

“It hurts, but at the same time, there’s more basketball to be played and we’re grateful for that,” he said. 

Donning the Black and Gold, Krikke represents a program that’s been to the national tournament 29 times, including three Final Fours. But even this storied history doesn’t exempt him or his teammates from the reality of competition. 

“When there’s a basketball game, you’ve got to go out there and put 100 percent effort in,” he continued. “I don’t think anybody on this team is going into any game relaxed or taking it easy in any way.”

Patrick McCaffery, who has taken part in three NCAA Tournaments, called a potential NIT competition a “blessing,” explaining that there’s no time to properly reflect on the season when the team has a postseason path in front of them. 

For first-year Owen Freeman, playing in more ‘win or go home’ matches further reinforces his learning that every possession matters. The 2023-24 Big Ten Freshman of the Year said the Hawkeyes couldn’t capitalize on opportunity in the second half against the Buckeyes, but added there won’t be any diminished confidence down the line. 

“We’re going to be hungry and obviously we’re upset,” Freeman said. “We got some points to prove.” 

A deep run in the NIT tournament, perhaps even a trip to its finals in Indianapolis, has the potential to rewrite what has been a trying season for Iowa. In fact, an NIT title would be the first in program history. The Hawkeyes reached the championship in 2013, but fell to Baylor, 74-54.  

Yet while success in this year’s edition of the NIT would add to Iowa’s resume, the tournament will be recurring; it will always be there as a backup plan. But the collegiate careers of student-athletes don’t have the same longevity. 

“We get to keep playing, and I’m happy to do it with my guys,” Patrick McCaffery said. 

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About the Contributors
Matt McGowan
Matt McGowan, Pregame Editor
he/him/his Matt McGowan is The Daily Iowan's Pregame Editor. He is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communications and American studies with a minor in sport studies.  This is his second year with the DI
Carly Schrum
Carly Schrum, Photojournalist
Carly is a freshman majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication and potentially majoring in sustainability. She works at the Daily Iowan as a photojournalist.