NCAA Tournament notebook: Iowa vs. Davidson

Iowa drawing from last year’s experience, familiarity between the two teams, and the Hawkeyes’ ‘business trip.’

It’s hard to find similarities between the Iowa team that limped into the 2013-14 NCAA Tournament last season, and the team this year.

The only one might be that both teams were booted in their first games in the Big Ten Tournament. The 2013-14 team was beat by Northwestern, and this year’s team lost to Penn State.

That’s about it.

Iowa plays a much slower pace than last year, placing a higher emphasis on defensive stops than offensive production. It won its final six games of the regular season, where last year it lost five of its last six regular season games.

It’s a different team, different scenario, and different location for postseason play. Iowa is hoping for a different result as well.

“The beautiful thing about this event is every college basketball player hopes that one day they will play in it,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said Thursday.

“… To go through that experience last year and just get a feel for how it’s different I think is good. Hopefully, that will manifest itself into intelligent play and better play tomorrow.”

Another difference is McCaffery. Last year his son, Patrick McCaffery, had a malignant tumor in his thyroid removed the same day Iowa played Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament.

This year has been less stressful.

“It’s obviously been a lot smoother, especially with everything Coach was going through last year,” Josh Oglesby said. “ … But the week has just been — we have got a couple off days and got out here early, which was nice, get used to the time change and just to enjoy the time with the team and our coaches.”

As Oglesby mentioned, the team had a couple extra days to prepare as opposed to last season, where the Hawkeyes played six days after their loss in the Big Ten Tournament, and three days after finding out they were in the NCAA Tournament.

“So it’s been a lot of fun, but at the same time we understand that it is a business trip,” Gabe Olaseni said. “I think everyone is locked in. So we’re just looking forward to playing.”

Familiarity between the two teams

Iowa and Davidson haven’t met on the court since Feb. 1, 1969. Iowa won, 76-61. Despite that, these two teams are more than familiar, no one more than McCaffery and Davidson head coach Bob McKillop.

When they met depends on whom you ask, and the strength of their memory.

McCaffery said he knew McKillop when he was a high school coach at Long Island Lutheran. McKillop said he knew McCaffery since 1975 or 1976, when McKillop was a head coach at Holy Trinity High School and McCaffery was a player at LaSalle College High School.

Either way, they’ve known each other a long time, and that relationship expanded when the two coaches faced each other eight times in McCaffery’s first three years as head coach at UNC Greensboro.

“Pretty much at that time we kind of had to go through them, they had to go through us to win a championship,” McCaffery said. “So we had some really intense games.”

“But there’s a tremendous respect there in terms of the success that he’s had. Very few coaches in our profession today can stay at one place for that long and have that much success. So, obviously, I know what we’re in for tomorrow. I’m trying to convey that our players.”

McKillop, who’s in his 26th season as Davidson’s head coach, also coached White while at he was a member of Team USA in the World University Games, which White played in before his junior year.

The two were together for about one month, which gave White a decent amount of time to figure out that McKillop was an “extremely competitive guy.” White also became familiar with McKillop’s style of play, which involves spreading the floor with shooters, something Davidson has done to near-perfection this season.

McKillop also learned plenty about White.

“At the conclusion of the University games, I spoke with a number of NBA scouts and front office people, and I told them that he’s going to be one of the guys on that roster who would be a first-round pick and how he developed during his next two years at Iowa would determine how high a pick he would be in the first round,” McKillop said. “I think he’s really stepped up to the plate.”

Iowa’s ‘business trip’

It’s evident within a few minutes of talking with Iowa players that they’re focused solely on the game, as Olaseni mentioned earlier. The idea that everything surrounding this game is mostly a distraction has resonated throughout the team.

Most of the team had never been to Seattle before this trip, when they arrived on Wednesday. Almost all of them mentioned how nice it was to play in this city, and to play in KeyArena, the old hosting arena for the Seattle Supersonics.

But make no mistake, the main event for both the fans and the team is the game against Davidson.

“I don’t think anyone one our team has really been to the city before,” Mike Gesell said. “It’s really nice, but it’s a business trip for us. We’re not here to sight-see around the city, we’re here to play basketball.”

Later, when asked if the team did anything fun since getting to Seattle, Gesell responded similarly.

“Not really. It’s a business trip,” he said.

Point taken.





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