March 25, 2013
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — The last hurdle between the University of Iowa men’s basketball team and the National Invitational Tournament semifinals in Madison Square Garden takes place Wednesday at 6 p.m. (CT) in Charlottesville, Va.
The Hawkeyes (23-12) face top-seeded Virginia (23-11) at John Paul Jones Arena with the winner advancing to New York City for an April 2 semifinal matchup. The Cavaliers are 20-1 at home with 19 straight victories.
“We have played well on the road, but we haven’t gotten as many wins as we would have liked,” UI head coach Fran McCaffery said on a Monday media teleconference. “This is a great opportunity and a very important game.”
Virginia has posted a pair of NIT home victories, winning by an average of 14.5 points. The Cavaliers downed Norfolk State in the first round, 67-56, before defeating St. John’s, 68-50, on March 24.
“It would be a tremendous step for the program and give us another opportunity to play two more games in arguably the greatest venue in the sport. For our maturity, growth, and the young guys, it would be a tremendous feeling.”
UI head coach Fran McCaffery on the prospects of advancing to NYC for the NIT semifinals
Junior guard Joe Harris leads Virginia with a 16.4 average, shooting 47 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from 3-point range. Junior forward Akil Mitchell averages 13.3 points and nine rebounds.
“I have been really impressed with their personnel,” said McCaffery. “They have pieces that fit. Harris is a tremendous player and presents a lot of difficulty for anybody trying to figure them out. Mitchell has been impressive on the glass and can score. Their point guard (Jontel Evans) has been tremendous, and (Justin) Anderson I like.
“There are a lot of pieces that have impressed me. They defend and execute offensively.”
While McCaffery likes the Cavaliers’ offensive options, Wednesday’s game will come down to which team can impose its defensive will.
Iowa gives up 62.6 points per game, while holding opponents to a 38 percent field goal percentage and a 29.1 mark from 3-point range. Virginia ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense (55.0) and 15th in field goal percentage defense (38.5).
“There are similarities in the sense that both teams put a focus on defense — help, recovery and getting back,” said McCaffery. “They’re really solid in their schemes and where they’re positioned on the court. It’s really sound, fundamental defensive basketball.”
In two NIT games, junior Roy Devyn Marble has elevated his game for the Hawkeyes. The guard is averaging 26 points, 5.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds during the two Iowa victories. He has just two turnovers in 69 minutes.
“He is making plays and is not turning the ball over,” said McCaffery. “He’s very unselfish and is scoring a lot more. It seems to be having a comforting effect as everyone around him feels good with him with the ball.
Marble has the versatility to play either guard or the small forward position, but the results keep indicating that he may be better suited to run the show.
“We feel like we should move him to the two spot because he’s big and can score, but we keep coming back to maybe he’s better with the ball,” said McCaffery. “Right now, our team is playing as well as we have all year with him with the ball.”
McCaffery says a win in Charlottesville and a subsequent trip to New York City would be a great opportunity.
“It would be a tremendous step for the program and give us another opportunity to play two more games in arguably the greatest venue in the sport,” he said. “For our maturity, growth, and the young guys, it would be a tremendous feeling.”
Wednesday’s game will be televised on ESPN2 with Carter Blackburn and Dan Dakich calling the action.