Nov. 23, 2015
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By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — When University of Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery had the opportunity to add the Advocare Invitational to the Hawkeyes’ nonconference schedule, he jumped on it.
He did it for the exposure and opportunity. It will be an early season NCAA Tournament resume-building opportunity when Iowa takes the court this week at the HP Field House in Orlando.
Five of the eight teams in the field — Dayton, Iowa, Notre Dame, Wichita State, and Xavier — were NCAA Tournament teams a season ago. The remaining three teams are USC, Monmouth, and Alabama.
“You can sit at home or you can go play people,” McCaffery said Monday during a news conference in the Media Room inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “I think you ultimately get rewarded for playing.”
Iowa opens the tournament against undefeated Dayton (3-0) on Thursday at 8 p.m. (CT). The Hawkeyes play either Monmouth or Notre Dame on Friday and an undetermined opponent Sunday.
It’s three games in four days, but McCaffery says his focus is always on winning the game at hand.
“I go one game at a time,” he said. “We’ll do whatever it takes to win that game. We have enough bodies to absorb three games in four days; I’m not worried about that.”
The Iowa senior class is hoping to finally hoist a trophy come Sunday night. The Hawkeyes have played in a tournament championship games in two of the last three seasons, but were runners-up each time.
“Hopefully we’ll learn how to win a title,” said senior Adam Woodbury. “We’ve come up short a few times in my career in championship games. Hopefully we’ll be fortunate to get to the championship and finally bring home a title.”
During the 2012-13 season, Iowa lost to Wichita State in the championship game of the Cancun Challenge and was runner-up to Baylor in the National Invitation Tournament. The following season, the Hawkeyes won their first two games in the Battle for Atlantis before falling to Villanova in overtime in the championship game.
“We’ve been close to winning one, but haven’t got there yet,” said senior Mike Gesell, who has 25 assists to five turnovers in three games. “This is another great opportunity, and it’s a great field there. It’s another chance to get better and see where we’re really at. It’s going to be fun.”
The Hawkeyes passed their first road test Nov. 19 at Marquette, rolling to an 89-61 Gavitt Games victory. It was a performance the team aims to emulate.
“We played a solid all-around game,” said Woodbury. “That’s what we’re going to come expect from us. We know we can do that, so we have to try to do it on a nightly basis and put our best performance out there.”
With the quality of the field, it will take three “Marquette-esque” type performances to hoist a trophy.
“The field is good,” said Woodbury. “Some of the teams you hadn’t heard much about, like Monmouth — they go on the road and beat UCLA. We have a lot of great teams in this tournament that are ready to beat anybody that comes at them. We have to be ready every time out.”
The tournament will be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in the Walt Disney World Resort. The Hawkeyes will be off Saturday, but recovering, not partaking in everything Mickey Mouse.
“The location is a lot more fun for my family than for me,” said Gesell. “We stick to our hotel room, getting the rest we need. It is an opportunity to play against some of the best teams in the country, that’s the way I look at it. It’s not a vacation, it’s a business trip.”
Thursday’s game will be televised on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. (CT) with Rich Hollenberg and Tim Welsh on the call.