By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa’s entire body of work in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament can be found in a single 6-foot-7-inch frame. Nicholas Baer stands alone.
The senior forward from Bettendorf, Iowa, is the only Hawkeye to experience March Madness. Baer played in two games as a redshirt freshman in 2015-16, scoring two points in nine minutes of an overtime victory over Temple and adding 15 points in 25 minutes of a loss to eventual national champion Villanova.
Iowa has made it back to the NCAAs for the 26th time in school history. Head coach Fran McCaffery’s 10th-seeded team will face No. 7 seed Cincinnati at 11:15 a.m. (CT) Friday in Columbus, Ohio.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Baer said. “We have an opportunity to play against a really tough team, and I couldn’t be more excited.”
Baer’s message to his inexperienced teammates? Lean on me.
“I want to make sure we’re locked in and focused,” Baer said. “You understand it’s win or go home, but at the same time you can’t get away from what we do.”
Baer said it’s important that his teammates get in a comfort zone, play the game and not get caught up in the setting.
“Just settling in, that’s something that’s always a challenge,” Baer said. “I have to make sure the guys are comfortable, settled in, and trying to understand the rigors of the schedule that comes with it, too. At the same time, these guys have been looking forward to it their whole lives.”
Baer said that playing a non-Big Ten opponent will be a breath of fresh air. Iowa enters NCAA play 22-11 overall but 11-0 outside the Big Ten this season.
“In some ways it’s definitely a fresh start,” Baer said. “Once you get to this point, everyone is 0-0. That’s our mindset, how we’re approaching it. We have a chance to play a nonconference opponent. We’ve been successful in the nonconference so far and we’re looking to keep that rolling.”
Cincinnati’s scouting report won’t have as many layers as a Big Ten scouting report.
“It’s a bar fight every night,” Baer said of life in the Big Ten. “It will be nice to play someone who hasn’t been scouting us for 10 years.”
Baer is keenly aware of the physical, gritty style of play Cincinnati (28-6) is known for.
“This will probably be a bar brawl,” Baer said. “That’s how they play. They play physical. We understand that.”
When he was a youngster, Baer’s family would always attend NCAA Regionals in the Midwest.
“Milwaukee, Kansas City, Omaha, Chicago,” Baer recalled.
Years later, the tournament that every Division I team covets will be the backdrop to the end of Baer’s college basketball career.
His next game in an Iowa uniform could also be his last one.
“I think about that all the time,” he said. “That’s the nature of the beast.”
Baer has played in 127 games for the Hawkeyes. The former walk-on is the only player in program history to total 750 points, 500 rebounds, 100 blocked shots, 100 assists, 100 steals, and 100 3-point field goals.
He’ll keep adding to that statistical legacy as long as the Hawkeyes have a postseason heartbeat.
“I’m not ready for it to be done yet,” Baer said. “I don’t think I ever will. This is my last go-around. It’s also my last go-around with these guys. We want to keep playing.”
By RICK BROWN