By BAILEY TURNER
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The University of Iowa men’s basketball team defeated the seventh-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats Friday afternoon, 79-72, advancing the Hawkeyes to the Round of 32. Iowa will take on the second-seeded and sixth-ranked Tennessee on Sunday at 11:15 a.m. (CT) on CBS.
The two basketball programs have played four previous times with each team winning twice. The last time Iowa and Tennessee faced each other was five years ago in the First Four, with the Volunteers edging the Hawkeyes 78-65 overtime in 2014.
Saturday afternoon’s practice at Nationwide Arena was filled with focus, intensity, and excitement.
“Practice was fun,” junior Ryan Kriener said. “We conducted it like a day before game practice, and we were a little lighter on our feet. But we were able to get through what we needed to get through.”
The Sweet 16 is something the men’s basketball program hasn’t done in 20 years and head coach Fran McCaffery knows that.
“We’ve come close,” said McCaffery. “We all know how hard it is. I don’t care where you are. It’s very difficult to put it all together and get into the tournament, and then advance once you get here. So, I think our players all recognize the situation we’re in. And we would really love to have this experience for each other, but also for our fan base.”
Tennessee has 30 wins and were runners-up in the SEC Tournament under head coach Rick Barnes. The Volunteers and the Hawkeyes see a little bit of each other when they look in the mirror on the offensive end. Both ball clubs spent all season in the top-20 of offensive-efficiency.
“We’re typically very comfortable getting into a shootout,” McCaffery said. “Obviously, as any game goes on, adjustments are required. If you feel like you’re losing a shootout at some point, I think you might have to slow it down. I think you have to be smart enough to recognize, all right, let’s work the ball a little bit more. Let’s maybe try to shoot a few less 3’s and go inside a little bit more. Let’s put it on the deck and see if we can get to the free-throw line a little bit more.”
The respect is mutual between both Iowa and Tennessee.
“All you can do is really make the shots as tough as possible. And, you know, the game is never perfect”, said Grant Williams, who averages a team-best 18.7 points per game. “They’re a talented team. Luka Garza, he hit three yesterday, but his percentage doesn’t say that he’s a big-time 3-point shooter. But it’s March, and guys are competing and players make plays around this time of year. So you’ve got to respect everybody’s ability to shoot the ball, especially a team like Iowa.”
Junior Jordan Bohannon, who enters Sunday’s game two 3-pointers from becoming the school’s all-time record holder, said that Tennessee plays a unique style of basketball and expects a physical game on Sunday.
“They really run the court,” said Bohannon. “They’ve been battling all year in the SEC, as well as we have in the Big Ten. They play a physical kind of basketball like we do. So it’s going to be a lot of fun tomorrow. We’re looking forward to it.”