Iowa beat Xavier 77-74 in overtime but Tennessee suffered a stunning 78-70 first-round loss to UTEP. With the Hawkeyes advancing to the semifinals and the Vols dropping into the consolation bracket, Martin's scouting report on Iowa appeared useless.
Until now …
The NCAA Tournament selection committee announced Sunday evening that the Vols (21-12) and the Hawkeyes (20-12) will meet Wednesday night at 9:10 in Dayton, Ohio. The winner becomes the No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region, advancing to the Round of 64 to face sixth-seeded UMass (24-8) Friday in Raleigh, N.C.
Martin, who played and coached Big Ten basketball at Purdue, is no stranger to the Iowa program.
"We scouted them in The Bahamas just in case we might have played them, so we're familiar from that standpoint," he said Sunday evening. "And I watch a lot of Big Ten basketball. I've got Big Ten Network, so I watched quite a bit of ‘em. I've seen ‘em play a lot.
"They're a very talented team, a very good transition team. They play 10 or 12 guys between 15 and 30 minutes a game, so there's a lot of balance. They'll pressure you. They'll play some zone. They'll play some man. They'll mix it up. We're familiar with those guys."
Although his Vols were one of the "last four in" to the 68-team field, Martin isn't concerned about nearly being snubbed for a third year in a row.
"The bottom line is we did the work," he said. "Now it's just sit back. For me, most important is to put it in the guys' hands and let the chips fall where they may."
The Vols watched the Selection Sunday Show at Martin's house. Their reaction to being included was a mixture of emotions.
"Just to be in the NCAA Tournament, I think they were excited about that," the coach said. "And somewhat relieved."
Tennessee is coming off one of its worst halves of the year in Saturday's SEC Tournament semifinal loss to Florida. The Vols made 11 turnovers and scored just 14 second-half points in seeing a seven-point halftime lead deteriorate into a seven-point loss. That setback snapped a five-game winning streak, however, in which the Vols played their best basketball of the year.
"We didn't handle the ball very well in the second half of the Florida game," Martin conceded. "They did a good job of turning us over, sped us up a little bit. We've got to keep our composure but thus far our guys have been good in that department. If we play (versus Iowa) the way we've been playing the last six games we'll be fine."
Whereas Tennessee has won five of its last six games, Iowa is on a decidedly downward spiral. The Hawkeyes have lost six of their last seven games after a 19-6 start that included an 84-74 upset of Ohio State Jan. 12 in Columbus.
Iowa's slide began Feb. 22, when coach Fran McCaffery's Hawkeyes lost 79-74 at home to Wisconsin. They fell 95-89 Feb. 25 at Minnesota, then bowed 93-86 Feb. 27 at Indiana. After beating Purdue 83-76 on March 2, Iowa closed the regular season with an 86-76 loss at Michigan State on March 6 and a 66-63 home loss to Illinois on March 8. The Hawkeyes' woes continued Thursday night at Indianapolis, when they dropped their Big Ten Conference Tournament opener to Northwestern 67-62.
So, which Hawkeye team will show up Wednesday in Dayton ... the one that opened the season 19-6 or the one that closed 1-6?
"For them – like everybody else going into the NCAA Tournament – it's a new season," Martin said. "I'm quite sure they're looking at it the same way. They might have been thinking ‘We didn't play as well (down the stretch) and we might be on the outside looking in.' Now they're in The Tournament. They're rejuvenated. They're ready to go."
Tennessee and Iowa have met just three times, with Iowa holding a 2-1 series lead. The unranked Hawkeyes shocked Ray Mears' fourth-ranked Vols 64-59 on Dec. 27, 1967 in Round 1 of the Los Angeles Classic. Iowa beat Cliff Wettig's unranked Vols 92-86 on Dec. 20, 1977 in Round 1 of the Rebel Roundup in Las Vegas. Tennessee broke through to post its first series victory Dec. 29 of 2000 as Jerry Green's No. 6 Vols dumped the No. 23 Hawkeyes 80-68 in the Rainbow Classic at Honolulu.
For what it's worth, former Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl was an assistant at Iowa from 1986-92.
Two teams Tennessee faced during the regular season also qualified for "last-four-in" status. North Carolina State (21-13) will face Xavier (21-12) Tuesday at Dayton to determine the 12th seed in the Midwest Region.
Tennessee is one of only three SEC teams to make the NCAA field. Florida, 32-2 after winning the league's regular-season and tournament titles, is the No. 1 seed in the South Region and will face No. 16 seed Mount Saint Mary's (16-16) Thursday in Orlando. Kentucky, 24-10 and the SEC Tournament runnerup, is the No. 8 seed in the Midwest and will face No. 9 seed Kansas State (20-12) Friday in St. Louis.
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