BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Nobody around here seems to care about the recent history of the Iowa men’s basketball program.
And you really can’t blame them for overlooking the Hawkeyes, who until recently have been irrelevant on any stage outside the state of Iowa.
The buzz heading into Sunday’s matchup between Iowa and Villanova in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament centers on the fact that the Wildcats haven’t advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 since 2009.
Never mind that Iowa hasn’t made the Sweet 16 since 1999.
Villanova is at a different level than Iowa, evidenced by Villanova’s 92-13 record since the start of the 2013-14 season.
Villanova has won at least 25 games in 12 seasons. Six of those seasons took place between 1920 and 2005, while the other six have all occurred since 2006, including the last three in a row.
So when it comes to dealing with pressure and expectations, Villanova is also at a different level than Iowa.
Villanova’s senior class, which includes star point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and forward Daniel Ochefu, is the winningest class in school history. But so much of its legacy will be tied to what happens in Sunday’s game against Iowa at the Barclays Center.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright was asked during a press conference on Saturday if it’s unfair that the big-picture perception of his senior class will be tied to what happens on Sunday.
“I really don’t think it’s unfair,” Wright said. “I just think it’s sports and that’s the beauty of coaching college athletics is that you get to use these as life lessons.
“They’re either going to go by this weekend and they’re going to be the winningest class in Villanova history and they’re going to get to the Sweet 16, or they’re not. And they’re going to be the winningest class in Villanova history and didn’t get past the second round. Either way, it’s going to be a learning process for them.”
The second question asked to the Villanova players on Saturday was about the Sweet 16 drought.
“Everyone has the right to think what they want, say what they want,” Arcidiacono said. “We played in those games. We haven’t come through in the second-round of the tournament. We’ve had some great success throughout the regular season and in the Big East Tournament the last couple of years.
“I can’t really tell people how they should look at our senior class or myself in particular. They have the right to think of us how they want.”
One of Villanova’s 92 victories since the start of the 2013-14 season came against Iowa in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis on Nov. 30, 2013. The Wildcats prevailed 88-83 in a game that had several shifts in momentum.
Both teams have changed since then, but many of the key players from two years ago will be on the court Sunday.
Iowa is making its third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance under head coach Fran McCaffery. But unlike Villanova, the Hawkeyes want to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament to make up for what happened at the end of the regular season when they lost five of six games.
Villanova wants to make a deep run to show that it’s more than just a force during the regular season.
So there is pressure on both sides, although, the Iowa players seem oblivious to their Sweet 16 drought.
“I try not to pay attention when people discredit what we’ve done,” said Iowa senior forward Jarrof Uthoff. “Each year is a new year – it’s new personnel. It’s a new squad. It’s new dynamics of the team.”
Iowa senior point guard Mike Gesell echoed Uthoff’s sentiments.
“We don’t listen to outside noise very much,” Gesell said. “Everyone has opinions. And obviously, we haven’t made the Sweet 16 in a while. And that’s a difficult task.
“Once you get in March Madness, every single team is a good team. It’s tough just to make this tournament.”
As for the matchup itself, it could come down which team shoots the best from 3-point range. Villanova has six players who have made at least 20 3-point baskets this season, while Iowa has five, led by junior Peter Jok with 78.
“It’s going to be real important,” Jok said of 3-point shooting. “We have to hit our open shots.”
Iowa advanced to the second round despite only making 7-of-28 3-point baskets in Friday’s 72-70 victory over Temple in the first round.
It’s hard to envision the Hawkeyes defeating Villanova with a similar shooting performance.
Iowa survived against Temple, partly because the Owls only made 4-of-18 3-point baskets.
Sunday’s game is all about surviving and advancing.
All we know for certain is that one team will have a breakthrough victory on Sunday, while the other will have to deal with the frustration of falling short again.
That’s another reason they call it March Madness.