By Pat Harty
This little voice in my head kept telling me that Iowa would defeat Cincinnati on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and it was right for a change.
I even wrote a column predicting that Iowa would win by the score 78-74, and the actual score was 79-72.
And now it’s on to the second round where No. 10 seed Iowa will face No. 2 seed Tennessee on Sunday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Iowa is one victory from advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first since 1999, but the team that stands in the way is tough and talented, but also beatable.
The voice in my head isn’t nearly as confident about Iowa beating Tennessee as it was about beating Cincinnati because Tennessee is better than Cincinnati and is from a better conference.
But of the four teams that are seeded second in the tournament, I would like Iowa’s chances better against Tennessee than against Michigan, Michigan State or Kentucky.
The Volunteers probably would beat Iowa in a three or five-game series, but the Big Dance is one and done if you lose.
It takes just one game to advance, and just about anything can happen in one game.
That’s why they call it March Madness because it truly is maddening how some of the games unfold.
The improbable suddenly becomes probable in the NCAA Tournament, and the narrative changes with each win.
There were some Iowa fans who actually believed heading into the NCAA Tournament that Fran McCaffery should be replaced as head coach.
Iowa had lost five of its last six games, and two of the losses came while McCaffery was serving a two-game suspension for berating an official.
So there was a lot of negative energy surrounding the program and the situation looked bleak.
But then Iowa battleed back from an early 13-point deficit to defeat Cincinnati on Friday and the narrative and the circumstances have changed dramatically.
McCaffery now has a chance to take Iowa where it hardly ever goes, which is to the second week of the NCAA Tournament.
The NCAA Tournament is so powerful and influential that it can change the course of a team’s season with just a victory or two.
This season will be an overwhelming success if Iowa makes it to the Sweet 16.
It won’t matter that Iowa performed woefully down the stretch of the regular season or that McCaffery had another meltdown because winning in the NCAA Tournament fixes everything for the time being.
It is the miracle cure for whatever is ailing a team.
As for Sunday’s matchup, if sophomore center Luka Garza gets involved early in the offense and then stays involved, and Iowa also makes at least six to eight 3-point baskets, the Volunteers could be in serious trouble.
Iowa would also benefit significantly from a strong performance by junior forward Tyler Cook, whose scoring has been down recently.
It hasn’t happened nearly enough this season, but when Cook and Garza play well at the same time, defenses have to focus more on trying to contain them near the basket, and that creates more space for Iowa’s perimeter shooters.
Iowa can beat just about anybody not named Duke when its two big men are playing well on offense and its 3-point shots are falling.
If that scenario plays out on Sunday, I would like Iowa’s chances to advance.
Tennessee hung on to defeat Colgate 77-70 in the first round on Friday despite allowing 15 3-point baskets.
Allow Iowa to make that many 3-pointers and Tennessee’s season likely will end on Sunday.
The Volunteers have had a terrific season and have been ranked in the top 10 throughout the season for the first time in program history.
Tennessee has five players who score in double figures, and is ranked third in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.6); sixth in blocked shots (5.4) and assists (18.1); and seventh in field goal percentage (.496).
Tennessee also posted three wins over Associated Press top five teams this season (No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 4 Kentucky twice).
So this will be no easy task for Iowa on Sunday, but the Volunteers are far from invincible and are under more pressure to win as two-seed than Iowa is as a 10-seed.
A story was posted after Friday's games in which Tennessee forward Admiral Schofield seemed to take offense to the Iowa players celebrating after their win over Cincinnati. Schofield said no words were exchanged between the two teams, but he appaerently still didn't like what he heard from the Iowa players.
To me, it seemed like a non-story, especially after learning that Iowa's locker room was next to Tennessee's locker room.
It almost seems like Schofield was looking for something to motivate him. He grew up in Illinois and is the younger brother of former Wisconsin linebacker O'Brien Schofield, so maybe Admiral doesn't like Iowa.
But why would anybody need motivation to play in the NCAA Tournament?
Tennessee finished an incredible 29-5 during the regular season, but that would mean very little with a loss on Sunday.
Iowa can play free and easy on Sunday and that’s when shots have a tendency to fall.
So in that case, I‘m picking the Hawkeyes to pull off an even bigger upset this time.
Prediction: Iowa 74, Tennessee 71