|Cincinnati readies for reeling Iowa in pseudo home game|
The Cincinnati Bearcats might not be thrilled with the seed they drew for the NCAA Tournament, but the consolation prize is a veritable home game against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Friday in first-round action in Columbus, Ohio.
The No. 22 Bearcats (28-6) earned the seventh seed in the South Region despite winning the American Athletic Conference tournament championship. Their opponent is 10th-seeded Iowa (22-11), which limps into the tournament having lost five of its past six games.
"Seed doesn't matter. We proved that last year," Cincy head coach Mick Cronin said Sunday, alluding to the second-seeded Bearcats' second-round loss to seventh-seeded Nevada in 2018. "You can't control what happens to you. You can control how you react to it."
And the best part for Cincy: The game is 107 miles away from home.
"Great for your fans," Cronin said. "I was very concerned about getting shipped out west. I say all the time -- enjoy this. A lot of money is made off of these kids. It's important that their families can get to these games."
The Hawkeyes don't seem to be fazed by the site of their first-round game.
"They'll definitely have some fans out there. But I think we'll have some fans out there, too," Iowa sophomore Luka Garza said. "It's not their home gym, so it's not a home game for them. It's a neutral site."
The Bearcats enter the tourney on a high of a three-game winning streak, including defeating AAC foe Houston on Sunday for the first time in three tries to claim the league tourney title for the second consecutive year.
It's the ninth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance for the Bearcats.
The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, got trounced by Michigan in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, capping an ugly finish to the regular season. Iowa was sitting pretty at 9-5 (20-5 overall) in the conference on Feb. 16, having overcome an 0-3 start to the Big Ten campaign. They were ranked for 14 weeks in a 16-week span.
But a couple of buzzer-beating wins gave way to five losses over the final three weeks of the season, and the skid included a two-game suspension of Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery for verbal abuse of a game official after a 20-point loss to Ohio State on Feb. 26.
The result: A 10th seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"I don't really care about the seeding," said Garza, the team's second-leading scorer. "Once you get into March, it doesn't matter where you're seeded. We see it all the time."
The Bearcats are led by AAC Player of the Year Jarron Cumberland, who dropped 33 points on Houston in the AAC tournament finale. The junior averages 18.8 points per game for Cincy.
The Hawkeyes counter with junior forward Tyler Cook, who leads Iowa in scoring (14.9) and rebounding (7.9).
With four players who average in double figures, Iowa does much of its damage from 3-point territory while Cook operates inside. Jordan Bohannon leads with 75 made 3-pointers for the Hawkeyes, who connected for 267 on the season, nearly 50 more than the Bearcats.
The Bearcats opened as a slight favorite over Iowa, and the teams share three common opponents from the regular season.
The Hawkeyes defeated AAC member Connecticut in November and split with Ohio State over the course of their Big Ten slate. The Bearcats lost to the in-state rival Buckeyes in their first game of the season and defeated UConn twice in AAC action.
The winner will face the winner of No. 2 seed Tennessee vs. No. 15 Colgate on Sunday.
--Field Level Media