DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Iowa coach Fran McCaffery will be in and out of Dayton as the Hawkeyes get ready for their first NCAA tournament game in eight years.
He had a flight arranged to Iowa City on Tuesday night so he could be with 13-year-old son Patrick, who is having surgery on this morning to remove a thyroid tumor. The coaching staff will lead the team through its morning meeting and a light practice while he’s away.
McCaffery expects to be back in time for the game against Tennessee (21-12) in the NCAA First Four on tonight.
“Hopefully, I’ll be back before the last meeting we have, which is typically right before pregame meal or right after pregame meal, and be ready to coach the game,” McCaffery said. “Assuming all goes well.”
His players’ thoughts go with him.
The Hawkeyes (20-12) have a lot on their minds during their long-awaited return to the tournament. A team that was ranked No. 10 in the AP Top 25 poll two months ago wound up with one of the final at-large bids after dropping six of its last seven games.
They’ll face a Tennessee team that has won five of six and is in the tournament for the seventh time in the last nine years. The Volunteers lost to Michigan in their last appearance in 2011.
As they prepare for Tennessee, the Hawkeyes are thinking about a teenager having surgery back home.
“Pat is a guy that is basically at practice with us every day. He’s like our little brother,” guard Roy Devyn Marble said. “He’s in a tough spot, so we’re just trying to make this as simple and easy for him as possible.”
Five things to watch in their First Four game:
TOURNAMENT TWINS: Iowa and Tennessee already spent some time together at a tournament in the Bahamas last November. They scouted each other in case they’d play, but never met. Instead, both of them beat Xavier, which also ended up in the First Four in Dayton playing on Tuesday night. They still have those scouting reports, but so much has changed that they’re not really all that helpful.
“I think we’re a totally different team in all aspects from top to bottom,” Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon aid.
SHOOTING STARS: One of the most intriguing matchups will be the shooting guards. Marble is 6-foot-6 and averages a team-high 17.3 points. Tennessee’s Jordan McRae is 6-foot-6 and averages a team-high 18.6 points.
“I think our games resemble each other a little bit,” said Marble, whose father Roy remains Iowa’s leading scorer with 2,116 career points from 1986-89. “He’s asked to carry a lot of the scoring load for that team, and, yes, I will be guarding him.”
TENNESSEE D: The Volunteers finished the season strong by relying on their defense. They’ve held their last four opponents to an average of 47.4 points. In the last five games, they’ve given up only 38, 54, 45, 44 and 56 points. Tennessee allowed 61.1 points in SEC games, trailing only Florida in stinginess.
HAWKEYE SECOND HALVES: Iowa’s defense has disintegrated in the second half lately, leading to that streak of six losses in seven games. Northwestern shot 55 percent from the field in the second half of the Wildcats’ 67-62 win in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. The Hawkeyes have done an acceptable job at containing the other teams’ top threats, only to get hurt by someone else having a big game. Iowa has allowed 86 or more points three times in the last six games.
McCAFFERY’S PLACE: Even though the Hawkeyes don’t have any NCAA tournament experience on the roster, their head coach has plenty of it and enjoyed one of his best March moments at University of Dayton Arena in 2009, when his Siena team beat Ohio State 74-72 in double overtime.
“We’re in the locker room next to the locker room that we celebrated in,” said McCaffery, who has led four teams to the tournament. “I remember walking off the floor like it was yesterday.”
Tennessee played NCAA tournament games in Dayton in 2001 and 2009 and lost both of them.