The Big Ten put six teams in the NCAA tournament, and one of them will get an early start.
Iowa, as an 11th seed, will be one of eight teams playing first-round games, dubbed the First Four, on Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio. Iowa will play Tennessee on Wednesday with the winner moving on to Raleigh, N.C., for a Midwest Regional game.
This will be Iowa’s first NCAA appearance since 2006.
“It didn’t matter what seed [we were] or where we were going, I am just excited for the opportunity,” junior Aaron White said. “These guys [seniors] have worked so hard since they got here from where we’ve come to where we are. I know people are frustrated with how the season ended, but we’re in. That’s all you can ask for.”
The rest of the Big Ten teams are Michigan (No. 2 in the Midwest), Wisconsin (No. 2 in the West), Michigan State (No. 4 in the East), Ohio State (No. 6 in the South) and Nebraska (No. 11 in the West).
Michigan State is appearing in the tournament for the 17th consecutive year, and Wisconsin for the 16th.
“You don’t get many teams that are talented, have inside and outside, show toughness, are together, have great chemistry,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I’ve said three times in my career that I thought we were good enough to get to a Final Four. I thought this team was next in line.”
Nebraska is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. It has never won a tournament game in six appearances.
Virginia riding high
Virginia, which won its first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title since 1976 on Sunday, joined Florida, Arizona and Wichita State as the tournament’s No. 1 seeds.
“I think you have to be faithful to what brought you to this point, which is you play the kind of basketball we’ve been playing and continue to have that drive and have that hunger to play well because of the way the tournament is,” coach Tony Bennett said. “Every team you play is so solid. This will be another challenge that way to be ready to go.”
The Cavaliers face a rugged path if they want to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1984: Big East regular-season champion Villanova is the No. 2 seed, Big 12 tournament champion Iowa State is No. 3, and Michigan State is No. 4.
Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman, the chairman of the selection committee, said Virginia’s two ACC championships — regular season and tournament — made the Cavaliers the choice for a top seed over Michigan and Villanova, despite an RPI rating of 11.
Gridlock on the bubble
The challenge of wedging unexpected conference champions with automatic bids into the field — such as Providence from the Big East — probably forced the exclusion of bubble teams Southern Methodist, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Florida State and Georgetown. In the 31 conference tournaments this season, only 11 No. 1 seeds claimed a league title.
“I thought Green Bay was the one team that I thought had the profile of being worthy,” said CBS analyst Clark Kellogg, noting that Wisconsin-Green Bay (24-6) lost to Milwaukee in the Horizon League semifinals after winning the regular-season title. “Factoring the number of No. 1 seeds that didn’t win, that may have created some issues for a team like Green Bay because it squeezed the bubble a touch.”