All Indiana State men's basketball coach Greg Lansing could do is smile and then laugh when hearing the news that his Sycamores would be traveling to Iowa City to face the Iowa Hawkeyes on Wednesday night.
The former Iowa assistant coach spent seven seasons at Iowa in what he called "some of the best seven years of my life."Then he remembered the job in front of him, and knows his Sycamores are in for a hefty challenge.
"That's an NCAA tournament team without question," Lansing said. "They just didn't do enough in the end for the committee. I am glad to go back to Iowa for this game but then I remember the task at hand, and it won't be easy."
The Hawkeyes will be hosting a National Invitational Tournament game for the second straight season. Iowa (21-11) knocked off second-seeded Dayton as a seventh seed last year before losing at No. 3 seeded Oregon.
This time around, the Hawkeyes were good enough to be on the NCAA tournament bubble but seven losses in Big Ten play by four points or less and a low RPI popped the bubble on selection Sunday.
"It gives you an opportunity to play in a national tournament against great opponents," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "It's a phenomenal experience in so many different ways. Everyone's hope is that they can play more than one game and recognize that it's hard to get in and it's going to be difficult to advance because of the quality of opponents that we are going to play. It's an opportunity to keep playing when a lot of other teams aren't."
The game will tip off at 6:03 p.m. Wednesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and can be seen on ESPN2. It will be second meeting all-time between the two programs. Iowa won 39-37 in the only other meeting back in 1940. The Hawkeyes are 123-43 against teams from the Missouri Valley Conference all-time.
Both teams have four wins over teams in the RPI top 50.
Iowa defeated Iowa State, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois, while Indiana State has wins over conference rivals Wichita State, Creighton, Miami (Fla.) and Ole Miss. All eight of those teams will be playing in the NCAA tournament.
"We're thrilled with the opportunity to play in a phenomenal field in the NIT and host a first-round game," McCaffery said. "It's an exciting opportunity for our fans and we have tremendous respect for Indiana State. You look at some of the incredibly impressive wins that they had and they've got some really good players. We have great respect for Greg Lansing and the job he has done there and throughout his career. We know what's in store for us."
What's in store for Iowa is definitely a large dose of first-team all-MVC guard Jake Odum, who ranked in the top 10 in the Valley in points, assists and steals this year. He averages 13.8 points and 4.6 assists per game. Manny Arop also will be a handful after he averaged 12.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Iowa, which is 7-3 in its last 10 games, is led by junior guard Roy Devyn Marble and sophomore Aaron White. Marble leads team in scoring at 14.1 and also grabs four rebounds per tilt. White is just one of four players in the Big Ten to average at least 13.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per contest.
"Iowa is so balanced. They play hard. Guys play like crazy," said Lansing, who will be guiding the Sycamores to their fourth straight postseason, which is a school record. "Marble and White are both really good. They cause problems at both ends of the floor.
"I really like their young guys. I recruited (Zach) McCabe and (Josh) Oglesby. I am impressed with what Fran has done. I am a closet fan. I want them to do well except on Wednesday night."
Lansing began his coaching career at Des Moines Roosevelt and then took an assistant coaching job at Indiana State that was offered to him by Sherman Dillard, who is now an assistant coach at Iowa. Dillard served as Sycamores head coach from 1994-97.
Lansing left ISU (18-14) to head to Iowa as an assistant under Steve Alford before eventually returning to Indiana State as head coach.
"That was a good memory," Lansing said. "I left a great job and a great town that I love and made the difficult decision. I am glad I did. It worked out well for me. I thank coach Dillard a lot for giving me a chance.
"I got a big smile on my face and laughed when I got the email from the NIT about playing Iowa. That was seven of the best years of my life. It wasn't my choice to leave. I'll never forget my time there."
This will be Iowa's seventh appearance in the NIT. The Hawkeyes' all-time NIT record is 5-6.
The winner of Wednesday's game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena will face either second-seeded Massachusetts or seventh-seeded Stony Brook.
The Hawkeyes sold 13,000 tickets in 12 hours for last year's NIT game against Dayton. McCaffery is hoping for a similar turnout this time around.
"Our fans were unbelievable that day," McCaffery said. "Hopefully we will do the same this year. We need our fans to do that again for us because our student body is on spring break. We're relying on our fan base to create the kind of atmosphere we hope to see on Wednesday night."
While Iowa was close to making the NCAA tournament after a 9-9 record in the Big Ten, senior Eric May is happy he gets a few more games before his career comes to an end.
"There are a lot of teams that want to be playing right now that aren't," May said. "We've worked all season long and this will be a great opportunity. It's going to be a lot of fun. There are some great teams in the field."
Iowa is a tough team, too, according to Lansing.
"I watched that Michigan State game on Friday and I told myself that Iowa will win the NIT (if they didn't make the NCAA tournament)," Lansing said. "Now we have to play them in the opener."