Iowa worried about Baylor's offense ahead of NIT final — not potential attention

BY IAN MARTIN | APRIL 04, 2013 5:00 AM

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NEW YORK CITY — It’s Iowa’s big game in the Big Apple.

And even though it’s the NIT, not the NCAA Tournament, both teams are treating it like the Final Four.

“This tournament isn’t as bad as people think,” Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson said. “Some great teams in it and a lot of great competition … None of the games are going to be easy.”

Iowa (25-12, 9-9 Big Ten) and Baylor (22-14, 9-9 Big 12) are pursuing the first NIT title for their respective schools. The Bears could also become the first Big 12 university to be victorious in the tournament, which has been contested since 1938.

Stakes and potential pressures are similar for the Black and Gold. The game is on America’s most popular stage in Madison Square Garden, and on ESPN’s main network. It will be the most-watched 40 minutes of Iowa basketball under Fran McCaffery or his predecessor and possibly of this millennium.

But the usual occupants of Carver-Hawkeye Arena are playing down their surroundings before tip-off.

“Big Ten play prepares you for this, and our coach does a great job preparing us,” junior Devyn Marble said. “Everybody is comfortable, and it’s showing.”

It has showed for Iowa during the entirety of the NIT.

The Hawkeyes have won all four games so far by double-digits, despite holding halftime leads of no more than 5 in every contest. Marble has scored at least 21 points in every game of the tournament, while players are contributing when needed, such as Zach McCabe and Adam Woodbury — both of whom scored 10 points in the third round against Virginia.

Woodbury in particular has impressed his head coach on offense and defense after going up against 7-1 NBA prospect Alex Len of Maryland on Tuesday.

“He moved with the ball, he got his high hand up, and he got in front [of Len],” McCaffery said. “He really understood angles and made it difficult for him.”

The freshman center could be the difference tonight as well, because the Bears use big men Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson prominently. The also-freshman 7-1 Austin recorded a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds in Baylor’s victory over BYU in the NIT semifinals, while Jefferson has scored 21 points minimum in the last three rounds.

“You look for the chinks in the [Baylor] armor, and there are not a lot,” McCaffery said. “They’ve got so many different weapons that we have to prepare for.”

The most lethal of said weapons is stellar senior point guard Jackson. The Las Vegas native averages nearly 20 points and 7 assists per game as the facilitator of a dynamic offense. Jackson drew comparisons with Big Ten standouts Trey Burke, Aaron Craft, and Keith Appling from McCaffery, who once played point guard himself.

Jackson is a senior, as are three other players on the Baylor roster. For Iowa, it’ll be the final games for captain Eric May and walk-on Christopher Rickert.

Four teams finish their Division-I men’s basketball postseasons with a meaningful victory — the winners of the NCAA Tournament, NIT, and the lesser known College Basketball Invitational and Collegeinsider.com Tournament winners. It’s a unique joy to end a season with a win, even if the trophy held up isn’t the ultimate victory of the NCAA title.

“There’s one goal,” May said. “And that’s to win games, win a championship.”

“We want to be one of those happy teams,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said.

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