Iowa CITY, Iowa - Iowa Senior Eric May anxiously watched the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Sunday. The disappoint of being left out of the field was capped off by a graphic showing the Hawkeyes as one of the final six teams eliminated from consideration.
"That's about when I turned the TV off," May said.
Seven of Iowa's eight losses in the Big Ten came by four points or less. It included a 59-56 setback against Michigan State Friday in the conference tournament quarterfinals where it led by 12 points with 10 minutes to play.
"We know what we did during the season and what we could have done to move up in there," May said. "There no saying the Michigan State game would have gotten us in. We were right there but now it's time to make some noise in the NIT."
The Hawkeyes' refocused mission started on Sunday. It became NIT Championship or bust.
"We've already won one game in the first round (of the NIT in 2012)," Hawkeye Junior Roy Devyn Marble said. "That's not the goal anymore. Now, it's to actually win it.
"Last year, we were happy to be in there even though wanted to go as far as possible. Now, we really feel like we can win it."
The journey to the NIT Final Four in Madison Square Garden begins Wednesday night against Indiana State in Carver-Hawkeye Arena ( 6 p.m. CT, ESPN2). The winner plays the UMass-Stony Brook survivor at a date, time and location to be determined.
"Obviously, it was disappointing not seeing our name up there (for the NCAAs), but a lot of teams aren't playing right now," Iowa Junior Zach McCabe said. "Having a chance to play in the NIT is a great opportunity."
Iowa missed the NCAA Tournament for the seventh year in a row. Still, it appears Coach Fran McCaffery has moved the program in a positive direction as evidenced by the more than 13,000 tickets sold for Wednesday game as of Tuesday afternoon.
The Hawkeyes are hoping to use a striping NIT performance as momentum heading into '13-14. May is the only scholarship player using up his eligibility this season.
"We are set up with a lot of returning players with some level of success this year," McCaffery said. "What you'll see is a team that's hungry, especially this spring and summer when they get in and get extra work in. What you'll see is a much better team next year; a team much more capable of doing things on a consistent basis."
Iowa will be afforded an opportunity to work on weaknesses against the dangerous Sycamores (18-14) of the Missouri Valley Conference. They're coached by former Hawkeye Assistant and Harlan native, Greg Lansing.
"They're a team that's always in control," McCaffery said. "They don't panic. They have a variety of weapons."
The main cog in the Indiana State engine is point guard Jake Odum, a first-team all-MVC selection averaging 13.8 points, 4.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. He's 6-foot-4, long and can be a match-up nightmare.
"He's a very crafty player," Iowa Point Guard Mike Gesell said. "He has a little bit of an unorthodox type of game, different than any player I've probably played this year. He's great at getting to the basket and making crafty plays for others. He can basically do it all. He's a guy that has to have your full attention."
Indiana State defeated NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed Miami in December. The Sycamores also won at Wichita State, a team that took down Iowa in the non-conference season. They were in the discussion for the Big Dance before losing six of their final eight games.
"Their team chemistry is really good," Marble said. "I can tell that just from watching them on film. We really have to be in tune defensively."
Gesell missed Monday's practice after tweaking a foot injury against Michigan State that had caused him to miss the final four games of the regular season. He expected to be back at Tuesday's workout even if on a limited basis.
"I feel good," the freshman said. "I think I'm ready to go (against Indiana State). It was a little sore (after Michigan State). I've just been resting it so it won't get more sore before the game.
"There's not much therapy you can do for a bone except rest. I'm just trying to stay off of it as much as possible."