When the Iowa Hawkeyes and Cincinnati Bearcats get Friday's first round action started, it will be a matchup of two teams with plenty of NCAA Tournament history. The programs have combined for 59 appearances, which have resulted in a 74-58 record, 21 Sweet 16 trips, 12 Elite Eight berths, nine Final Four bids, and four national championship game appearances. While national titles have been hard to come by (Cincinnati won it in 1961 and '62, Iowa has none), the consistency of both programs is what most schools dream to have. Both teams would love to end their championship droughts this year, and to do so they'll have to take down the other in the first round.
The Bearcats (28-6) finished second in the uber-competitive American Athletic Conference where eight of the 12 teams recorded at least 18 wins. They then upset regular-season champion Houston in the conference tournament to secure the automatic bid. The Hawkeyes (22-11) navigated the rugged Big Ten to finish sixth with a 10-10 mark before falling to Michigan in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. Still, their overall body of work was enough to get them an at-large bid, one of eight Big Ten teams in this year's field.
Both teams may have taken different paths to get here, but the road to Minneapolis is simple... just win, win, win, win.
South Region: No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes (22-11) vs. No. 7 Cincinnati Bearcats (28-6)
Time: Approximately 12:15 p.m. ET (Friday)
Where: Nationwide Arena (Columbus, Ohio)
Keys for Iowa
Four of Iowa's five starters (forwards Tyler Cook and Luka Garza, guards Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp) average double figures in scoring and shoot 40 percent or better from the field. The Hawkeyes must make their shots to keep Cincinnati on its toes. Getting a high volume of shots to fall could work in Iowa's favor as 13 of the Bearcats games this year have been decided by five points or less. If Iowa can keep it close the Hawkeyes will have a chance. Fran McCaffery's team is 4-1 in games decided by that same margin.
Keys for Cincinnati
Leading the way for Mick Cronin's squad is his backcourt tandem of Jarron Cumberland (18.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.6 apg), and Keith Williams (10.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.1 apg), along with a helping hand from forward Tre Scott (9.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 47 percent from the field). The Bearcats' best path to victory will be to find and exploit holes in the Iowa defense. Eight of Iowa's 11 losses were by 10 or more points and the Hawkeyes allow an average of 68 points per game. That falls right in line with Cincinnati's profile. The Bearcats have posted 15 double-digit victories and are averaging 71 points per game. If Cincinnati can dissect Iowa's defense, the team from the AAC should be in cruise control.
As efficient and effective as Iowa can be on offense, their occasional concerns on defense (which coach McCaffrey touched on earlier in the season) may pose a problem. Especially since the second half and overtime have been problematic in their last eight games. The Hawkeyes have been outscored 341-318 during the latter stages of those games, posting a 2-6 record in the process. Then there's the fact that playing in Nationwide Arena in Columbus makes this somewhat of a home game for Cincinnati, as it's less than two hours from campus. Iowa will make this an exciting game to watch, but the Bearcats take it up an extra notch and advance with a close win.
Prediction: Cincinnati 72, Iowa 69
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.