The Hawkeye basketball team opens the NIT at home on Wednesday night against Indiana state. A year ago a big crowd was on hand when the Hawks beat Dayton in a first round game in the NIT and coach Fran McCaffery hopes the fans respond once again.

The U of I ticket office says the game is nearly sold out. The Hawkeyes are 21-12 on the season and McCaffery says they have made big strides on the defensive end of the court. “We focused better at the defensive end of the floor and have been much more effective. Not where we need to be yet, but we are getting closer,” McCaffery says.

McCaffery says he has been pleased with the progress of the program and feels the future is bright as he thinks the group is becoming more confident and feels like they can go on the road and win or protect home court.

At one point, Indiana State was in the NCAA conversation but the Sycamores lost five of their last six games of the regular season. They enter with a record of 18-14. Indiana State coach Greg Lansing is a native of Iowa and says the Hawkeyes are a tough draw.

He says Iowa is without question a team that could win games in the NCAA tournament team that did not win enough games to win an at-large bid. Lansing spent seven years as an assistant coach at Iowa under Steve Alford.

“That’s seven of the best years of my life and that wasn’t my choice to leave,” Lansing says. He says it was a time he was thankful for and will never forget.

Lansing says he still has strong feelings for the Iowa program, calling himself a closet fan who wants them to win all the games when they are not playing his team. He calls McCaffery as good a coach as there is in the country.