FAYETTE, IOWA — Four years ago, Tucker Wentzien, Jake Hughes and Sam Elgin all decided to attend Upper Iowa and play basketball.
The three knew each other by reputation and from having played summer ball together. They thought it would be fun to play close to home, even though the program had been struggling.
So Sunday night, when the Peacocks team joined to watch the NCAA selection show, Wentzien said it was “pure pandemonium” when it was revealed that Upper Iowa would be the sixth seed and advance to the national tournament.
“It was crazy,” he said. “We just had to be careful not to spill the pizza on the floor.”
Upper Iowa (20-11) will take on Augustana (21-8) at noon today in the first quarterfinal of the Central Region men’s basketball tournament at Bresnan Arena. It’s the first trip to the Division II national tournament for the program.
“It was pretty cool to see,” said coach Brian Dolan, who is in his seventh season at Upper Iowa. “We were watching the show, and we had no clue if we were in or not. It was wonderful to see these kids have a chance to celebrate this accomplishment.”
The seniors have been through their share of adversity in the last three seasons, compiling a 30-51 record in that time. But this season, the veteran Peacocks have been a threat in nearly every game. They’ve won at Minnesota State, Winona State and Augustana, the other three Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference teams in the region field.
“We have to feel like we belong there,” Dolan said. “Confidence goes a long way.”
Wentzien, a 6-foot-8 post, is the leader at 14.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, while the 6-6 Elgin is averaging 12.6 points and 4.8 boards. Point guard Hughes is averaging 12.0 points and 4.6 rebounds.
“At Upper Iowa, we take a lot of pride in the people that came before us and building on what they accomplished,” Wentzien said. “To be the first group to go to the national tournament is very special for us.”
The Peacocks are known as a disciplined, hard-working group. They average 69.0 points, but they allow just 64.0 points. In basketball, scoring more points than the opponent is the biggest stat.
“The way we play, we’re going to be in a dogfight every game,” Dolan said. “We don’t have a guy where you can clear space and let him go get us a basket.
“We have to trust each other. We don’t get many easy wins, but I don’t think other teams get easy wins against us.”