ATLANTA -- Paul Hewitt was listening to a Northern Iowa game on the radio as he drove last week to a junior college tournament in Kansas.
Georgia Tech's fourth-year coach never imagined the Yellow Jackets would draw Northern Iowa as a first-round opponent in the NCAA tournament. But that's what happened Sunday when Georgia Tech was announced as the No. 3 seed of the St. Louis regional.
The Yellow Jackets (23-9) will face Northern Iowa (21-9) Friday night in Milwaukee. The winner will meet the Boston College-Utah winner on Sunday.
"It's ironic," Hewitt said. "It's just so funny that I listened to the game."
Following a semifinal loss to Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference Saturday, point guard Jarrett Jack would be shocked if any of his teammates took Northern Iowa, which earned a bid by winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, for granted.
The Panthers were the only MVC team to beat No. 24 Southern Illinois during the regular season. Northern Iowa, which is located in Cedar Falls, advanced to the NCAA tournament for the second time in school history.
Against a No. 3 seed in 1990, Northern Iowa upset heavily favored Missouri in the first round at Atlanta's old Omni.
"I definitely think we have the mentality that one loss and we go home," Jack said. "We learned this weekend that you don't have any choice but to treat every game as a one-game tournament."
Even though his team returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years, Jack believes the Yellow Jackets No. 3 seed will mean nothing when they face Northern Iowa Friday night in Milwaukee.
Jack, a sophomore point guard, hit the game-winning shot in the quarterfinals of Georgia Tech's win over 16th-ranked North Carolina Friday. He and the No. 14 Yellow Jackets suffered an 85-71 loss to No. 5 Duke the next day.
Hewitt knows Georgia Tech's upset victory March 6 at Duke, ending the Blue Devils' 41-game home winning streak, factored heavily in the Yellow Jackets' high seed.
"This is a step up, and obviously the credit goes to these players," Hewitt said. "You can design as many plays as you want, but if you can't finish the play or make the shot or get the rebound, you can practice until you're blue in the face, unless you've got guys who are capable and able, it makes a big difference."
Northern Iowa beat Southwest Missouri State to win the MVC tournament as Ben Jacobson tied a career high with 26 points and hit two 3-pointers in the second overtime last Monday.
Georgia Tech won four straight before losing Saturday.
B.J. Elder, who leads the Yellow Jackets with a 16.3 scoring average, thinks his team had a letdown against Duke after allowing the Blue Devils to consistently beat them on rebounds early in the second half.
"That usually dictates everything," Elder said. "That's what happened to us, but we've moved past it."
Senior forward Marvin Lewis played on Hewitt's first Georgia Tech team, which advanced to the NCAA tournament in 2001 before losing 66-62 in San Diego to St. Joseph's.
The Yellow Jackets were a No. 8 seed three years ago, but few picked them to return to college basketball's postseason championship after Chris Bosh left for the NBA after one year and Ed Nelson transferred to Connecticut.
"We've kept our composure, that's the most important thing," Lewis said. "It wasn't that big a deal because we didn't put too much emphasis on one or two players."
The last time Georgia Tech played in Milwaukee was 1992. James Forrest, then a freshman, hit his first career 3-pointer in a second-round, 79-78 victory over Southern California.
Overall, the Yellow Jackets have earned 13 NCAA trips, 10 coming under Hewitt's predecessor, Bobby Cremins.
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