Breaking Down Iowa’s Best Path to the DancePosted by KTrahan on February 13th, 2013
What can we make of Iowa right now? That’s a tough question to answer. Most people would probably agree that the Hawkeyes are better than their 4-7 Big Ten record. Some would say it’s impressive that Iowa has hung with so many good teams — such as Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan State. Some would say the fact that the Hawkeyes can’t get over the hump shows that they’re still a year away. Some would say both. As the schedule cools down, Iowa’s conference record will inevitably improve. That means the Hawkeyes will likely be inserted back into the bubble conversation and should be right on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament come March. But will Iowa have the resume necessary to make it back to the Big Dance for the first time since 2006? That’s up for debate.
There’s a lot of speculation that a 9-9 conference record is more than enough to get Iowa into the NCAA Tournament because of how good the Big Ten is this year. However, I don’t buy it. That’s not how the selection committee works. They don’t let teams with a certain conference record in just because that conference is good, nor do they only allow a certain number of teams in from each conference. Resumes are based mainly on quality wins compared with bad losses, and if a team from another conference has more quality wins and fewer bad losses than a 9-9 Iowa team, that team is going to get the nod over the Hawkeyes.
So the question is whether Iowa can improve its resume enough to get into the NCAA Tournament. If the season ended today, the Hawkeyes don’t have enough. Iowa is 4-7 in the Big Ten, but more importantly, they have just two quality wins: Wisconsin and Iowa State at home. The team is probably good enough to make the NCAA Tournament, but it hasn’t done enough to finish in close games yet, losing heart-breakers to all of Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan State and Purdue. Any one of those losses — save for maybe the Boilermakers — could have counted as a quality win. However, Iowa fell short in all of them, so its postseason fate now sits in limbo.
The remaining schedule is both a blessing and a curse for the Hawkeyes. On one hand, there are a lot of winnable games. On the other hand, there are very few chances for a quality win. Ken Pomeroy gives Iowa at least a 73 percent chance to win four of its remaining games (two against Nebraska, at Penn State and Purdue at home). We’ll assume the Hawkeyes will win those games, not because they’re a given — they’re not — but because it’s not even worth discussing Iowa’s NCAA Tournament chances if it doesn’t win those games.
That leaves three others: at Indiana, vs. Illinois, vs. Minnesota. Obviously, the Indiana game is a huge long shot — Pomeroy lists Iowa’s chances of winning at just nine percent. If the Hawkeyes manage to win that one, that gives them an enormous resume boost. For all intents and purposes, we’ll chalk that one up as a loss, putting the emphasis on the Illinois and Minnesota games. Either of those games would be considered a marquee win, but does Iowa need to get both? Assuming everything else goes as planned, sweeping those games would likely get Fran McCaffery’s squad into the NCAA Tournament with a resume that includes a 10-8 Big Ten record and four quality wins. A split in these games would likely push the Hawkeyes to 9-9, where they’d head into the Big Ten Tournament as a #7 or #8 seed, and they’d probably need to win at least one game in the Big Ten Tournament to make it in, considering their resume wouldn’t be all that impressive with a first round exit.
As we’ve learned this season, anything can happen in college basketball, so this far out from Selection Sunday, it’s tough to predict whether Iowa will head to the Big Dance or the NIT this postseason. Still, the road map is pretty laid out in terms of what the Hawkeyes need to do to get there. Now the question becomes whether they can do it.