An Early Look at the Iowa Hawkeyes and the NCAA Tournament
College sports are wild. Like, really wild. A season’s roller coaster ride for all but the bluest of blue bloods is enough to give the most invested fans a brain aneurysm. That has perhaps never been truer than in the season the Iowa Hawkeyes currently have on the hardwood.
Just a few weeks ago, this team seemed dead in the water. The Hawkeyes lost five of eight games in the month of December, punctuated by the biggest upset in modern college basketball history when they were not only beaten, but blown at home by a completely abysmal team from the Eastern Illinois the week before Christmas. That loss snowballed into back-to-back Big Ten losses to end New Years weekend and sitting at 8-6 overall and 0-3 in conference, Fran McCaffery was said to have lost his team, that maybe he should be let go and that this team would be lucky to make the NIT, let alone the NCAA Tournament.
Starting in the new year, however, the Hawkeyes won four straight Big Ten wins to get back into contention for the coveted double bye come Big Ten tournament time in March. Iowa found new ways to win, getting strong contributions from big man Filip Rebraca every night, while Payton Sandfort went from an 0-19 conference start to one of the hottest shooters of the conference. Connor McCaffery proved a stabilizing force, Kris Murray did his best impression of what twin brother Keegan is doing for the Kings (i.e. hitting virtually every open stare he gets) and Tony Perkins put the exclamation mark on things with a career-high 22 points in Iowa’s home win over Maryland.
But just when it looked like this group had figured things out and were poised to be a force on the stretch, a COVID-19 outbreak at Northwestern caused the Hawkeyes’ game with the Wildcats to be postponed and the pace conference play has been interrupted. . Iowa traveled to Columbus last weekend and walked away with their first loss in three weeks after giving up the most points since the miserable home debacle with Eastern Illinois that began their slide. initial.
Now, with the regular season more than halfway over and the conference slate approaching the midpoint, the roller coaster ride continues for the Hawkeyes with a pivotal fork in the approaching road. Iowa is scheduled to travel to East Lansing on Thursday for a second straight road game against a quad-1 NCAA opponent. A win would not only boost Iowa’s resumption of the NCAA Tournament, but could also move the Hawkeyes into the top 4 in the conference pending further results. A loss would drop Iowa to 12-8 on the year and potentially as low as 10th in the conference standings (again, pending further results).
So where exactly are things in this critical time for the Hawkeyes? Actually pretty decent. Certainly much better than feared a few weeks ago, but maybe not as good as they looked just a week ago with a home game against Northwestern on deck.
Iowa enters the game against Michigan State on Thursday night at 12-7 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten. That puts them in a 3-way tie for 7th in the conference with Indiana and Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes, of course, have already beaten the Hoosiers and lost to the Badgers in Carver with return dates at both schools on the slate in February.
Using data from Sagarin, mred provides projected game results and subsequent conference standings impacts on bball.notnothing.net. As it stands, Iowa is expected to drop the game at East Lansing, but still top 4 in the conference thanks to wins over Northwestern, Illinois, @Minnesota, Ohio State, @Wisconsin, Michigan State and Nebraska.
Here’s a look at the full predicted Big Ten standings using current Sagarin data as of January 25.
1. Purdue (18 – 2)
2. Rutgers (14 – 6) Beat Indiana based on winning percentage against No. 1 teams [Purdue] (1-0).
3. Indiana (14 – 6) Lost to Rutgers based on winning percentage against No. 1 teams [Purdue] (1-1).
4. Iowa (12 – 8) Defeated Illinois on a one-on-one basis (1-0).
5. Illinois (12 – 8) Lost to Iowa based on a head-to-head record (0-1).
6. Mich Street (11 – 9)
7. Maryland (10 – 10)
8. Ohio St (9 – 11) Defeated Michigan, N’western and Penn St based on a round robin record (3-1).
9. Michigan (9 – 11) Defeated N’western and Penn St and lost to Ohio St on a round robin record (3-2).
10. N’western (9 – 11) Defeated Penn St and lost to Ohio St and Michigan on a round robin record basis (2-3).
11. Penn St (9 – 11) Lost to Ohio St, Michigan and N’western based on a round robin record (1-3).
12. Wisconsin (8 – 12)
13. Nebraska (4 – 16)
14. Minnesota (1 – 19)
As for the Big Ten tournament, it would go pretty well for the Hawkeyes. As noted, that would provide the coveted double bye and a path to the semifinals that would include every team the Hawkeyes have already beaten in the regular season.
Here is a preview of the support using only the currently projected results. Note that you can play with individual match results at bball.notnothing.net and see the impact on the final Big Ten standings as well as the tournament draw.
While not as enjoyable as the 3-seeded draw, a double bye is a huge key to Big Ten tournament success. Picture via http://bball.notnothing.net/
Perhaps more important than the Big Ten standings is the state of affairs when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. After getting rid of the proverbial BTT monkey a season ago, the only major sticking point for most Hawkeye fans is the lack of NCAAT wins and that all-important return to the Sweet Sixteen.
As it stands, Iowa is pretty firmly on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Despite a modest impact from the loss of Ohio State, the Hawkeyes have a top-40 NET ranking while advanced metrics all look very supportive of Iowa’s season so far. RPI continues to prove woefully outdated and almost entirely useless, though it’s still something apparently being reviewed by the selection committee.
Here is an overview of the state of affairs according to the various measures as of January 25.
More important than raw metrics is the Hawkeyes’ CV. Iowa enters this pivotal sequence at 4-4 in quad-1. It’s a winning number for the tournament, just like the 2-2 record in quad-2. But the softer part of Iowa’s schedule is starting to crumble a bit as Georgia Tech fell to a quad-4 win while this Eastern Illinois black eye pops out really on a resume.
The Hawkeyes get little help from the softer part of their schedule. Image via warrennolan.com
Despite that bright red spot on the right, the Hawkeyes should be safe at draft Sunday. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has 8-seeded Iowa in his most recent hiatus, opening things up in Birmingham, AL against 9-seeded New Mexico. While it looks like an enticing first-round matchup, facing a 1-seeded matchup in the Round of 16 is no recipe for the Hawkeyes advancing to their first Sweet Sixteen in 24 years.
Picture via ESPN
Seed 8 projected by Lunardi is in line with the larger consensus. According to BracketMatrix.com, this is exactly where Iowa is projecting on average. However, there’s definitely some variability between projections, as you’d expect for a team that’s had its ups and downs like Iowa this season. Hawkeyes are projected from as high as a 5 seed to as low as an 11 seed by various bracketologists contributing to the Bracket Matrix project.
The road to reaching the top end of those potential results begins Thursday night with a trip to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans, who are expected to be a 7 seed. The Hawkeyes and Spartans will announce at 6 p.m. 00 CT. The game will be broadcast on FS1.