This looked like a breakout year for the Iowa Hawkeyes. After knocking off #3 Ohio State in Columbus and dominating the Minnesota Gophers, they skyrocketed up to the #10 spot in the polls for the week of January 20. But outside of a victory against Michigan, their season has taken a sharp turn for the worse. They lost their chance for a bye in the Big Ten Tournament, and are now the #6 seed, awaiting a matchup with the Northwestern Wildcats. What should we expect from the Hawkeyes in the BTT? What will this mean for their spot in the NCAA Tournament?
Here's a microcosm of Iowa's last 7 games, in Vine form:
This metal beam helped to postpone Iowa's matchup with Indiana on February 18th, and helped to send Iowa on a string of poor performances. They lost 6 of those 7 games, with their only win coming against lowly Purdue. They kept practically all of their losses close, but dropped some winnable games. Now, Iowa will soon be out of the top 25, and are currently an 8 seed in SB Nation's bracketology.
So they'll head into Indianapolis on a losing streak. Not to worry, because they'll receive a hearty dose of Northwestern to heal all their basketball-related ailments. Even though Iowa looks crappy recently, Northwestern has looked even worse. Northwestern has lost 7 of their last 8 games, also only winning against Purdue (there's a theme here - Purdue really sucks). The very same Northwestern team that came into Madison and trounced the Badgers put up 32 points against Penn State. Not anymore.
The majority of Iowa's struggles have stemmed from poor defense, but that shouldn't be tested too bad against Northwestern's pitiful offense. Drew Crawford is a nice player, and can put up decent numbers, but that's all Northwestern will bring to the table offensively. Don't get it twisted - Iowa is prone to letting random wings put up huge numbers (sup Will Sheehey). But Iowa is simply too talented to falter against Northwestern in the first round. And you can take this with a grain of salt, but Iowa beat Northwestern earlier in the year twice by 26. I can't imagine Iowa dropping this one.
But what if they do? For starters, Fran McCaffery will freak out like he's never freaked out before. But will that put them on the bubble? If they lose to Northwestern, they'll drop from the 8 seed spot. For an at-large team from large conferences, they can't fall too far without dropping out of the tournament. They'll land at around a 9 or a 10 seed, and shouldn't be pulling their hair out too badly come selection Sunday. If that scenario happens, part of me would pick Iowa to make a run. Yes, losing to Northwestern would confirm all fears about their recent struggles, but a team with this kind of talent at the 10 seed spot? They could do some damage.
Let's assume that Iowa doesn't lose to Northwestern. They would then move on to play Michigan State, the #3 seed. I have a hard time seeing the Iowa team of late beating Michigan State. By no means are the Spartans on a roll, but Michigan State is the better team. Their result from March 6 tells a good story of these two teams. That game, Gary Harris finally broke out of his scoring slump, and put up double figures for the first time in a month. Offensively, Iowa was pretty one-dimensional: Roy Devyn Marble had 24 points, but did so on 17 shots. No one else on the team had more than 10. For Iowa to move past MSU, someone else will have to step up offensively. But that "someone else" will be hard to find, considering how much Iowa has struggled recently. If Marble stays hot and Mike Gesell contains Keith Appling, then maybe Iowa has a shot. But I don't see the Hawkeyes making it past the Spartans.
I was chugging the Iowa Kool-Aid in January. I thought their versatility and depth made them the perfect candidate for a March run. I may or may not have said to my roommates that I thought they were a Final Four team. But today, my thirst for the Iowa Kool-Aid has run dry. A win over Northwestern and a loss to Michigan State won't change their position in March - they'll remain an 8 or a 9 seed. But I don't see them making it past the round of 32, if that.
The weird thing is that the computers love Iowa. Kenpom has them at 17, higher than Cincinnati and UNC. That makes me think Iowa could figure this out, but in terms of the Big Ten Tournament, I don't expect too much from the Hawkeyes this year.