It’s generally been a pretty successful season for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Despite suffering some significant losses in the offseason, the team has built a pretty good resume and will enter this week’s Big Ten Tournament in great position to make the NCAA Tournament once again. Even if things spiral during the next two weeks, it’s been a decent season.
However, Iowa’s recent struggles have made fans wonder about the team’s chances in March, namely the team’s underwhelming 5-6 record over its last 11 games.
But can Iowa reverse the trend in Indy? Let’s take a look.
As the five seed, Iowa will open things up on Thursday afternoon against the winner of Wednesday’s contest between Minnesota and Northwestern. By any ordinary measure, Iowa should be favored against whomever it faces in that matchup. Iowa is ranked above both on KenPom and went 3-0 against the teams during the regular season.
The B1G tourney field is set. pic.twitter.com/pV0b4p0nxl— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 9, 2020
Of the two potential opponents, Minnesota is clearly the more dangerous of the two. The Gophers are better than Northwestern in virtually every statistical category and are better than their underwhelming 14-16 overall record indicates. Minnesota is 29th nationally on KenPom and has been playing much better than Iowa as of late. While Iowa went 5-6 over its last 11 games, Minnesota ranked 16th nationally in team efficiency over the same period.
Moreover, Minnesota would have the benefit of confidence and comfort, having played (and won) the day before. Iowa will be coming into its Thursday game ice cold after being off since Sunday. Playing back-to-back games will eventually wear you out, but it takes more than two games to do it. If Minnesota can hit the ground running and get Iowa down, perhaps they can sneak out the upset. The same would be true for Northwestern, should the Wildcats upset the Gophers on Wednesday.
With all that said, Iowa will be favored on Thursday, no matter who it faces. If Luka Garza and the team’s guards show up, Iowa should be able to move on to Friday.
-If They Advance
Should Iowa make it past Minnesota or Northwestern on Thursday, it would then have to face Illinois on Friday. The teams split the regular season series in two of the nastier games in the Big Ten this season. The coaches and rosters clearly don’t like each other. As such, if the two end up playing on Friday, grab your popcorn.
Interestingly, the advanced numbers actually like Iowa in a potential matchup between the Hawkeyes and Illini. The team’s have relatively similar profiles, but Iowa is actually ranked seven spots higher on KenPom than Illinois and would project as a small favorite. Of course, like many of Iowa’s games this season, it would likely boil down to how Garza plays and whether Iowa’s defense can slow down Illinois whatsoever, which didn’t happen last Sunday, when Iowa allowed Illinois to score 1.24 points per possession.
But unlike in Iowa’s opening round game, Iowa would have the advantage of being the hot team going into Friday’s matchup. The Hawkeyes would have played (and won) the day before against either Minnesota and Northwestern. Meanwhile, Illinois will have been sidelined since beating Iowa last Sunday. Hawkeye fans would have to hope the team can use that to jump out to an early lead.
After that, Iowa would likely face Michigan or Wisconsin on Saturday. During the regular season, Iowa went 2-1 against the Badgers and Wolverines. The Hawkeyes are also actually ranked above Wisconsin on KenPom at the moment. On paper, that doesn’t seem like an incredibly unfavorable matchup. Iowa would then likely have to overcome Maryland or Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament title game, which would obviously be a major challenge in its own right.
Regardless of what happens in this week’s Big Ten Tournament, Iowa fans should rest assured about the team’s NCAA hopes. The Hawkeyes are going to make this year’s Big Dance and it probably won’t even be that close. TRank actually currently projects Iowa as a six seed in the field, speaking to how comfortably the team should make the cut.
However, the disadvantage of being the five seed means Iowa is going to have to play against a “bad” team on Thursday afternoon. As noted above, I don’t actually think Minnesota is a bad team, but there’s no debating that Minnesota’s overall resume is underwhelming. As such, Iowa has the potential to suffer a bad loss from a NET perspective, which means the team could come tumbling down in the bracketology projections.
Iowa’s overall resume probably won’t change a ton this week, but avoiding a bad loss on Thursday would certainly help the team’s postseason positioning.
Despite falling flat a few times over the last month, Iowa’s had a pretty solid season. The Hawkeyes are headed toward the NCAA Tournament and could be a sleeper in March thanks to the team’s all-star big man. And the team has a decent path to a nice run in Indy, if it can avoid an upset on Thursday.