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Can Iowa Win The Big Ten Tournament?

What will the Hawkeyes do in Indy?

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes entered this season with massive expectations. With such a loaded roster, Iowa seemed like an easy pick to win the Big Ten and much more in March. The team had an All-American in Luka Garza and plenty of talent and experience around him.

Unfortunately, things haven’t been as easy as they appeared on paper. Iowa has had a wonderful season, finishing near the top of the Big Ten and scoring numerous wins over top 25 teams. However, it’s hard to feel Iowa has lived up to expectations, if only because they were so ridiculously high entering the season. As such, fans are hoping the team can deliver in this week’s Big Ten Tournament and start grabbing some hardware.

So, can Iowa get the job done? Let’s take a look.

-Opening Round

As the three seed, Iowa gets a double-bye and will be off until Friday. The team will then face Wisconsin, who’s coming off a win over Penn State on Thursday night. Iowa also shares a side of the bracket with Illinois, who’s playing as well as anybody right now.

This sounds odd to say about a game against a Wisconsin team ranked 11th on KenPom, but Iowa’s opening round matchup seems pretty manageable. The Hawkeyes swept the Badgers during the regular season, have a significantly better resume, and literally beat Wisconsin in the team’s most recent outing last Sunday. It’s just hard to look at those results and think the Badgers have an advantage.

With all that said, Wisconsin certainly can’t be overlooked. The Badgers have a top 15 statistical profile and are coming off an impressive win over Penn State on Thursday night. The Nittany Lions made things close at the end, but Wisconsin’s offense was really productive and Brad Davison and Aleem Ford both had great outings. The team also shot an absurd 52.2 percent from three-point range in the win.

From an on-court perspective, the game will be decided down low. Wisconsin has struggled with at slowing down the league’s big men all season and that’s likely to be the case on Friday night once again. Expect Luka Garza to go to work. The Hawkeyes big man had 21 points and 16 rebounds in Iowa’s win over Wisconsin on Sunday.

-If They Advance

Should Iowa take care of business on Friday and move past Wisconsin, it would then likely face Illinois on Saturday afternoon, assuming the Illini beat Rutgers on Friday. Illinois beat Iowa in the only regular season meeting between the two, but the game was hotly contested and the Hawkeyes have shown improved play down the stretch, especially on the defensive end of the floor. And, of course, if Rutgers advances, Iowa’s going to be in pretty good shape to make it through to Sunday.

As most Big Ten fans know by now, Illinois is led by Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmu. Both are All-American caliber players that have put up huge numbers this season. In fact, Dosunmu had 25 points when the two teams met in late January. Illinois is absolutely loaded and playing extremely well, having won 11 of the team’s last 12 games. There’s little debating getting past Illinois will be huge task for Iowa.

But naturally, Illinois also isn’t an unbeatable opponent. The Illini have shown some rough spots and Hawkeye fans will hope Iowa can expose them on Saturday. After all, the team has lost six times already this season, including games to so-so opponents like Maryland, Michigan State, and Missouri. The key will be slowing down the role players like Trent Frazier and Adam Miller. When it’s just Cockburn and Dosunmu, Illinois can be beaten.

If Iowa won on Saturday, it would then likely get Michigan, Purdue, or Ohio State for the Big Ten Tournament title on Sunday. Iowa went 2-2 against those teams during the regular season, so it’s anyone’s guess as to what would happen. Michigan projects as the most difficult on paper, so fans will hope the Wolverines fall before Sunday. However, expect a difficult game regardless of who makes it there.

Overall

Iowa may have fallen short of some expectations during the regular season, but it enters March in great shape to make some noise. The Hawkeyes are in the top five on KenPom and seem to have a favorable route to make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament. We’ll see if the team can get it done, but the path for a banner on Sunday is there for the taking.