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Can Iowa Stay Hot and Make a Deep Run in March?

The Hawkeyes are a popular sleeper final four pick. Can they match the hype?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 13 Big Ten Tournament - Iowa v Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Iowa Hawkeyes have been the story of the Big Ten this past month. After starting just 4-6 in conference play, the Hawkeyes would go on to win 12 of their last 14 games, including their thrilling 4-game win streak to win the Big Ten Tournament.

Iowa has proven its valor in typical Iowa fashion—a high-powered offense that plays up and down and makes three-pointers at a high clip. But this Iowa team takes their typical high-flying style to the next level. The Hawkeyes rank second nationally in offensive efficiency, third in turnover percentage, 33rd in effective FG%, and top-50 in a slew of other offensive advanced metrics, per KenPom.

Oh, and they have Keegan Murray, a first-team all-American forward that has been one of, if not the most efficient and prolific scorers in the nation all season long.

Will this hyper-efficient offense be enough to compete against top competition in March. Read along to see how I think they’ll fare.

Opening Round

Iowa received a No. 5 seed in the Midwest region, and their opponent in the round of 64 will be the No. 12 Richmond Spiders, who received an auto-bid from the Atlantic 10 conference. While Richmond put together an impressive four-game run in the A-10 tournament, it only finished 10-8 in the conference during the regular season. The Spiders entered the postseason having lost their last two games, and four of their last seven.

Frankly, I think Iowa handles Richmond fairly easily. Richmond isn’t equipped to take advantage of Iowa’s weaknesses; take rebounding for example. Iowa ranks bottom-100 in defensive rebounding percentage, but Richmond ranks even worse at bottom-50. This should be a very clean and visually pleasing game; both teams rank top-10 in turnover percentage and move the ball well.

  • Prediction: Iowa wins, 89-70.

If They Advance

In the round of 32, Iowa would play the winner of No. 4 Providence and No. 13 South Dakota State. Personally, I think (and hope) South Dakota State wins that matchup.

The prospect of a South Dakota State vs. Iowa matchup in the second round is a basketball fan’s dream scenario. SDSU is a truly one of the most fun mid-majors in the country. It ranks No. 1 in the NATION in effective FG% and 3P%. Similar to Richmond and Iowa, they take care of the ball, ranking top-25 in turnover percentage. SDSU would give Iowa a great effort, and I really believe they can win that matchup and go to the Sweet 16. But in the end, I think Iowa is the better team with a clear talent advantage, and would win that game.

  • Prediction: Iowa beats SDSU, 88-84.

In the Sweet 16, Iowa plays one of four teams: No. 1 Kansas, No. 8 San Diego State, No. 9 Creighton, or No. 16 Texas Southern. I think the Hawkeyes have a shot against any of these teams, but the team I am picking to beat them is San Diego State. While Kansas won the Big 12 regular season and conference tournament convincingly, I am skeptical about their chances in March. I don’t exactly have quantitative reasoning for this take; I really just think they got a really tough opponent in San Diego State.

San Diego State is a tough matchup in every sense for the Hawkeyes. Iowa’s No. 2-ranked offense would go toe-to-toe with SDSU’s No. 2-ranked defense. SDSU is adept at slowing the game down and forcing teams into tough shots. Their average defensive possession is 19.8 seconds, which is the longest in the entire NCAA. Iowa’s average offensive possession, on the other hand of 15.8 seconds is 20th in the NCAA. If SDSU is able to slow down the hyper-efficient Hawkeyes offense, and limit the number of possessions, they have a great shot at pulling what likely would be an upset and advancing to the Elite Eight.

In the Elite Eight, Iowa could play any number of teams. No. 2 Auburn and No. 3 Wisconsin are the most-likely opponents, but frankly, I think these teams are vulnerable and may not make it to the Elite Eight. If Iowa advances this far and plays anyone other than Auburn, I like them to advance to the Final Four.

Overall

Iowa is a trendy final four pick in a region that is widely viewed as the weakest, and it’s easy to see why. The Hawkeyes are red-hot and fresh off a Big Ten tournament win, not to mention Keegan Murray has been the best player over the last month or two of the season. It’s easy to see why people have fallen in love with this team; I am right there with everyone.

But they’re a bit too popular of a sleeper for me to pick. I went with more of a longshot (San Diego State); we’ll see how that works. But Iowa is a very strong team and peaking at the right time. I think they are the best team in the Big Ten, and they have a great chance at advancing deep into march. But frankly, they haven’t made a Sweet 16 this century, and I think this limits their ceiling a bit.