It would have been hard for even the most optimistic Iowa fan to find a positive out of this month with a minute to play against Michigan State. The Hawkeyes were about to take their third straight loss, doing it at home, no less.
And then it all changed, as Iowa overcame an 11-point deficit in the final minute of regulation and beat the Spartans in overtime. And just like that, Iowa stopped the bleeding at a time when it most needed a win.
But was it enough for the Hawkeyes to lock down their spot? Despite the win, this is still a team that’s been struggling throughout February. At 18-11 with two games left on the schedule, Iowa still can’t feel safe.
Here’s a look at their situation and what they need to do to make it back to the NCAA tournament. If you enjoy betting in March Madness in Iowa let’s check whether the Hawkeyes should be part of your strategy.
— Iowa Men’s Basketball (@IowaHoops) February 28, 2023
Tuesday Night Gives Iowa a Chance to Lock It Up
The biggest knock on the Hawkeyes is that they have done virtually nothing away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa owns a 2-7 record on the road in the Big Ten, and one of those wins came against 1-15 Minnesota, which won’t impress anyone.
Oddly, the Hawkeyes have given their best road performances in New Jersey, as two of their three road wins on the year came against Garden State schools Rutgers and Seton Hall. But the shine has come off both of those wins. Seton Hall no longer counts as a Quad 1 win, as the Pirates have fallen apart. Rutgers still does, but only barely.
Fortunately, Iowa has a chance to claim a road win that won’t fade in value on Tuesday night: Indiana. The Hoosiers grabbed their biggest win of the season on Saturday by completing a sweep of Purdue, and they’re now showing up as the No. 4 seed on mock brackets.
Unfortunately, they have been deadly at Assembly Hall, with a Jan. 8 loss by one to Northwestern their only defeat in Bloomington. If Iowa can find a way to knock Indiana off its perch, the case will be over. With a sweep of the Hoosiers on their resume, there will be no way the selection committee could possibly keep the Hawkeyes out of the field of 68.
#Hawkeyes to play Big Ten road finale Tuesday at Indiana
— Iowa Men’s Basketball (@IowaHoops) February 27, 2023
What Happens if Iowa Loses Tuesday?
If the Hawkeyes leave Bloomington without a win, then things get a little worrisome. That’s because the season finale against Nebraska is a mostly-risk, little-reward affair. Right now, absolutely nobody in the Big Ten wants to see Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers have won five of six and suddenly it looks like they could cause a lot of headaches at the Big Ten tournament.
Nebraska already ripped Iowa by 16 in Lincoln, and the Huskers will easily be the most dangerous team in Chicago next week. Nebraska knows it can’t qualify for the NCAA tournament, but with the way the Huskers have played lately, they are absolutely capable of winning four or even five games and stealing the Big Ten’s automatic bid.
A loss to the Huskers at home would leave Iowa with work to do in the Big Ten tournament. Luckily, most of the opponents Iowa would see in Chicago would count as good wins. They would gain a Quad 1 win by beating any of Purdue, Maryland, Indiana, Rutgers, Illinois, Michigan State, Northwestern and possibly even Penn State and Michigan. Besting any of those teams at the United Center would almost certainly be enough to secure Iowa’s bid.
They would, however, have to avoid a loss to Ohio State and especially Minnesota at all costs. Neither the Buckeyes nor the Golden Gophers can do anything to help Iowa’s profile, and finding a way to lose to Minnesota would extinguish the Hawkeyes’ at-large hopes if they show up in Chicago without getting to 20 wins.
— ESPN (@espn) February 26, 2023
What’s Most Likely to Happen?
Realistically, Iowa should be fine heading into the NCAA tournament after beating Michigan State. Playing in the Big Ten means that Iowa has gained several opportunities for Quad 1 victories and executed them, creating a profile that’s usually worthy of a seed in the 7 to 10 range.
But if Iowa doesn’t win the Big Ten tournament as it did last year, the Hawkeyes would arrive with at least 12 losses on the resume and possibly as many as 14. An Iowa team with 14 defeats to its name would be sweating on Selection Sunday, as teams with that many defeats on the profile usually end up with a No. 10 seed or lower if their name gets called at all. Michigan qualified last year with 14 losses and Ohio State did it in 2019, but both found themselves with difficult paths in the tournament because of their low seed.
As it enters the final week of the regular season, Iowa should feel pretty good about its spot in the tournament, but not completely secure. Had the Hawkeyes lost to the Spartans, they’d be in a really tight spot. Due to their comeback, they’re probably right on the doorstep and need one more win against anybody to feel safe.
— Iowa Men’s Basketball (@IowaHoops) February 25, 2023