It's been a long time since we had an Iowa basketball game to talk about -- over a week, in fact, since Iowa ventured to the lair of Our Most Hated Rival and came up short -- but with Iowa returning to action Thursday evening for our first taste of Nebrasketball since 1976, it's time to put on our thinking caps and turn our attention back to the hoopsters. About a month ago, we ran a poll asking you how many B1G wins Iowa would notch this year. The runaway winner was 4-5 wins (which was also my personal vote). Despite entering league play on a three-game winning streak (over Drake, Central Arkansas, and Boise State), memories of getting pantsed by Creighton, Iowa State, and Campbell (for reals) still lingered in our brainboxes.
Suffice to say, few of us expected Iowa to be 3-4 at the almost-halfway point of the conference season. (Well, maybe the 10% of you who picked Iowa to have 8+ wins in B1G play expected it...) Not against a schedule that featured four opponents currently ranked in the top 25 (Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin) and four road games, including fearsome trips to the likes of Madison and West Lafayette (where road teams almost never win). But they did win against those ranked opponents (twice, in fact) and in those foreboding road venues (in Madison and in Minneapolis). And so they're 3-4, the exact same mark as conference wunderkinds Indiana (until Indiana's win last weekend, at least). Not many of us saw that coming back in late December.
And now we enter the portion of the schedule that is, on paper at least, less threatening. Conference heavyweights Ohio State and Michigan State are in our rearview mirror (thank god), as is Michigan. There's still a game (at CHA) remaining with Wisconsin, as well as a nasty-looking road trip to Champaign, and a home-and-home with those aforementioned Hoosiers (still comfortably in the top-20 despite that 4-4 league mark). But there's also a trio of home-and-homes with the three teams sitting below Iowa in the league standings: Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State. Those teams have all claimed impressive scalps already -- Northwestern ended Michigan State's 15-game winning streak, Nebraska knocked off Indiana, and Penn State beat Purdue and Illinois -- so they should not be taken lightly... but they're also nowhere near as imposing as the likes of Ohio State or Michigan State (or even Michigan and Wisconsin, frankly). They represent winnable games to this Iowa team.
Which leads to our question: how many of those winnable games will Iowa win over the next six weeks? There's nine conference games remaining -- what will Iowa's final conference record be?
Remaining Big Ten Schedule
1/29: at Indiana
2/4: Penn State
2/9: at Northwestern
2/16: at Penn State
2/26: at Illinois
2/28: at Nebraska