Breaking Down The Big Ten Tournament
Things we know before the final games of the Big Ten regular season this weekend:
* Michigan State will be the 1-seed.
* Michigan or Ohio State will be the 2-seed (and the other will be the 3-seed).
* Wisconsin will be the 4-seed.
* Indiana or Purdue will be the 5-seed (and the other will be the 6-seed).
* Iowa or Northwestern will be the 7-seed.
* Iowa, Northwestern, or Illinois will be the 8-seed.
* Northwestern or Illinois will be the 9-seed.
* Minnesota or Nebraska will be the 10-seed.
* Minnesota, Nebraska, or Penn State will be the 11-seed.
* Nebraska or Penn State will be the 12-seed.
Friend of the Pants Brendan Stiles has an exhaustive breakdown of the seeding possibilities for the Big Ten Tournament; I encourage you to go read it if you want to see all the possible permutation. As far as Iowa goes...
* A win over Northwestern will get them the 7-seed.
* Minnesota would get the 10-seed if they beat Nebraska; Nebraska could get the 10-seed if they beat the Gophers and Penn State loses to Michigan.
* If Iowa can get by that first round game (no mean feat, since that hasn't happened since 2006), they'd play Michigan if Michigan State can knock off Ohio State again this weekend (and Michigan can take care of business against Penn State).
So what's our best case scenario?
I think a rubber match with Nebraska would be desirable to trying to win a third game this year against Minnesota. Yes, Nebraska owns a win over Iowa this year and Minnesota doesn't... but Minnesota is certainly a better team overall. I'd certainly take my chances with a third helping of Nebrasketball. Still, that depends on Nebraska winning a road game (something they've only done once this seasin in the Big Ten, against -- sigh -- Iowa), so we're probably better off mentally preparing for a a third game with Minnesota if Iowa can get by Northwestern. If Iowa can manage to win the 7/10 game, Michigan would be the more desirable matchup in the quarterfinals -- not only because Iowa beat Michigan earlier this year, but also because Ohio State still looks like an utterly terrible matchup for Iowa.
If Iowa loses to Northwestern, a rematch with Illinois awaits. The first game against them didn't go so well and Iowa would have to figure out some way to slow down Meyers Leonoard, but... we thought a lot of the same things after the first Indiana game, too. And that rematch turned out pretty well for Iowa, no? If Iowa gets by Illinois in the first round, Michigan State would be the next challenge. Yikes. But such is life in the Big Ten this year: there aren't many matchups that look easy on paper.
After the Big Ten Tournament?
And what about after the Big Ten Tournament? It's been several years since Iowa could honestly contemplate postseason basketball, but that's where they find themselves this year. Another Friend of the Pants, storminspank, wrote up an excellent breakdown of the possibilities for Iowa prior to Iowa's win over Nebraska on Wednesday, but let's take a look at them in the wake of that win.
* Win The Next Four Games, Lose In Big Ten Tournament Finals
This would leave Iowa with a final record of 20-15, with 12 of those wins coming against Big Ten opposition. It would add wins over Northwestern (RPI: 50), Minnesota/Illinois (RPI: 90/74), (likely) Michigan (RPI: 17), and (likely) Ohio State (RPI: 8) to the wins they already have over Minnesota (x2), Michigan, Wisconsin (x2) (RPI: 20), and Indiana (RPI: 15). Of course, they'd also still have those bad losses to Campbell (RPI: 210), Clemson (RPI: 142), Nebraska (RPI: 139), and Penn State (RPI: 151), plus 15 total losses. Those two factors would likely be too much of an anchor on Iowa's at-large aspirations. Still: 20 wins (12 in the the toughest league in the country) and six wins against teams ranked in the RPI Top 20 would get them in the conversation.
* Pull A [REDACTED] And Win The Big Ten Tournament
Well, this option is always on the table, right? If Iowa can pull a whole heaping helping of magic out of their asses and win the Big Ten Tournament, they'll be going to the NCAA Tournament, no ifs, ands, or buts. Unfortunately, there will be no Iowa fans left to watch that NCAA Tournament because we will all have died of pure delirious joy during Iowa's Big Ten Tournament run next weekend. Working against Iowa's hopes of a miracle run? No team has ever won the tourney seeded lower than 6th (Iowa in 2001) and only one team has ever won the tournament by winning four games in four days (also Iowa in 2001). And none of that considers that Iowa would be doing it in a brutally tough conference and against, on paper, three top-15 opponents. It might be "just" a conference tournament crown, but an Iowa win in the Big Ten Tournament this year would still easily be one of the most impressive accomplishments in the history of the program.
* Win Two (?) More Games, Make The NIT
Here's where it gets murky. If making the NCAA is relatively cut and dried (Iowa most likely needs to win the Big Ten Tournament), making the NIT is anything but. Iowa doesn't even make the bubble of NITology's predictions right now. It's worth remembering here that making the NIT is more difficult now, thanks to the rule that says the NIT has to take regular season conference champions who don't earn an automatic qualifier (via winning the conference tournament) or an at-large nod to the NCAA Tournament. So as Iowa fans, it's prudent for us to root for chalk in the mid-major conference tournaments going on this week; upsets in those events shrink Iowa's already not-great NIT hopes. Stormy thought they needed three wins to get an NIT bid, which sounds about right. They got one against Nebraska; now they need to beat Northwestern and their first-round BTT opponent.
* Win ??? More Games, Make The CBI/CIT
But the NIT isn't Iowa's last hope of postseason play, either. There are two other, lesser-known competitions out there: the College Basketball Invitation (CBI) and the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT). We can essentially cross off the CIT right now; they've never taken a school from a BCS league and there's no reason to think that they're going to break their BCS school cherry with Iowa. The CIT exists primarily as a vehicle to allow mid-major teams an additional shot at postseason hoops. That leaves the CBI, which looks like a plausible option even if Iowa doesn't win either of its next two games. Why? I'll let stormy explain:
The CBI has had teams like Oregon, Washington, Utah, Virginia, Cincinnati, Oregon State, and Stanford participate in their tournament. Iowa is certainly not above the CBI. If the team fails to get 3 more wins, I’d expect them to land in this tournament, hosting a first round game inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. And, yes, sub-.500 teams can make it into these tournaments – Miami (OH) recently got an invite with a 16-17 record. They are effectively a lock for this tournament, in my opinion.
Seems pretty logical to me. The CBI wouldn't be the postseason destination we want -- not even close -- but it would still be an excellent opportunity for Iowa to get guys like Marble, White, Oglesby, and Basabe more valuable experience, as well as a chance to send Matt Gatens off with some postseason hoops. That's a win-win scenario for the program.