Is Iowa still on the bubble?
So about that loss to Purdue... would it surprise you to learn that that loss was a costly one when it came to Iowa's bubble projections? No? Well, aren't you a smart cookie. To be fair, Iowa's bubble backslide probably isn't down to just the Purdue loss. The fact that they're just 2-5 in Big Ten play is hard to overlook, even if four of those five losses are to teams currently ranked in the top-13 of the most recent AP poll. At some point, you gotta actually win games, not just be close.
So, no, Iowa's NCAA Tournament hopes are not looking too hot right now, at least per the opinions of the many (many) bracketologists out there on the interwebs. Fortunately, Iowa still has at least ten more games to go (nine regular season games plus at least one conference tournament game), so there's still time to crawl back onto the right side of the bubble. The time to actually win games is certainly upon us, though.
ESPN: Joe Lunardi (link)
LAST WEEK: First Four Out
THIS WEEK: n/a
Iowa had been floating around Lunardi's bubble since we started doing these updates -- this is the first time that they haven't appeared at all in his projections, either in the First Four Out section or the Next Four Out section. Meanwhile, in terms of teams we have been checking in on... Wisconsin is down to an 8-seed, Iowa State is an 11-seed (although no longer in the "Last Four In" portion of the bubble), and Illinois is an 11-seed. Wisconsin and Illinois are worth watching, as slides by them may give additional opportunities to Iowa. (Minnesota continues to fall after their 4-game losing streak, but only to a 5-seed; it's certainly nice to build up as much of a cushion as they did in the early going.)
Blogging the Bracket: Chris Dobbertean (link)
LAST WEEK: "Last Four In" (11-seed vs. Indiana State)
THIS WEEK: Also considered
Back to "Also considered" land, although at least Iowa is the first team listed, meaning that they're effectively around nine spots back of the last at-large spot on the bracket of SBN's resident bracketologist. This has been one of the more volatile brackets I've been tracking, at least in terms of Iowa's position.
CBS: Jerry Palm (link)
LAST WEEK: First Four Out
THIS WEEK: n/a
He loves us... he loves us not. He loves us... he loves not. Jerry Palm is back to not loving Iowa in this bracket, no longer even rating in the "First Four Out" portion of his bubble (unlike other bracketologists, he doesn't expand beyond that). Iowa State remains an 11-seed and "Last Four In," Wisconsin goes up to a 6-seed (despite losing to Michigan State during the week), and Illinois drops down to a 7-seed.
College Sports Madness: USA Today (link)
LAST WEEK: 11-seed (vs. Georgetown)
THIS WEEK: n/a
This bracket has had Iowa in the field of 68 since I started tracking brackets at the start of the month; alas, that streak is now kaput. The CSM guys have given up the ghost on Iowa -- at least for now. I would assume Iowa's somewhere in their "First Four Out" or "Next Four Out" range still, but since they don't list those teams, I don't know that for sure.
LAST WEEK: 11-seed (vs. Wichita State)
THIS WEEK: Next Five Teams Out
Iowa falls from an 11-seed to the fourth of the "Next Five Teams Out" teams, putting them effectively ninth in line among those teams on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament. They have Iowa State as a "Last Four In" team playing in one of the "First Four" games in Dayton, while they have Illinois down to a 10-seed and Minnesota down to a 7-seed, intriguingly.
The Hoops Report (link)
LAST WEEK: Last Four In, 11-seed (vs. San Diego State)
THIS WEEK: Next Four Out
Iowa goes from being on the right side of the bubble to the wrong side, dropping to "Next Four Out" status.
A few trends have become apparent as I've tracked these brackets over the last month:
1) The risk-reward factor for non-conference games should encourage strong scheduling.
Playing a tough non-conference slate definitely gets people to look at you more favorably -- even if you don't necessarily win all (or even most) of those games. Wisconsin played four teams that may be ranked in the next top-25 poll (Florida, Creighton, Virginia, and Marquette) and while they lost those games, their tournament hopes don't seem to have been hurt that much by those losses.
Meanwhile, a team like Illinois is basically in NCAA Tournament contention entirely because of their non-conference performance; their wins over Gonzaga and Butler looked good at the time and look fabulous now, thanks to the strong seasons those teams are enjoying. Even their loss to Missouri (another top-25 team) is a decent feather in their cap. Despite going 2-5 in Big Ten play, they still find themselves comfortably in everyone's NCAA brackets and that's mainly because they built up a lot of goodwill with that impressive early start. (See also: Minnesota.)
Obviously, this doesn't help Iowa much this year, but I really hope that we see a stronger non-conference schedule for Iowa next year. The potential benefits of a tougher non-conference schedule are immense.
2) Getting "big" wins matters -- a lot.
Of course, getting those big, "signature" wins is also an excellent way to solidify your NCAA Tournament stock. Wisconsin became a fixture in the brackets despite that 9-4 non-conference record because they knocked off Indiana and also beat Michigan State and Illinois. The Illinois win is particularly interesting; they blasted the Illini back when we still thought Illinois was a very good team and while we know now that's not really true, I don't think that win has been diminished too much for Wisconsin... although, again, following it up with wins over Indiana and Michigan State was certainly very helpful.
As already noted, Illinois' NCAA Tournament standing is pretty much entirely derived from their wins over Butler and Gonzaga (and their B1G win over Ohio State). Getting those big, important wins can mask a number of flaws -- and losses to lesser teams. If Iowa had been able to win one of their games against Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan, or Ohio State, they'd still be in the bubble picture right now; if they'd won two of them, they'd likely be firmly ensconced in most of these projected brackets. They had their chances to win three of them, but they cruelly came up short in all of them.
Unfortunately, the flipside of the "schedule gets easier" coin is that there are far fewer opportunities for Iowa to land that perception-changing, attention-grabbing "signature" win in the back half of league play. A win over Illinois in March wouldn't offer nearly as much value for Iowa as Wisconsin's win over Illinois in January (unless the Illini go on one hell of a tear in February). Iowa's only shots in the regular season of grabbing a head-turning win are at Wisconsin (but they aren't ranked and Iowa already has one win over them, so I'm not sure how much benefit Iowa would glean from that win), home and away against Minnesota (which would have meant more before Minnesota's recent 4-game losing streak; a win would still be Iowa's first win over a ranked team this year, though), or at Indiana (which would do wonders for Iowa's resume, but will also be by far the hardest win to obtain among the games left on the schedule). That leaves Iowa hoping to boost their bubble stock via volume -- they need to suck up all the wins they can against some of the Big Ten's lesser lights and hope that's enough to get the bracketologists (and, more importantly, the Selection Committee) to take notice.
I'll continue to track the bubble scene, though, to see how Iowa is faring. Starting in the next week or two, I'll also probably see if we can identify some of the teams who have emerged as Iowa's main competition for a bubble spot -- i.e., which teams do we need to start rooting against whenever possible. Unless we lose to Penn State. If we lose to them, the Bubble Watch is officially cancelled and we can just start waiting for NITology to update. (Please don't lose to Penn State, Iowa.)