Let's take a look at how things have unfolded so far, using my Big Ten Reset post from late December as a guide.
INDIANA (12/31/12) -- Call me crazy, but I have a good feeling about this game. Iowa has played Indiana well in recent years, the outside shooting has really been coming around for the Hawks, and I think the atmosphere at CHA will be pretty special for this game. Bring your track shoes, though -- these teams are going to run and they are going to gun. W
Call me crazy indeed. At least for thinking that the outside shooting had come around for Iowa; that was just a two-game fever dream in late December. For the most part, Iowa's outside shooting has been and is terrible this year. That said, Iowa did keep it close with Indiana and with a few breaks they might have been able to grab a win here, which would certainly have done wonders for their NCAA Tournament resume.
at MICHIGAN (1/6/13) -- Things come crashing back to earth in this game, though. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. overwhelm Iowa's freshman backcourt and Glenn Robinson shows Iowa just why he's one of the favorites for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. L
Pretty much nailed this one, unfortunately. A positive start for Iowa gave way to a tidal wave for Michigan in the final 25 minutes of this game. Burke had a double-double (19 points, 12 assists) and Hardaway went for 19 points; I think they qualifies as "overwhelming" the opposition. Glenn Robinson III also had a double-double (20 points, 10 rebounds). I thought this game would be ugly; it was even uglier than I dreamed it would be.
MICHIGAN STATE (1/10/13) --The good news is that this looks like a more beatable Sparty squad than we've seen in recent years. The news is that they'e still very good. I think Iowa wins either this game or the Indiana game, but not both. I already called for a win over Indiana in CHA, so... L
Well, it was a beatable Michigan State squad... Even without Marble, Iowa put a serious scare into the Spartans and could easily have come away with a win if things hadn't crumbled in the last few minutes (a recurring theme for Iowa in Big Ten play so far). I thought Iowa would win either this game or the Indiana game; instead, they lost both. That's unfortunate because a win over Indiana or MSU would qualify as the signature win that the program could really use this year.
at NORTHWESTERN (1/13/13) -- Evanston has brought just as much pain to the Iowa hoopyballers as it has the Iowa gridiron gang. in recent years. Iowa's lost five straight to jNW, home and away, and hasn't won in Evanston since March, 2008. A Crawford-less jNW team is quite beatable, though, and I think Iowa is able to shake this particular monkey off their back. W
Iowa killed the monkey in emphatic fashion, recording one of their best road wins in a long time by pasting jNW, 70-50, in Evanston. That was fun.
WISCONSIN (1/19/13) -- Defending home court in league play will be vital for Iowa's tourney aspirations and I think McCaffery runs it to three in a row over the Badgers with this game. Plus, this game will be the 20th anniversary of Chris Street's death -- if ever there was a time for Iowa to receive a little intangible boost... W
Iowa had a jam-packed, raucous crowd for this game, and it's hard to think that didn't play a role in their win. Iowa blitzed Wisconsin in the first half here, then held on for dear life against a furious Badger rally in the second half.
at OHIO STATE (1/22/13) -- This year's Buckeye squad hasn't looked like the all-consuming devourer of Big Ten hopes and dreams this year, but they're still very good and Columbus has not been kind to Iowa over the years (no wins since 2004), a trend I don't see changing this year. L
Right again, unfortunately. Columbus was again cruel to the Hawkeyes, although Iowa showed some impressive heart in the second half to comeback from an enormous deficit. With better free-throw shooting they might have even pulled off the shocking upset.
at PURDUE (1/27/13) -- Two years ago Iowa scored what was then (and still may be) the biggest win of Fran's Iowa tenure in their regular season finale win over Purdue, but West Lafayette has been another destination unkind to Iowa (no wins since 2006) and I think road jitters will do in Iowa here. L
Road jitters at the beginning of the game (when wretched shooting helped put Iowa in a hole) and late in the game (when Iowa coughed up a lead) certainly did in Iowa. Fran will have to wait at least one more year to grab a victory in West Lafayette.
PENN STATE (1/31/13) -- A critical "taking care of business" game for this Iowa team; Iowa probably can't afford any bad losses on their resume and a home defeat to a Frazier-less Penn State would almost certainly qualify as a bad loss. I think Iowa does take care of business in this game, though. W
The good news is that Iowa did indeed take care of business. The bad news is that they didn't look at all impressive in doing so. Fortunately, the W is really the only thing that matters and Iowa avoided a bad loss here.
at MINNESOTA (2/3/13) -- Iowa swept Minnesota last year and I doubt Tubby has let the Gophers forget about that. More importantly, this Gopher team is better -- much better -- with a healthy Trevor Mbakwe, who is likely to show Iowa what a talented and experienced big man can do. L
I didn't give Iowa much of a shot to win this game -- Minnesota simply looked much better early in the season -- but Minnesota's been knocked down a few pegs in league play and Iowa put forth a great effort for about 33 minutes in this game (everything but the opening five minutes and the closing two minutes). Unfortunately, it ended up being yet another close game pissed away by Iowa in the final minutes.
I had Iowa at 4-5 in the league at this point; instead Iowa sits at 3-6 at the midway point of Big Ten play. That's not good, but it's also not crippling, given the teams they've played. They've avoided any bad losses (the closest is probably the road loss to a very mediocre Purdue team). Unfortunately, they've had several good chances to record wins over genuinely good teams (the best chances were probably against Michigan State and Minnesota, but they also had opportunities against Indiana and Ohio State) and come up short every single time. Win just one of those games and even at 4-5 we're feeling much better about this Iowa team.
The good news is that the back half of Iowa's conference schedule is much friendlier: there are no more games remaining with Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State and the only truly formidable games left are road games with Wisconsin and Indiana. The bad news, of course, is that outside of a shocking win over Indiana in Bloomington, none of their prospective wins in the back half of the league are going to get anyone to sit up and take notice of Iowa. The best case for Iowa at this point is to rack up as many league wins as possible and grab a .500 record (or better) in the conference. They'd still need to win at least one game in the Big Ten Tournament (and preferably at least two, since that second game would likely be against a good opponent), but 20-ish wins and a .500-ish record in the Big Ten should put you in serious bubble consideration this year. (And Our Most Hated Rivals agree on that point.)
So what's left for Iowa in B1G play? Let's take a quick look at my predictions in late December and see how they played out.
at WISCONSIN (2/6/13) -- That said, it doesn't let up immediately. Wisconsin has struggled mightily with injuries this year, but they're still going to be a very difficult test for Iowa in the Kohl Center -- a test that I don't see Iowa passing, frankly. L
I had Iowa pegged for a 10-8 record in my late-December predictions and they're a game behind that projection right now, which means they need to flip one of my projected losses into a win to hit my record. A win here is doable since Iowa beat Wisconsin earlier this season and beat Wisconsin in the Kohl Center last year, but I still don't quite see it happening.
NORTHWESTERN (2/9/13) -- Here is where the schedule looks to turn around for Iowa. Much like the Penn State home game, this is a game that Iowa likely cannot afford to lose... and I don't think they will. Their depth will be too much for Northwestern to handle. W
Still a game Iowa cannot afford to lose and while jNW has been playing much better since Iowa whipped them, I think Iowa will still win this game.
at PENN STATE (2/14/13) -- Road games in the Big Ten are always tough, but Penn State is a weakened team without Tim Frazier,and Iowa needs to take advantage of that fact. Here's guessing that they will, which will enable them to snatch a rare B1G road win. W
A scary game, considering Iowa's road woes (and, hell, their home struggles against Penn State last week) and the fact that Penn State figures to be desperate to get a league win at this point. I expect this to be a close, ugly game that gives us all ulcers... but I'm still calling it an Iowa win.
MINNESOTA (2/17/13) -- As noted earlier, an Mbakwe-led Minnesota squad is a fearsome-looking bunch; can Carver magic carry the day for Iowa? I'm going to say "no" for now. L
If Iowa doesn't beat Wisconsin in the Kohl Center, then this is the game they need to have to get my 10-8 projection back on track (I just can't see Iowa winning in Bloomington this year). Last week's close loss to Minnesota proved that Iowa can definitely play with the Gophers and I think the crowd is able to push Iowa to another win. This also figures to be Iowa's last regular-season opportunity to beat a ranked team (assuming Minnesota is still ranked at this point), since I don't think they can beat Indiana. So let's make this a W.
at NEBRASKA (2/21/13) -- Again, Iowa simply has to take care of business against teams like Nebraska to have a shot at the NCAA tourney this year. I think they'll make it 2-0 against Nebrasketball this year. W
This is a game that Iowa simply must win to keep their bubble dreams alive. I'm not as confident as I was back in December, given that Nebraska has put scares into a lot of teams in Lincoln, but I'm going to continue to think that Iowa will be able to win an ugly game here.
PURDUE (2/27/13) -- Purdue looks like a very up and down team and while Iowa's young team may struggle with them in West Lafayette, I think the comforts of home will carry them to a win over the Boilermakers. W
Another game Iowa simply must win and I think they'll get a little revenge for that painful near-miss in West Lafayette. Still a win.
at INDIANA (3/2/13) -- This should be another track meet, but Assembly Hall won't be as kind to Iowa as Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Hopefully it doesn't get as out of hand as last year's game at Indiana. L
A win would be enormous for Iowa, but my main hope here is that Iowa doesn't completely get run off the court the way they did against Michigan earlier this year. I don't think that will happen again -- even when they get off to fast starts, Indiana usually lets teams back in the game a bit and Iowa has shown the capacity to shake off bad road starts and get back in the game lately (see: Purdue, Ohio State, Minnesota) -- but I also don't think Iowa will win this game.
ILLINOIS (3/5/13) -- This game should be a good test of Iowa's much-improved 3-point defense and if they can keep the Illini from torching them from deep, they can win this game. Here's guessing they'll do just that. W
Assuming the Big Ten is able to get 7 teams in the NCAA Tournament, these two teams figure to be fighting for that 7th spot -- if Illinois hasn't already ruled themselves out of it by that point. Another game Iowa needs to have and one that I think they'll get at home.
NEBRASKA (3/9/13) -- Like I said: 2-0 against Nebrasketball. W
Nebrasketball can be tricky, but Iowa should be able to beat them in CHA.
Assuming Iowa can beat Minnesota (or Wisconsin) and win the remaining games they "should" win, that puts them at 21-10 overall and 10-8 in the Big Ten (minus whatever they do in the Big Ten Tournament). They would have a very interesting resume, frankly. No really good wins (the best would be either Wisconsin x2 or Minnesota, probably, plus Iowa State as their best non-conference win), but also no really terrible losses (the worst would be Virginia Tech and Purdue) and a winning record in the best conference in college basketball. I do think that would be pretty hard for the selection committee to turn away.
On the face of it, a 7-2 record the rest of the way seems a little ludicrous when Iowa is just 3-6 right now, but a lot of that has to do with the teams on the schedule: Iowa is trading games with the likes of Michigan and Ohio State for another game with Penn State and a double-dip of Nebrasketball. There are just a lot more winnable games for Iowa in the back half of their league schedule. So far this Iowa team has done a good job of beating the teams that, on paper, they "should" beat (with the lone exceptions being Virginia Tech and Purdue, probably), which should give us some hope that they can continue to do that over the next nine games. If they do, I think Iowa will remain in the bubble picture all the way into March. Obviously, we'd be much happier -- and in much better position, bubble-wise -- if Iowa hadn't coughed up so many close games over the last few weeks, but amid all the angst over those losses it's worth realizing that the door hasn't shut on Iowa entirely this year.