And... we're back! Fresh off a gangbusters start to Big Ten play that included a home win over then-#1 Michigan State last Tuesday and one of the best comebacks in program history over then-#14 Purdue on the road on Saturday, Iowa basketball made their long-awaited return to the AP and Coaches Polls. Iowa checks in at #19 in the new AP Poll, the second-highest rated team with three losses (behind #18 Butler) and just ahead of the Purdue team they rallied to defeat on Saturday. They're also the third-highest ranked Big Ten team, behind Maryland (#3) and Michigan State, who dropped from the top spot to #5 in the new rankings.
The Coaches (or the SIDs filling out their ballots) were a bit less impressed with the Hawkeyes, slotting them at #23, where they're the third-highest ranked three-loss team (behind #19 Butler and #22 Gonzaga). Iowa's the fourth-highest ranked team in the Big Ten in that poll, behind Maryland (#3), Michigan State (down to #5 in that poll as well, but still receiving a first-place vote!) and Purdue (at #18).
Iowa was last ranked in the Coaches Poll on November 17, 2014, when they were 2-0; they promptly went 0-2 against Texas and Syracuse in the 2K Classic in New York City last fall and never returned to the Coaches Poll. Iowa's been ranked by the AP Poll more recently -- they slipped into that poll on January 19, 2015, at #25 but made a hasty exit after Wisconsin torched them 82-50, in their very next game. This is also the first time in quite a while (at least since the early 00s) that both the Iowa football and men's basketball teams have been ranked at the same time.
As always, AP and Coaches Poll rankings don't mean a whole lot -- especially in early January -- but they are a nice acknowledgement of the successful season that Iowa is having (just like Iowa's front page appearances on NCAA.com and ESPN's College Basketball section yesterday) and an indication that Iowa basketball matters this year. There have been way too many years over the last decade when that wasn't the case, when Iowa was utterly irrelevant and immaterial, within the Big Ten and in the greater national basketball landscape. That isn't the case this year -- as Adam pointed out, Iowa's a legitimate Big Ten contender this year. We're a threat to win it all, not just a potential spoiler to foul up the plans and hopes of other teams.
The goal should not be simply making the NCAA Tournament two months from now, but getting as high a seed as possible at that event. Jerry Palm has Iowa as a #4 seed in his newest mock bracket, while Joe Lunardi has the Hawkeyes as a #5 seed in his new bracketology update. There's still a lot of basketball yet to be played this year -- Iowa has another 16 Big Ten games to go, for God's sake! -- but this team is off to a very good start and it's gratifying to see them back in the rankings. Now let's keep the wins coming and starting moving up a bit higher in those polls.