So Iowa lost another gut-punch of a game yesterday, losing to Illinois, 68-66, in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. It sucked. It sucked a whole hell of a lot. And you're mad/angry/disappointed/[insert negative emotion of your choice]. Now what?
Well, now is waiting for Sunday the NCAA Tournament Selection Show (5 PM CT, CBS) to learn Iowa when, where, and who Iowa will be playing next weekend in the NCAA Tournament. As bitterly disappointing as yesterday's loss was, it didn't turn Iowa into a bubble team or meaningfully jeopardize their ability to make the NCAA Tournament. This is not 2014, when a late season Iowa flameout sent Iowa tumbling all the way into the First Four games in Dayton.
Iowa was firmly in the field of
64 68 before they lost that game and they remain firmly in the same field of NCAA Tournament teams now. That's the good news about the sizable heights that Iowa reached in January when they were sweeping Michigan State and Purdue and living the high life as Big Ten frontrunners -- they gave Iowa an enormous cushion for the rest of the season. We just didn't ever imagine that they'd need to use so much of that cushion.
It's not even clear that Iowa's loss to Illinois did them all that much damage in terms of their position in the bracket. They seemed to be around a #5 or #6 seed before that game and in the new brackets released today, they're... around a #6 seed.
[EDITED on Saturday morning, March 12, 2016.]
ESPN: Joe Lunardi has Iowa as a #6 seed in the South bracket, playing the winner of the #11 Pittsburgh/Vanderbilt First Four game in St. Louis in the first round. If they're able to win that game, they'd play the winner of Xavier-Middle Tennessee State in the next round.
CBS: Jerry Palm has Iowa as a #7 seed in the West bracket, playing #10 Temple in Spokane in the first round. If they win that game, they'd play the winner of Oregon-Weber State in the next round.
Palm's mock bracket has Iowa, Iowa State, and UNI all in the West bracket, although none of them in the same opening weekend spot (Iowa in St. Louis, Iowa State in Raleigh, and UNI in Spokane) and it would take some doing for any of the teams to meet up for a game against one another.
SBN: Chris Dobbertean also has Iowa as a #7 seed, playing #10 VCU in Oklahoma City in the first round of the South bracket. If they win that game, they'd play the winner of the Oklahoma-New Mexico State game in the next round. (EDIT: Not updated with Saturday's mock bracket information yet.)
Bracket Project: The most recent Bracket Matrix update (8:30 AM on Saturday, March 12) still has Iowa as a #6 seed on average, although they're trending down (they're the second-lowest of the four #6 seeds). That makes sense, because Iowa's overall statistical profile is still strong:
Iowa's composite rating of 6 metrics examined by NCAA Selection Committee is at 20.3 (high 15, low 27). That translates to a high 6 seed.— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) March 11, 2016
Obviously, Iowa looks much worse than that if you're inclined to just look at recent results or the eye test, but the Selection Committee isn't going to be looking at those things exclusively (though they may well factor in to some extent). They're going to look at the total package and while it doesn't seem like it right now, Iowa's total package is still quite strong.
It doesn't hurt that there are also a limited number of teams current seeded below them who might still be able to surpass them with conference tournament runs. Per Bracket Project:
Notre Dame -- still alive in ACC Tournament, plays #7 North Carolina today
Seton Hall -- still alive in Big East Tournament, plays #5 Xavier today
Wisconsin -- eliminated from Big Ten Tournament
Colorado -- eliminated from Pac 12 Tournament
Providence -- still alive in Big East Tournament, plays #3 Villanova today
Texas Tech -- eliminated from Big 12 Tournament
Oregon State -- eliminated from Pac 12 Tournament
USC -- eliminated from Pac 12 Tournament
St. Joseph's -- losing to George Washington in Atlantic 10 Tournament as of this writing
Butler -- eliminated from Big East Tournament
Cincinnati -- in OT against UConn in AAC Tournament as of this writing
South Carolina -- still alive in SEC Tournament, plays Georgia tonight
Six of those 12 teams have already been eliminated from their conference tournaments, so they won't have any further opportunities to grab impressive wins and improve their standing. Two of the remaining six teams are losing right now. Three of the remaining six teams have extremely difficult games later today. If any of those teams win those games, they could certainly move ahead of Iowa in the jockeying for seeds. (The only team not accounted for there is South Carolina, but they have a fair amount of work to do in the SEC Tournament before they move up too high in these projections.)
So yeah: Iowa is going to be in the NCAA Tournament, likely around a #7 seed. A year ago they bounced back from a miserable showing in the Big Ten Tournament to post one of their most impressive games of the year in winning their first NCAA Tournament game as a #7 seed. Sure, a year ago Iowa's Big Ten Tournament wipeout was a stumble after a strong finish while this year's Big Ten Tournament pratfall was generally the continuation of a month-long skid. But the NCAA Tournament is a chance for a fresh start, against opponents who don't know Iowa inside and out the way Big Ten foes do. That can only be a good thing for the Hawkeyes. This season has taken a bitterly disappointing turn, no question, but it's also not over yet. Let's see what the NCAA Tournament brings.