THIS. IS. MARCH. Here's your weekly rundown of potential bracket scenarios, straight from the mouths of nation's preeminent bracketologists. Note: If you attempt to claim "bracketologist" as a form of employment the IRS will audit you immediately. Don't do it.
CURRENT STATUS: FIVEISH
Joe Lunardi, ESPN: 5 seed, Spokane, vs. Arkansas-Little Rock
Jerry Palm, CBS: 6 seed, Raleigh, vs. Cincinnati/Vanderbilt
Chris Dobbertean, SBNation: 5 seed, Denver, vs. Saint Mary's (CA)
Dave Ommen, NBC Sports: 5 seed, Oklahoma City, vs. San Diego State
Bracket Matrix: 6 seed.
Iowa's late February early March slide didn't do them any favors in the eyes of the bracketologists. A team that was once a two seed and lock for Des Moines is now projected to be everywhere but Des Moines after losing four out of their five remaining games. If there's any reason to be optimistic it's that Iowa rebounded with a 71-61 win at Michigan and could potentially stay in the Hawkeye State if they show in the Big Ten Tournament. But before we get to that, let's break down where the bracketologists have the Hawkeyes going right now.
Joe Lunardi (or Lunardi's hair, which is sentient these days) has Iowa in the Midwest region taking on Arkansas-Little Rock in Oklahoma City. Under first-year coach Chris Beard, the Trojans are 27-4 and many have called Beard's performance as one of the best in the nation. The Trojans finished the season on a sour note, losing to Appalachian State 63-69 but will have a nice layoff before playing again in the Sun Belt Tournament on March 12th. Little Rock's best win RPI-wise is over #44 San Diego State. Their bad losses include #280 Arkansas State and #265 Appalachian State. Lunardi has the winner of this game taking on the winner of Duke v. Stephen F. Austin.
Jerry Palm has Iowa playing the winner of the First Four game between Cincinnati and Vanderbilt in Raleigh. While Lunardi has both of those teams as nine seeds in his bracket, Palm apparently isn't so optimistic. The Bearcats finished the regular season 22-9 (12-6) and play UConn on Friday in the AAC Tournament. They've beaten UConn twice in the regular season and have top RPI wins over #11 SMU and #40 VCU. Their worst loss is at #149 Memphis.
Vanderbilt, which plays "basketball" in the SEC, finished the regular season 19-12 (11-7). They notched wins over Texas A&M, Kentucky, and Florida but also lost to Arkansas and Mississippi State. They'll take on the winner of Tennessee v. Auburn in the SEC Tournament. Palm has the winner of Iowa v. First Four taking on the winner of North Carolina v. UAB (!).
SBNation's Chris Dobbertean has Iowa playing WCC Champion St. Mary's in Denver. Now, St. Mary's hasn't actually won the West Coast yet but they play tonight at 8:00 PM CT on ESPN. The consensus seems to be that whoever wins this game will be the sole WCC participant in the NCAA Tournament. As the Gaels already defeated the Zags twice in the regular season, many have them winning tonight as well. The bad news for St. Mary's is that Vegas isn't backing them right now and has the Bulldogs favored by two points. Dobbertean has the winner of Iowa v. Saint Mary's playing the winner of Duke v. Akron.
Finally, Dave Ommen of NBC Sports has the Hawkeyes facing San Diego State in Oklahoma City. Yes, the Aztecs are still coached by Steve Fisher and they've won their third straight regular season conference title. Their only top-50 RPI win is over #15 California and have an absolutely horrific loss to #301 San Diego. They'll take on the winner of Wyoming v. Utah State in the Mountain West Tournament. Ommen has the winner of Iowa v. SDSU taking on the winner of Kentucky v. UNI. So basically, it will be Iowa v. UNI in the "third" round.
The big question is: How can Iowa get back to Des Moines? The answer is simple: Actually show up for the Big Ten Tournament. The problem is: Iowa rarely does that. Fran McCaffery is 2-5 in the B1G Tournament and Iowa has lost to a lower-seeded team two straight years. This year, Iowa is a #5 seed taking on the winner of Illinois v. Minnesota. Both the Illini and Gophers are nothing short of train wrecks but we felt the same way about Penn State last season and welp...
The winner of Iowa v. Illinois v. Minnesota/Illinois will face Purdue. Iowa previously beat Purdue back in January thanks to an amazing second half comeback but as we know, things are different these days. Purdue won five of their final seven games and their victories included an OT win over Michigan State and home wins over Maryland and Wisconsin. Now, they also lost at Michigan, a team that Iowa just beat. The winner of that game would likely play Indiana in the semifinals.
We chatted up SBN's resident bracketologist, Chris Dobbertean, to get his take on what Iowa needs to do get back into consideration for a Top-4 seed and a trip to Des Moines for the first round:
BHGP: What would Iowa need to do in the Big Ten Tournament to get a #4 seed or better and/or get to Des Moines for the opening weekend?
CHRIS: I think they have to win three. That first game does nothing to help the Hawkeyes' case.
BHGP: That makes sense. Three wins would probably include a win over Indiana, which would be a nice boost for Iowa.
CHRIS: Exactly. The third win basically has to be over Indiana for it to matter.
Note: to play in Des Moines next weekend, Iowa has to be a Top-4 seed. If they're seeded lower than that, then they have to be sent elsewhere because putting them in Des Moines would then disadvantage whoever the actual Top-4 seed is in their mini-bracket. A win over Illinois (or Minnesota) on Thursday isn't going to do much to improve Iowa's resume. A third win over Purdue on Friday would be solid, but it wouldn't be too surprising if Iowa needed more than that, too. Per RPI Forecast's RPI Wizard tool, a win over Illinois doesn't make a dent in Iowa's RPI (23). A win over Purdue moves it to 18. A win over Indiana on top of that moves it to 16. (A loss to Michigan State in the title game after that doesn't make a dent in the RPI -- it stays at 16.) The committee can -- and will -- look at more than RPI, but that would be a good start.