I just need to keep reminding myself that this team is young. Very young. And very talented. But they will keep playing like 18-year olds because that’s exactly what the team is predominantly comprised of. And despite looking like hot garbage in the first half against Maryland, they were still close enough to steal away the lead late in the game. And in true Iowa fashion, flush that lead right down the proverbial toilet. But that’s not to say it’s time to fire everyone and start all over again. Maryland is a very talented team with a LOT of experience. And experience is something our Hawks don’t have. So to those of you calling for Fran’s head on a platter, just remember that we went to three straight NCAA tourneys and will likely be headed to our second NIT in five years as well. And keep this in mind, there are 351 schools in the country playing Division one basketball.
There are 32 conferences. Every conference champion is guaranteed a spot in the tournament. This means that there are only approximately 36 spots (one possible for winning the conference tournament, 30 at-large spots and ~4 possible play-in at large selections) that Iowa can possibly claim in any given NCAA Tournament. In any given year, only the top 10%, roughly, of college teams will make it into the NCAA Tournament. Making it in 3 out of 4 years is far better than Iowa has had in a long time. Let Fran have a rebuilding year before we toss him out on his rear into the cold and snowy Iowa winter and remember what life was like before White Magic.
Now, on to Illinois. Their 12-8 record looks a lot better on paper than it is in reality. Without a signature win in the non-conference and losses to their only quality opponents (West Virginia and Florida State) and one to Winthrop, they were able to pad their record quite a bit. But once they entered conference play, we saw the real Illini. In their seven games, their lone wins come against Ohio State and Michigan. They’ve dropped every other contest in pretty spectacular fashion. This could be a little bit deceptive, as they’ve played and lost to a very good Maryland team twice and have already had to visit Purdue.
There is nothing particularly worrying about Illinois, as they really don’t have any particular strength that the Hawks need to concern themselves with. If Iowa can establish themselves under the rim and limit Illini offensive boards, then this game should be a pretty comfortable win for the Hawks. The computer is pretty sensitive to the losses to Northwestern and Maryland still and is less convinced that I am, predicting a razor-thin Hawkeye victory.
In fact, H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. wanted to declare this contest a tie 77-77. But after forcing the artificial intelligence to give up its preference for nice round integers, I was able to torture the device into making a binary choice. By a margin of about two-tenths of a point, we have our computer’s prediction: Iowa wins 77.4 to 77.2.
Personally, I think the mechanical overlord is just a little salty and overreacting to last week. I see this game being more comfortable, with Iowa winning 85-77. Let me know what you think the score will be in the comments below.