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Iowa Basketball: NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch Guide

As Hawkeye fans everywhere watch the various conference tournaments with baited breath, we take a look at who you should be watching and how they stack up to Iowa Basketball.

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Bracket via

Here we are, just over 24 hours from Iowa’s matchup with the Indiana Hoosiers and all eyes should be glued to the TVs. If Iowa loses to Indiana, nothing else really matters. But assuming the Hawkeyes pull off fifth consecutive win to earn a date with Wisconsin (let’s hope is a paying sponsor of the BTT - I hear they are #1 in second dates), Iowa will likely be in a pretty good spot on the bubble. In all likelihood, the Hawkeyes probably need that second win against Wisconsin as well, but the bubble is weak folks. Like, really weak.

We touched on this in the weekend update last week, but let’s take a closer look at the bubble so we know who we should be paying extra attention to throughout the remainder of Championship Week.

I’m not a huge fan of ESPN and I tend to agree with the folks at HawkeyNation, who have been railing on Joe Lunardi saying it’s not difficult to be 95% + accurate when you get half the field handed to you and are only releasing the remainder moments before it’s public knowledge. But the guy is as good as anyone else at doing it and his constant updates make the watching interesting. So that’s who I’m using for my “bubble” source. Don’t @ me (OK, fine, @ me, I need the followers).

According to Lunardi, things look like this, as of yesterday*.

The Hawkeyes are in the First 4 Out per Lunardi as of March 7th. Image captured from

*Note: This thing gets updated at least once a day. It’s Championship Week with a handful of impactful games taking place each day. Check for the most up-to-date Bracketology.

Before we dive in, I feel like I have to drop a caveat on you. I’m a homer. Like a big one. I love the Hawkeyes. My glasses are as black and gold tinted as they come. BUT, I’m also a nerd who likes numbers and for things to be objective. And that’s where my problem with the bubble lies. It is presented to us as an objective look at teams’ resumes, based on statistics, metrics and results. It’s not. Not even close.

Exhibit A: Syracuse

Syracuse is universally thought to be in. Lunardi has them as one of the last four receiving a bye. So let’s look at resumes.

Bubble Blind Resume

Team A Team B
Team A Team B
Record 18-13 18-13
Conference Record 10-8 10-8
RPI 72 80
SOS 43 54
Vs. Top 50 5-7 6-7
Vs. 51-100 4-4 3-3
Vs. 101-200 4-2 3-2
Vs. 201+ 5-0 6-1

One of those is Syracuse, considered in by basically everyone. The other is your Iowa Hawkeyes, considered by everyone to have more work to do. Seems pretty objective to me (eye roll emoji).

I mean, seriously, what in the literal hell?

Syracuse’s resume looks pretty pitiful. Yet, everyone has them in. I don’t get it.
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But JP! That’s just one example! And Syracuse has some nice wins! You’re right. They beat Virginia and Duke and FSU. If you think those three are that much better than Purdue, Maryland and Wisconsin, more power to you. They also lost by 15 to a 9-22 Boston College team that’s ranked 211 in the RPI (to go with a pair of other losses to teams with RPIs worse than the two “bad” losses on Iowa’s resume). You can check out the full resume comparison with CBS’ handy tool here.

So let’s look at another one. This time I’m not telling you who you’re looking at, but HINT: this is an Iowa blog.

Bubble Blind Resume #2

Team A Team B Team C
Team A Team B Team C
Record 17-14 18-13 19-12
Conference Record 10-8 10-8 8-10
RPI 44 72 58
SOS 2 43 52
Vs. Top 50 5-7 5-7 3-8
Vs. 51-100 5-6 4-4 2-2
Vs. 101-200 5-0 4-2 8-2
Vs. 201+ 2-1 5-0 6-0

This one further demonstrates the subjectivity of allocating bids. You can guess who the middle team is. Surprise! I included Iowa again! At first glance, you can probably go either way on Team A. They have a worse record than Iowa, but their RPI and SOS look pretty damn good. Are those the metrics that matter? We know the committee uses them, but do they trump winning games? If those metrics are so fantastic, why is Georgia left out of the field and off the bubble by everyone? They have the same record (18-13) as Iowa, a better RPI (53) and better SOS (17) than the Hawkeyes. Yet nobody is giving them the time of day.

So what do we care about? If you’re making the case against Georgia, it’s easy: they haven’t beaten anyone. Despite the nice RPI and tough SOS, they’re 1-8 aginast the top 50 and the RPI is boosted because they feasted on teams in the 51-199 range (going 14-5). So we care about quality wins? I guess that’s at list somewhat consistent with the case for Syracuse. So why is Iowa behind Team C in Lunardi’s list? Iowa is sitting at 5-7 against the top 50, Team C is a mere 3-8. Sure they have one extra win overall, but they have fewer wins against teams in the top 100. They made a living beating up on teams outside the top 100.

To further illustrate that quality wins apparently only matter when the name is right, let’s introduce a new team: Team D. Team D has a pretty damn good record. They finished the regular season at 27-6. I mean, 27 is a hell of a lot of wins. But among those 33 total games, only 3 were even played against teams in the top 50. And all 3 were against the same team. They beat them once, at home, and got beat by a combined 61 points in the other two games on the road and a neutral site. Yikes. Making matters worse, they only went 1-2 against teams in the 51-100 range. Thats 6 total games against competition in the top 100 and only 2 wins. And yet, their RPI says they’re the #30 team in the country.

We need to take a second here to just discuss what complete trash the RPI is. I mean, just a completely flawed, total piece of steaming garbage of a metric. This is the thing driving nearly all the discussion about who will make the tournament and who won’t (the resume sheets the NCAA selection committee will be using is entirely based on RPI and is sorted as such) and a team can go all year having only played one other team considered by this metric to be worthy of the field of 68, and yet the metric spits out the result that this team is the 30th best in the country. That makes zero sense to me.

It’s a metric that is entirely susceptible to gaming. As shown in the second blind resume above, if two teams play the same number of top 50 games with the same record in those games, a team can be ranked higher even if they lose more games, including a REALLY bad loss, as long as they play more games against teams ranked in the 101-200 range and avoid playing too many games against teams ranked outside the top 200. Team A in the second comparison above has fewer overall wins, the same record against the top 50 and a loss to the 262nd ranked team (BY 20 POINTS!) and yet their SOS is 2nd in the country and their RPI is 44 compared to Team B at 72nd in RPI and 43rd in SOS.

That is utter nonsense. It should not matter more that you got lucky in your nonconference scheduling - and managed to have a handful of mediocre teams from mid-major conferences end up in the 175-225 range instead of the 225+ range - than how you performed against your conference opponents.

End rant.

So who are the teams above? As I mentioned Team A in comparison 1 is Iowa. Team B is Syracuse. If nothing crazy happens in the respective conference tournaments and Syracuse gets in over Iowa, it will be a travesty.

Vanderbilt’s resume looks a lot like Iowa’s, except they have worse losses and more wins over mediocre teams.
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In the second comparison, Team A is Vanderbilt - another one considered to be in. They are propped up by a pair of wins over Florida, which is ranked 5th in the RPI. Those are impressive, but if you look at Florida you have to wonder if maybe they aren’t just way over-ranked in the RPI as well.

Team B is, again, Iowa. And Team C is Kansas State. K-State is currently on the outside looking in, but Lunardi has them ahead of Iowa. I guess you can make that case, but it’s based on entirely different criteria than how you end up with Syracuse or Vanderbilt in the same neighborhood or ahead of Iowa. K-State doesn’t have terrible losses (like Vandy), but they don’t really have impressive wins either at 3-8 vs. the top 50 (wins over Baylor, West Virginia and OK-State). Their losses are similar to Iowa’s and they lost both matchups with ISU.

Team D, introduced outside of the resume comparison, is Illinois State. They have been considered in for some time, despite playing exactly nobody all year. All 3 of their top 50 games are against Wichita State, who bounced them from their conference tournament in a 20 point win after demolishing them by more than 40 earlier in the year. This ISU is a team Iowa likely jumps by nature of winning another game, but the fact they’re already ahead of them after beating nobody further demonstrates the goalposts move depending on who you’re making a case for.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s take a look at who our fellow bubble-mates are playing in their respective conference tournaments this week. Several have already gotten started courtesy of larger conferences or worse seedings. Georgia Tech played themselves out of a bid for certain with a loss to Pitt last night. Elsewhere in the ACC, Clemson and Wake Forest kept their hopes alive with wins over North Carolina State and Boston College respectively.

Bubble Watch March 8-10

Lunardi Bucket Team Record Opponent Opp Record Date Time TV Result
Lunardi Bucket Team Record Opponent Opp Record Date Time TV Result
Last 4 Byes Providence 20-11 Creighton 23-8 3/9 8:30 PM FS1
Last 4 Byes Marquette 19-11 Seton Hall 20-10 3/9 1:30 PM FS1 L, 82-76
Last 4 Byes Syracuse 18-13 Miami 20-10 3/8 11:00 AM ESPN L, 62-57
Last 4 Byes Vanderbilt 17-14 Texas A&M 16-14 3/9 6:00 PM SECN
Last 4 In Xavier 19-12 DePaul 9-22 3/8 8:30 PM FS1 W, 75-64
Last 4 In Wake Forest 18-12 VaTech 21-9 3/8 6:00 PM ESPN2 L, 99-90
Last 4 In USC 23-8 Washington 9-21 3/8 10:30 PM PAC12 W, 78-73
Last 4 In Illinois State 27-6 NA NA NA NA NA
First 4 Out Rhode Island 21-9 TBD TBD 3/10 1:30 PM NBCSN
First 4 Out Kansas State 19-12 Baylor 25-6 3/9 8:00 PM ESPNU
First 4 Out Illinois 18-13 Michigan 20-11 3/9 11:00 AM BTN L, 75-55
First 4 Out Iowa 18-13 Indiana 17-14 3/9 5:30 PM ESPN2
Next 4 Out Georgia Tech 17-14 NA NA NA NA NA
Next 4 Out Houston 21-9 TBD TBD 3/10 8:00 PM ESPNU
Next 4 Out Clemson 16-14 Duke 23-8 3/8 1:00 PM ESPN L, 79-72
Next 4 Out Cal 19-11 Oregon State 5-26 3/8 4:30 PM PAC12 W, 67-62

The ACC tournament continues today. Clemson gets Duke at 1pm CT on ESPN. Win that and they have played themselves back into the discussion of last 4 in vs. first 4 out. Wake gets a date with Virginia Tech at 6pm CT on ESPN2. A win there and they are locked in. A loss and Iowa can jump them, possibly as soon as Thursday night with a win over Indiana. Syracuse opens up tournament play with Miami today at 11am on ESPN. Everyone has them in, but lose this one and I think Iowa jumps them.

There are a handful of Big East teams on the bubble. The resumes of Providence and Marquette actually look pretty decent to me. Both play Thursday games against quality competition. I don’t know that a loss would drop them below Iowa, but it would be close. Xavier is similar and takes on a brutal DePaul team tonight. They’ll win, but if they don’t Iowa will jump them.

USC and Cal get some cupcake first round matchups in the PAC-12 today. Cal has some work to do, but USC is currently sitting just ahead of Iowa. Another win against a dreadful Washington team won’t do much to help them, but a loss would knock them out of contention.

Kansas State will get their shot at a quality win tomorrow night with Baylor. Lose and they are still sitting on the wrong side of the bubble. Win and they have a really good shot at getting in.

Iowa’s resume isn’t great. But if you are giving it an objective look, it compares OK to most of the bubble.
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At the end of the day, nothing matters if Iowa can’t take care of business against Indiana tomorrow night. They may need another win against Wisconsin as well, but a win against Indiana and the games between now and Sunday mean a whole lot more.

Tomorrow’s game is the most important college game yet for many of these young guys. You have to love the way they have finished this season heading into the Big Ten Tournament. And I have to believe when it comes down to it, the NCAA Selection Committee will look at how this team finished. Their resume is hurt by early season woes as this young group was finding itself. They had some stumbles and even missed some opportunities late (Illinois), but they also had another top 50 win stolen from them by brutal missed calls (Minnesota) and are a completely different team now than a few months ago.

If they pull out the win tomorrow, they will continue their run as one of the hottest teams in the country. Hawkeyes fans will be glued to the TVs for the ACC Tournament, Big East Tournament and Big 12 Tournament, as well as the rest of Championship Week. Lose tomorrow and they’re still going to be one of the toughest outs in the NIT. Regardless of outcome, it’s been a hell of a ride and it’s tough not to be excited about Iowa Basketball.