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IOWA BASKETBALL: BIG TEN TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

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The Hawkeyes’ regular season didn’t go as planned. Now Iowa basketball turns to what is likely to be their only postseason play: the Big Ten Tournament.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Final-Michigan vs Wisconsin
The 8th seeded Michigan Wolverines won the Big Ten Tournament a season ago. That’s the lowest seed ever to win it. The question now is how low can it go?
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

A long and tumultuous regular season came to an end for the Iowa basketball team on Sunday. The Hawkeyes finished the year a disappointing 13-18 and 4-14 in the Big Ten, but they ended the season on a high note with a 77-70 victory over they Northwestern Wildcats. Now they look to carry that momentum into the Big Ten Tournament, which kicks off Wednesday afternoon from Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Action gets started at 4:30 CT. According to the Big Ten website, BTN will have coverage of all games on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. CBS has the rights to the semifinals on Saturday and championship game on Sunday.

If you’re planning to head out to the Garden, the Big Ten says there are still tickets available.

All-session tickets currently remain available at the Madison Square Garden box office, Ticketmaster.com or charge by phone at 800-745-3000. Single-session tickets will go on sale beginning at Noon ET on Monday.

Here’s a look at how the tournament bracket shook out.

The Hawkeye men open up the Big Ten Tournament Wednesday at 4:30 CT against Illinois.
Image via bigten.org

As you can see, the Hawkeyes are the 12 seed after risking a potential 14 seed with a loss in their regular season finale. Nevertheless, the Hawkeyes are theoretically favored as the higher seed and the “home” team. They’ll take on the 13th-seeded Illinois Fighting Illini. Iowa won the only regular season matchup with the Illini, taking home a 104-97 victory in Champaign back on January 11th. That was Iowa’s lone road win in conference play.

Should Iowa beat Illinois, they would advance to take on a Michigan squad who beat the Hawkeyes twice this season by a combined 22 points. That game is scheduled to tip off at 1:30 CT on Thursday, pending the completion of the contest between Wisconsin and Maryland that tips at 11am CT.

A win over Illinois would also mean the Hawkeyes avoid the dubious honor of ending their season in the month of February for the first time since football star and Hawkeye hero Nile Kinnick was on the hardwood for the final buzzer on February 28th, 1938.

On the season, Iowa is 2-2 in neutral site games with wins over Drake in the Hy-Vee Classic and UAB in the Cayman Islands. Their two losses came at the hands of Louisiana and South Dakota State in the Caymans.

Fran McCaffery is 2-7 in BTT play with the last win coming in 2013. That’s the lowest winning percentage of any active Big Ten coach, but better than either Tom Davis (0-2) or Todd Lickliter (0-3). If there’s any consolation for Hawkeye fans, both of McCaffery’s tournament wins came in the opening round of the tournament. With Iowa needing to win 5 games in 5 days to have hope of any kind of postseason play, things don’t look great as Fran’s team has never advanced beyond the second round.

Iowa hasn’t won the Big Ten Tournament since 2006 when the REDACTED-led Hawkeyes took down Minnesota, Michigan State and Ohio State en route to the title as the #2 seed. Iowa has never won 5 games in 5 days as the current format requiring such a run has only been in place since 2015. The Hawkeyes did, however, rattle off 4 wins in 4 days back in 2001 as the #6 seed. At the time, that was the lowest seed to win the tournament. Last season, #8 seed Michigan took home the crown as the lowest seed in tournament history.

In the 20-year history of the tournament, which began in 1998, the 12-seed has won only two games. Both of those wins came, ironically, from the Illini who in 2016 beat the 13 seed Minnesota and the 5th-seeded Hawkeyes before being defeated by the #4 seed Purdue in the quarterfinals.

For their part, the Hawkeyes are 15-18 all-time in the tournament. They’ve won it twice (2001, 2006) and finished runner-up once (2002). Iowa has had 5 players make the all-tournament team, including Reggie Evans in 2001 & 2002, Luke Recker in 2002, and Greg Bruner & Jeff Horner in 2006. Evans was named the most outstanding player in the 2001 tournament, as was Horner in 2006.

In 2002, Recker set the tournament record for scoring with 91 points (it’s worth noting that the winner of most outstanding player that year was Boban Savovic of the tournament champion Ohio State Buckeyes, who defeated Iowa in the championship game - they were later forced to vacate that victory due to NCAA sanctions). The 2001 tournament champion Hawkeyes hold the record for most points in a tournament with 304 (tied with the 2017 Michigan Wolverines). For the 2018 Hawkeyes to have any shot at making some noise, they will likely need an offensive outpouring like that of Luke Recker in 2002 and the entire team in 2001.