The Iowa Hawkeyes picked up their second straight road win on Thursday night as they pummeled Maryland 89-67 in College Park. It was a big win not only because road wins in the Big Ten are difficult to come by, but because the Terrapins are currently ranked in the top-35 of the NCAA’s NET rankings. That makes the win in College Park Iowa’s second quadrant one win of the season.
As crazy as it may seem to even consider bracketology and quadrants and the like in early January, the expectations for this Iowa team are such that every game not just for the Hawkeyes, but for other top teams around the country, will have an impact on Iowa’s seed come NCAA Tournament time. In years past, any talk of seeds at such an early stage would have been blasphemous in and of itself. But this season the Hawkeyes have not just a chance at their first Sweet Sixteen since 1999, but a real chance at making a run at just the fourth Final Four appearance in program history.
This is not crazy talk. We’re nearly halfway through the 2020-2021 regular season and ahead of Iowa’s matchup with Maryland on Thursday night, ESPN2 displayed a graphic that should have Iowa fans everywhere pretty excited about their program.
The Hawkeyes have the third best odds of any team in the nation to win the NCAA Championship this year. That’s not just a Sweet Sixteen or even a Final Four appearance - we’re talking bringing home the whole thing.
But to get there, the easiest path is to achieve a very high seed. And thus, we’re looking at bracketology and seeding and quadrants and nitty gritty reports in January. Embrace it. Enjoy it. This type of team doesn’t come around very often.
As of Friday, January 8th, the Hawkeyes are in good, if not great, position for exactly what they need: a top seed come tournament time. Iowa’s win over Maryland was big in a number of ways, as noted above, but one of the more subtle implications was related to the defensive effort shown by the Hawkeyes. Iowa held Maryland to just 67 total points on 74 possessions. You don’t need to be a math genius to see that’s fewer points than possessions and you don’t need to be a stat geek to know that’s good.
The effort bumped Iowa up a whopping 20 spots in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings (from 97th to 77th). That helped move them up a spot in the overall rankings as well given the Hawkeyes already sit atop the offensive efficiency ranks.
Here’s your weekly look at how things stand in the various rankings.
*The NCAA’s NET rankings update daily. This publication was originally posted when Iowa was still ranked 8th, before the ranks had been updated to reflect Iowa’s win over Maryland.
For those unfamiliar, the nitty gritty report is one of the components utilized by the selection committee come Selection Sunday. It provides an in depth breakdown of a team’s resume according to the NCAA’s NET rankings. Here’s a look at Iowa’s nitty gritty report as presented by WarrenNolan.com.
As you can see in the above, the Hawkeyes moved to 2-2 in quadrant one games (“good wins”) thanks to a road win over the Terrapins, who are currently 35th in the NET. Iowa is punished a bit in the NET due to its barbell schedule to-date. Outside the 4 quad 1 games, Iowa has played 3 games against quad 2 opponents, none in quad 3 and has 5 wins over quad 4 opponents (potential “bad losses”).
Perhaps the biggest detraction thus far is just how bad some of those quad 4 opponents have been. You’ll note Southern, Western Illinois and Northern Illinois all come in below 300 in the NET.
There are a million different places that put out their own projected bracket and you can find nearly all of them on Bracket Matrix. As it stands, the Hawkeyes were projected as a 3 seed coming into this week. However, that is pretty stale data with the matrix not being updated since New Year’s Day and a number of the inputs not even factoring in Iowa’s win over Rutgers last Saturday. Look for the Hawkeyes to make a nice jump here when things are updated, perhaps as early as today.
One place that has been updated is everyone’s favorite (or something like that) bracketologist: ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. Lunardi regularly updates his projections and we got a fresh bracket from the man himself on Tuesday of this week. That of course, was before the win over Maryland, as well as before Texas struggled to put away a miserable Iowa State team at home.
Regardless, Lunardi had Iowa up to a 2 seed earlier this week. Here’s a look at the Iowa quadrant of his bracket.
While Iowa fans would certainly like to end up on the 1 line, I think we would all be pretty happy to see the Hawkeyes land a 2 seed with that road in front of them.
It’s still plenty early and teams will have a long time to shape their resumes between now and Selection Sunday. But since we’re here, we might as well start to take a look at what can help and hurt Iowa down the stretch.
The obvious things to root for are losses in front of Iowa. Based on just Lunardi’s bracket, Iowa fans should be rooting for losses out of Baylor, Texas, Villanova and all the top Big Ten teams. Note that Gonzaga isn’t on that list based solely on the fact Iowa lost to the Zags. You could make an argument for rooting against them given they’re at no risk of falling out of the first quadrant, but it seems highly unlikely they take a loss this year no matter how hard we root (also note I do know that nobody is losing based on rooting from opposing fans).
The other teams to root for are those three quadrant 2 teams. Purdue, Nothwestern and North Carolina are all teams that could jump to quadrant 1 wins if they can get a few wins in the right places while avoiding bad losses.
And finally, Iowa fans may need to suck up their pride and root for Iowa State to not be quite so miserable. The Cyclones are capable of jumping out of quadrant 4 and into quadrant 3, which would be a nice boost to the NET resume. North Carolina Central is also within striking distance, but less likely given the quality of opponents remaining on their schedule.
We’ll have updates on games to watch each Friday from now through the end of the season that will highlight upcoming games featuring some of the above teams, as well as others.