clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Iowa Basketball: Evaluating Big Ten Tournament Seeding Scenarios

New, 16 comments

How high can the Hawkeyes climb?

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Ohio State
Is Michigan locked in to the #1 seed?
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

We are now into the second to last week of the regular season for Big Ten basketball. As fate would have it, there is still a four team race alive for the Big Ten regular season championship with a number of games between the contenders remaining. While Michigan has held a lead in the conference standings for the better part of two months thanks to a combination of a really good team, a really soft schedule and three weeks of not playing a game, they have not yet won the title.

To do so, they’ll need to beat both Iowa and Illinois down the stretch and avoid any stinkers along the way. They took care of their first big challenge by defeating #4 Ohio State over the weekend, but that was just their first showdown with another top-4 team in the conference all season. Can they take down the other two? We’ll know soon enough.

But for Iowa fans, as we stare down the barrel of a week filled with road trips to #3 Michigan and #4 Ohio State, the question is not whether the Wolverines will win the conference, but how the Hawkeyes could unseat them. And if they don’t, where exactly will Iowa land come conference tournament time in a few short weeks?

Here’s an updated look at how things stand as of today - Tuesday, February 23rd.

Image via Big Ten Network

As you can see, the Hawkeyes are currently fourth in the conference standings. They’re a full two games behind league-leader Michigan, but only half a game behind Ohio State. That same half a game is all that separates the Wolverines from Illinois atop the standings.

Iowa’s remaining schedule is as follows:

Thursday, February 25th - @ #3 Michigan
Sunday, February 28th - @ #4 Ohio State
Thursday, March 4th - vs Nebraska
Sunday, March 7th - vs #23 Wisconsin

Using a glorious tool from mred, let’s evaluate the various potential outcomes as they pertain to the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Iowa Wins the Big Ten Regular Season Title

This is obviously what we started the season hoping for and in some cases, expecting. At this point, the dream is not dead, but the chances are very slim. Here’s what has to happen.

  1. Iowa wins out
  2. Michigan must lost four of their five remaining games (vs #9 Iowa, @ Indiana, vs #5 Illinois, vs Michigan State, @ Michigan State)
  3. Illinois must lose three of their five remaining games (@ Michigan State, vs Nebraska, @ #23 Wisconsin, @ #3 Michigan, @ #4 Ohio State)

Aside from the obvious difficulty in winning out in the final four games when two of them are road trips to the #3 and #4 teams in America on short enough rest the team is considering simply traveling between the two instead of returning to Iowa City, things get messy with the other remaining matchups. Because Iowa only played Illinois once and lost in Champaign, they need to avoid a tie in the win/loss columns. For the Hawkeyes to jump the Illini, they need Illinois to lose three more games.

That gets complicated when one of the five remaining games is against Michigan, who Iowa also needs to lose multiple games, while two others are against unranked and struggling MSU and Nebraska.

Put simply, Iowa needs the winner of the Michigan-Illinois matchup to drop a stinker to an unranked opponent or they aren’t winning the Big Ten title. Possible, but not likely.

Equally improbable is a second scenario.

Scenario 2

  1. Iowa wins three of final four, including @ Michigan and @ Ohio State
  2. Michigan loses final five games
  3. Illinois loses four of final five games, but beats Michigan
  4. Ohio State loses @ Michigan State and vs Iowa

Either way, if Iowa wants to keep the dream of a Big Ten title alive, they have to win both games this week. On the road. Against top-5 opponents.

Hawkeyes Finish 2nd

Much more plausible is that Iowa finishes second and we all spend a lifetime breaking down the idiosyncrasies of the losses at Minnesota and Indiana. Here’s a rundown of what needs to happen for the Hawkeyes to climb two spots in the standings over the next two weeks.

Scenario 1

  1. Iowa wins out
  2. Michigan loses four of their five remaining games
  3. Illinois wins at least three of their 5 remaining games

Scenario 2

  1. Iowa wins out
  2. Michigan loses fewer than four of their five remaining games
  3. Illinois loses at least three of their remaining five games

Scenario 3

  1. Iowa wins three of final four, including @ Ohio State
  2. Illinois loses four of final five games

Scenario 4

  1. Iowa wins three of final four, including @ Michigan
  2. Michigan loses final five games
  3. Ohio State loses @ Michigan State and vs Illinois

Put simply, Iowa needs to win both games this week in order to push for the 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. But the more important game of the two is at Ohio State given the difficulty in jumping Michigan in the standings if the Hawkeyes drop a game down the stretch. If Iowa loses, its best path forward is to jump Ohio State and hope Illinois slips up somewhere.

The Hawkeyes cannot finish higher than fourth if they lose both games this week.

Iowa Earns a 3 Seed

The cleanest path to a 3 seed and the coveted double bye in the Big Ten Tournament involves Iowa beating Ohio State this weekend. While taking down Michigan would be great, winning in Columbus would do more for Iowa’s most likely seed improvement. Winning both opens all doors, but remains unlikely.

Here’s a look at a few of the scenarios.

Scenario 1

  1. Iowa wins three of final four
  2. Ohio State loses two of final three (@ Michigan State, vs #9 Iowa, vs #4 Illinois)

Scenario 2

  1. Iowa wins three of final four, including @ Ohio State
  2. Ohio State beats Illinois and Michigan State
  3. Illinois loses three of final five games

Scenario 3

  1. Iowa wins final four games
  2. Michigan wins three or more of final five games
  3. Illinois wins three or more of final five games

Scenario 4

  1. Iowa beat Michigan and Ohio State, but lose to Nebraska and Michigan State
  2. Ohio State loses two of final three games
  3. Purdue loses one of final three games (@ Penn State, vs #23 Wisconsin, vs Indiana)

As noted, the key to all scenarios involving a 3 seed is beating Ohio State. We will know what doors remain open after Thursday night, but if the Buckeyes win at Michigan State, Iowa cannot earn a 3 seed without winning in Columbus on Sunday.

If Iowa drops two of their last four games, Purdue becomes a major factor in the seeding process.

Hawkeyes Stay at 4th

This is arguably the most likely outcome with myriad ways to get here. We won’t dive in to all the potential outcomes, but rather will focus on the most likely.

Scenario 1

  1. Iowa loses two of final four
  2. Purdue loses one of their final three

Scenario 2

  1. Iowa wins three of final four, including @ Ohio State
  2. Ohio State wins two of final three

Scenario 3

  1. Iowa finishes the year 1-3
  2. Purdue loses two of final three games
  3. Wisconsin loses one of final three games

Purdue is a bit of a dark horse here in that their remaining schedule is relatively soft. The Boilermakers have been playing very well and have multiple paths to a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament that involve jumping Iowa or Ohio State or both. Hawkeye fans need to be rooting for Purdue to drop a game down the stretch.

Iowa Falls Out of Top 4

While there are a number of scenarios that get Iowa to a double bye, the one currently predicted by Sagarin involves Iowa falling to a 5 seed in the final standings. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, it’s not the only such scenario where Iowa takes a tumble. Here are a couple of the other most plausible ones.

Scenario 1

  1. Iowa loses two of final four games
  2. Purdue wins final three games

Iowa finishes 5th.

Scenario 2

  1. Iowa loses three or more of final four, including vs Wisconsin
  2. Wisconsin wins final three games

Iowa finishes 6th.


At the end of the day, Iowa has a wide range of potential outcomes. They don’t fully control their own fate in that they need help if they want to win the conference. But they still very much could win the conference. They could also fall to as low as 6th in the final standings.

Winning at Michigan on Thursday night keeps the dream of a title alive, but the key matchup for earning the coveted double bye in the Big Ten Tournament is on Sunday at Ohio State. From there, Hawkeye fans need to start rooting for Michigan State and Wisconsin (except in their trip to Iowa City, of course) as they are involved in a number of matchups with the league’s other top teams that could improve Iowa’s standing.

Whatever happens over the next two weeks, it’s going to be a thrilling time for college basketball fans. Here’s hoping it’s an enjoyable one for Hawkeye fans.