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The backdoor is still open for Iowa to get the double bye

The ooey gooey middle of the Big Ten will get itself sorted out over the next couple weeks

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

As I’m wont to do in the aftermath of another Iowa Hawkeye victory, I found myself on KenPom for a bit and a couple things have stood out:

  1. Iowa’s the third highest rated team in the conference, at 17. Purdue and Illinois are tops, at 12 & 15.
  2. The Big Ten is wayyy down from last season - 7 teams are in the top 40 with nobody in the top 10. Last season saw 3 top 10 teams & 9 in the top 40.
  3. Iowa’s projected record (11-8) is um, not all that different than the projected record of the team expected to finish 4th - Ohio State (12-6).

Now, the trickiness is OSU’s two games - Nebraska and Saturday against Iowa - still haven’t been folded into the arithmetic. My estimate is that the addition of them would have the Buckeye’s projected record at 13-7 or 14-8. Iowa, of course, can add to the Buckeyes loss column and their win column in one fell swoop, but that probably crosses the line into counting chickens before they hatch.

Standings via

But it’s there for Iowa, which is something I didn’t expect coming into the season. Let’s take a quick temperature of the conference writ large to bounce the Hawks prospects up against the rest of the group.

unless otherwise noted, the parentheses are today’s NET rankings

Tier 1: Illinois (13), Purdue (9), & Wisconsin (23)

Illinois is the most balanced of the three ball clubs (top 25 offense and defense) but has the double L to Purdue. Their other loss in conference? A Kofi-less endeavor at Maryland. They finish at Rutgers, at Michigan State, vs. Ohio State, at Michigan, vs. Penn State, and vs. our Hawkeyes. There’s still a lot of work to be done to wrap up the conference, but it would take a real plunge to fall outside the top 4.

Purdue’s final stretch has its own set of concerns, with road games at Northwestern, Michigan State, and Wisconsin and home showdowns against Rutgers and Indiana. With losses to Wisky, Rutgers, and IU already on the balance sheet, they could be in a tough spot if they find themselves in a tiebreaker. The Boilermakers have shown a weird propensity for struggling to close games. Gotta think that bites them in the rear end eventually.

Wisconsin...once again the devil magic does it as they’re 10-4 and possess the easiest landing of the three despite being the worst analytically (37th in KenPom) but still have Nebraska & Minnesota on the schedule. They close at IU, vs. Michigan, at Minnesota, at Rutgers, vs. Purdue, vs. Nebraska. They seem safe considering just Michigan (7-6), Rutgers (9-5), and Purdue (11-4) are in the top half of the conference among their final opponents.

Tier 2: Michigan State (24), Ohio State (17), Rutgers (81)

The Spartans have the toughest remaining schedule of this group, facing Illinois, Iowa, & Purdue back-to-back-to-back after a road game tomorrow at Penn State. They’ve also got Michigan, Ohio State, and a potentially dangerous Maryland team to close it out. But Izzo has had a propensity for his teams peaking at the right time and Malik Hall has shown some real ability in recent weeks.

Ohio State looks to be in in the catbird seat among this group, especially once the Iowa & Nebraska games are accounted for. So the Hawks are probably gonna need some help from a “surprise” (away games at Minnesota or Maryland?) for the Buckeyes to come back enough for Iowa to overcome them. Six of their final eight games are at home, though, but they’re gonna have two three-game weeks to close the season.

Rutgers, right now, is probably the team I’d least want to face among Big Ten opponents. I really rue that loss in Piscataway, since that’d have put Iowa in great position. Their schedule is an absolute bear, though: vs. Illinois, at Purdue, at Michigan, vs. Wisconsin, at Indiana, vs. Penn State. One thing in their favor, in a twisted sort of way, is that their non-conference performances - losses to DePaul, Lafayette, and Massachusetts - dictate they need to get into the tournament with a strong finish. Seriously, just one bracket out of over 100 have them in, according to Bracket Matrix, despite wins against Purdue, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.

Tier 3: Iowa (19), Michigan (35), Indiana (41)

Iowa’s schedule is daunting simply because five of their seven games are against opponents they’ll be vying for that double bye with. But that offers its own set of opportunities...with nothing baked against MSU, Michigan, or OSU, Iowa controls their destiny tiebreaker-wise. It could set up an absolutely huge finale against Illinois.

Michigan and Indiana are perhaps the conferences two least explicable teams. The games between Iowa and the Wolverines could look large if both make runs towards that double bye.

The concern as it stands for Iowa is that they simply have a lot of teams to go through with six teams potentially vying for that last spot. Yet their schedule is ripe with opportunity for Iowa to stand atop the group with a strong finish - something they did last year with a 7-1 finish in February. If they can mirror that result, they’ll head into March playing their best basketball and set themselves up for success in both the conference and NCAA tournaments.

Hopefully this blog didn’t jinx that.