The Iowa Hawkeyes have put together a very solid 2021-2022 season thus far. Solid, but not great. Iowa doesn’t really have any bad losses this year. Of their eight total losses, five are considered quadrant one losses according to the NCAA’s NET rankings. The other three fall into quadrant two. Two of those losses were frustrating ones on the road at Rutgers and Penn State that felt like they could have changed the narrative on the year if they had gone the other way.
But the Hawkeyes went out on Saturday and tried to change the narrative anyway by doing something they hadn’t done all year: winning a quad one game. They did just that as they took down #18 Ohio State in Columbus to notch not only their first quad one win, but also their first ranked win of the season.
Now, the Hawkeyes will return to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday night to do something else they haven’t done all season: win a game as a ranked team. Iowa used the big time road win on Saturday to overcome another frustrating loss at home to Michigan last Thursday and jump into the AP top-25 for the first time all season Monday morning.
This marks the fourth consecutive season the Hawkeyes have been ranked in the top-25 at some point during the year and the 7th time in the last nine years under head coach Fran McCaffery. That’s the longest stretch of years with an AP top-25 appearance for the Hawkeyes since they did it eight straight years spanning the final five under head coach Tom Davis and the first three under head coach Steve Alford. Iowa’s longest stretch of AP appearances came from 1978-1993 when Lute Olson began his legendary run starting in his fifth season. That 15-year run spanned across Olson, George Raveling and the first seven years under the aforementioned Davis. Iowa was only left out of the AP top-25 wire-to-wire one year from 1978-2002 - Davis’s 1992-1993 team.
The Hawkeyes are one of five Big Ten teams ranked in this week’s top-25. They take the place of Michigan State, their opponent Tuesday night, which dropped back-to-back games to end last week. For their loss to Iowa, the Ohio State Buckeyes fall four spots to #22 this week. Illinois drops three spots to #15 while the Wisconsin Badgers came out of the scuffle with Michigan on Sunday two spots higher at #13 in the nation. Purdue remains the Big Ten’s top team in the polls at #4. That’s up one spot from a week ago.
The MSU Spartans received just one fewer vote than the Hawkeyes, making them the first team out. They’re followed closely by Rutgers, which has been on an absolute tear the last several weeks.
The move into the AP top-25 begins to align the human polls with what the computer models have been saying for weeks. Iowa has spent most of the season hovering around the top-20 nationally according to KenPom, Sagarin, NET and other advanced analytics. The lack of high-end wins has held the Hawkeyes back in the eyes of voters. Saturday helped to change that.
Now the Hawkeyes look to keep the momentum rolling as February draws to a close. Tuesday’s matchup with Michigan State is no longer against a ranked opponent, but it’s another opportunity for Iowa to add to its resume with a quad one win. The Spartans head into Tuesday ranked 28th in the NET, just inside that top quadrant for a home matchup. A win would really solidify Iowa’s resume before a pair of quad three games at Nebraska and at home against Northwestern.
It would also set Iowa up for a much better position in the Big Ten Tournament and potentially the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes enter the week 7th in the Big Ten and one game behind the Spartans. A win would jump Iowa to 6th in the conference and position them for a first round matchup with one of the lower end Big Ten teams. It would also open the door for a run at that fifth seed or even higher if the Hawkeyes could pull off a couple road wins to end the season.
Iowa ended last week, fresh off the loss at home to Michigan, as a projected 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament according to Bracket Matrix. That will surely jump back up at least a full seed line as fresh brackets are released early this week.
But a win over Michigan State on Tuesday would likely help propel the Hawkeyes up at least two seed lines while simultaneously hurting the Spartans, a projected 6-seed as of 2/19. Much work remains to be done for Iowa, but a 6-seed is not outside the realm of possibility. The potential matchups on that line are vastly superior, particularly in the second round, to what the Hawkeyes would face on the 7, 8 or 9 line.
Tip time against Michigan State is set for 6pm CT. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. The Hawkeyes are set to retire four jerseys Tuesday night, including all-time leading scorer and 2021 National Player of the Year Luka Garza, who will be in attendance.