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Hawkeye Basketball: An Early Look at Iowa’s NCAA Tournament Hopes

Despite some fan consternation, the Hawkeyes appear firmly in the field of 68 with a month left to play.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Iowa
Can Keegan Murray propel the Hawkeyes into the Tournament?
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

As we enter the second week of February, the home stretch for the 2021-2022 college basketball season is within site. With that comes the hope and anticipation for the NCAA Tournament. For the Iowa Hawkeyes, that comes with a lot more angst than in the recent past.

A season ago, Iowa was more worried about whether they could vie for a 1 seed than whether or not they would make the tournament. Now, the Hawkeyes are without National Player of the Year Luka Garza and despite the emergence of another NPOY candidate in Keegan Murray, they’ve had a much more up-and-down season.

Despite those ups and downs, the Hawkeyes find themselves a month away from the end of the regular season in a solid position to make the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year. Iowa is likely to go wire-to-wire unranked in the AP top-25 for the first time in four years and for just the third time in nine years. They don’t have a marquee win. But they also don’t have a truly bad loss on their resume.

It’s for that reason the Hawkeyes find themselves projected as pretty firmly in the field of 68. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had Iowa as a 7-seed ahead of the weekend and a double-digit win over Minnesota is not likely to change that this week. Currently, Lunardi has Iowa taking on 10 seed Colorado State in San Diego in the opening round with a matchup against 2nd seed Arizona waiting in the round of 32.

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Lunardi isn’t alone, however, in having Iowa projected as in. According to Bracket Matrix, the Hawkeyes are a consensus 8 seed with every contributing bracketologist projecting Iowa in the field. Number Fire is the highest on Iowa, projecting them as a 5 seed last week while Daily Bracketologist is lowest as a 12 seed.

Key Metrics

So why is Iowa being projected firmly in the bracket and not on the bubble as so many Hawkeye fans have lamented? Quite simply, because they have been a darling of all the metrics all season. With eight games left on the regular season schedule (and potentially nine if the trip to OSU is indeed rescheduled), Iowa is top-25 in basically every modern computer model. The exception there, as usual, is the RPI. But even that antiquated metric has Iowa firmly in the field of 68.

Here’s a look at where the Hawkeyes stand as we enter the second week of February.

KenPom: 21
Sagarin: 21
RPI: 43
NET: 22

That last one is the one that really matters. While KenPom is predictive and incredibly interesting to dissect, it’s the NCAA’s NET ranking which really drives the car when it comes to making the NCAA Tournament and determining seeding.

Here’s a look at Iowa’s resume as of today.

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Some notable takeaways from the team sheet here. For starters, there are no red boxes on the right half of the sheet. That is to say, despite how frustrating the close losses at Rutgers and Penn State were as fans, they aren’t truly “bad losses” in the eyes of the NCAA.

But just as there are no bad losses, the left side of the sheet is notably light on games without a red box. Iowa currently only has one quadrant one victory - the neutral site game over Utah State. That one is only 7 NET spots away from falling to a Q2 win, which would be a concern for the Hawkeyes.

What’s Next

The eight remaining games already on the schedule give the Hawkeyes an excellent mix of games they should win, which could stack up to help bolster the overall record, and challenging games capable of giving Iowa that coveted signature win for the year. This week, Iowa travels to Maryland for a chance at a quad two win over the Terrapins before returning home for a quad four matchup with the struggling Nebraska Cornhuskers. Both a critical wins for Iowa to maintain current projections.

Next week, things ratchet up a bit with a pair of home games against the Michigan schools. First it’s a Q2 opportunity against the Wolverines, followed by a chance for that signature win against the #13 Michigan State Spartans.

All told, Iowa has three remaining quad one games, three in quad two and a pair of quad four matchups against Nebraska. If the Ohio State game is rescheduled, that would make four quad one opportunities in the final nine games of the season. If the Hawkeyes can simply avoid a loss to Nebraska and stack a few more wins against their other opponents, they’ll enter the Big Ten Tournament looking to play for seeding rather than a spot in the NCAA Tournament.