A little over a week ago, the Iowa Hawkeyes were fresh off a pair of losses as the roller coaster ride of 2022-2023 took a dip downward. That, of course, came just after the home matchup against Northwestern derailed what looked like a five-game winning streak that itself changed the course of the season after the calendar turned to 2023.
And so the ride continues with the Hawkeyes winning a pair of home matchups last week, setting up a month of February that will determine their fate in March. Big wins over Rutgers and Northwestern have Iowa in a 6-way tie for fourth place in the Big Ten standings as we enter the final five weeks of the season.
On Saturday, the Hawkeyes close out the home stand in a critical game for their hopes of attaining the coveted double bye in the Big Ten Tournament. The visiting Illinois Fighting Illini enter the day second in the conference standings at 7-4 with a loss jumping Iowa over them. That’s an important step not only as the Hawkeyes prepare to hit the road for four of their next five games, but also as they look ahead to tie breakers come BTT seeding time.
As things stand entering the day, the Hawkeyes remain in a good spot. While our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook give Iowa the fifth best chances of winning the conference outright at +1,000, the mred model using Sagarin data projects Iowa to finish third in the conference. That’s up a spot from our last check on those projections, when Iowa was expected to finish behind Purdue, Rutgers and Indiana.
After picking up a win at home against Rutgers that was not predicted by the data, Iowa is expected to close out the season 7-2. That includes a win on Saturday against the Illini, as well as wins @Minnesota, vs Ohio State, @Northwestern, @Wisconsin, vs Michigan State and vs Nebraska to close out the regular season. Here’s a look at the final projected standings based on the Sagarin data as of Friday, February 3rd.
1. Purdue (19 - 1)
2. Rutgers (14 - 6)
3. Iowa (13 - 7) Defeated Illinois based on head-to-head record (1-0).
4. Illinois (13 - 7) Lost to Iowa based on head-to-head record (0-1).
5. Maryland (12 - 8) Defeated Indiana based on head-to-head record (1-0).
6. Indiana (12 - 8) Lost to Maryland based on head-to-head record (0-1).
7. Mich St (11 - 9)
8. Michigan (10 - 10)
9. Wisconsin (9 - 11)
10. Penn St (8 - 12)
11. Ohio St (7 - 13) Defeated N’western based on head-to-head record (2-0).
12. N’western (7 - 13) Lost to Ohio St based on head-to-head record (0-2).
13. Nebraska (4 - 16)
14. Minnesota (1 - 19)
As far as the Big Ten Tournament, that sets up very nicely for the Hawkeyes - much better than a week ago even though Iowa was already projected to earn a double bye before the home wins. The key differential this week is jumping to the 3 seed which comes with a first matchup against either Indiana or the winner of Minnesota and Ohio State. Based on the current projections, Iowa would have wins over all those teams in the regular season.
That also sets up a much more favorable semifinal matchup than what was projected a week ago. Earning the 3 seed means no chance of seeing the vaunted Purdue Boilermakers until the Big Ten Championship Game and likely two opportunities for quad one wins before getting there.
Here’s a look at the updated Big Ten Tournament bracket using February 3rd data.
Beyond the Big Ten Tournament, the Hawkeyes certainly will have their sites set on making some noise in the NCAA Tournament. While Iowa has struggled to get over the Sweet Sixteen hump for more than two decades, earning a higher seed and thus a better matchup in the first two rounds is critical.
Following the two wins last week, Iowa’s projected tournament chances have continued to improve. The wins jumped the Hawkeyes up in virtually every key metric for their resume, including adding a quadrant one and two win. Coming down the home stretch, Iowa is 6-5 in quad 1 and 3-2 in quad 2 - both winning numbers and enough to overcome the black eye that won’t go away in the quad 4 loss to Eastern Illinois.
Here’s a rundown of how things stand per the various metrics as of February 3rd.
And here’s an updated look at the full resume according to WarrenNolan.
While the pair of wins last week did not jump Iowa a seed line in the consensus on Bracket Matrix, it did help the Hawkeyes move up in the latest edition of Joe Lunardi’s bracketology. He now has Iowa as a 7 seed in the East region. While the opening round matchup against Florida Atlantic isn’t significantly better than the prior projection against New Mexico, avoiding a one seed in the round of 32 is a major benefit.
Facing a 2 seed to get to the Sweet Sixteen is a big ask, but not totally undoable. While the Hawkeyes would surely like to make some noise down the stretch and finishing third in the Big Ten with a few more BTT wins would likely climb Iowa up a seed line or two, our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook are already looking beyond that coveted Sweet Sixteen spot.
DK gives the Hawkeyes the sixth best chances of making the Final Four out of all Big Ten teams at +2,500. That’s a spot lower than the conference championship odds as the bookmakers feel more confident in Michigan State’s ability to put together a tournament run than to win the conference in the regular season. Similarly, DK has Iowa at +10,000 to win the NCAA Tournament - tied for fifth best in the Big Ten with MSU. Purdue is given the best odds to win it all at +900. That’s second nationally behind only Houston (+700). The Boilermakers are +200 to make the Final Four. No pressure.
Iowa is set to continue their roller coaster journey this afternoon as they play host to the Illinois Fighting Illini. As noted, it’s a critical matchup not only for Iowa’s Big Ten standings, but also for their NCAA Tournament resume. The Orange Crush will not be in attendance after formally apologizing for attempting to defraud the Iowa Athletic Department by posing as a different non-profit group to obtain discounted group tickets together. Despite their absence, it remains a sell-out crowd for Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Tip time is set for 1pm CT. The game will be televised nationally on FOX.