In the nation’s toughest conference, Iowa has lost a handful of disappointing games in the final minutes, games that, had they been wins, would have made for an impressive league record.
That includes being within one point in the final six minutes against No. 1 Indiana. It includes a strong first half against No. 4 Michigan before the wheels fell off. It includes having a chance to tie No. 8 Michigan State with 30 seconds to play. It even includes being within four points with under two minutes left against No. 13 Ohio State.
But that has become the nature of the Big Ten. It is the nation’s deepest conference top to bottom, but after a dominating 72-51 win at home over Minnesota Sunday, Iowa is creeping into the conversation for the NCAA tournament.
Part of that has to do with how the conference schedule has fallen, which is ultimately something outside of Iowa’s control. Instead of getting crunched at the end of the season with a string of high-quality opponents late, Iowa had to endure that storm early in the year. Take a look at this stat from Scott Dochterman of The Gazette:
Iowa’s first 10 league opponents have a combined 63-47 Big Ten record. The Hawkeyes’ final eight league opponents are 33-55. Only No. 1 Indiana (9-2) boasts a winning league record.
Because they’ve already worked through the top part of the conference earlier in the season, it is not inconceivable that the Hawkeyes could finish 3-2 or even 4-1 in their final five games. A pivotal game in that stretch would likely be against Illinois on March 5. The Hawkeyes have the benefit of being at home and a victory would not only give them a quality win, but get them closer to the magic 20-win number.
That, plus the Big Ten tournament, could push Iowa into a position for an at-large bid. With a SOS of 36 and RPI of 86, they could find themselves in the conversation for the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday.
This win Sunday over Minnesota is the first step on that long path.