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Iowa creeps onto NCAA tournament bubble after win over Minnesota

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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.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

No. 23 USC falls at Arizona State

Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley applauds the efforts of his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arizona, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)
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No. 23 USC missed a golden opportunity to make up a game in the Pac-12 standings on Friday night.

No. 11 Oregon lost to Colorado on Thursday night, dropping back into a tie for first place in the league with the Trojans, a game ahead of No. 17 Arizona. But USC fell at Arizona State, 74-67, keeping them a game off of the pace that the Ducks have set.

The loss is even more painful when you consider that, on Sunday, the Trojans will be making the trip to Tucson to take on Arizona. The Wildcats are not what we have become accustomed to seeing under Sean Miller, but they are still a top 25 team and the McKale Center is still one of the toughest places in the country to get a win.

Thanks to Friday’s loss, instead of entering McKale with an outside chance of taking over sole possession of first place in the league, USC will have top hope they don’t fall two games off the pace.

As far as the game itself was concerned, USC committed 17 turnovers, shot 2-for-11 from three and gave up 16 offensive rebounds to Arizona State. That’s how you lose a game where you shoot better than 51 percent from the floor. USC was just never able to consistently get out into transition, and that caused them to struggle executing in the half court.

Nikola Jovanovic led the way with 25 points and 15 boards for USC.

Tra Holder’s 20 points made the difference for Arizona State, who kept themselves within striking distance of an at-large bid with the win.

Davis helps No. 19 Dayton beat Rhode Island 68-66

Dayton's Scoochie Smith (11) drives past Rhode Island's Jarvis Garrett (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Kingston, R.I., on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Joe Giblin)
(AP Photo/Joe Giblin)
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KINGSTON, R.I. (AP) Darrell Davis made a go-ahead 3-pointer from the corner with 21.1 seconds left and No. 19 Dayton beat Rhode Island 68-66 on Friday night.

Rhode Island’s Four McGlynn missed a 3-pointer with 4 seconds left. Dayton got the rebound, and Steve McElvene made one of two free throws for the Flyers with 0.3 seconds to go.

Dyshawn Pierre led Dayton (21-3, 11-1 Atlantic 10) with 17 points and also had nine rebounds. Scoochie Smith added 16 points, and Davis finished with eight.

The Flyers won their ninth straight game and ended a six-game losing streak in Kingston.

McGlynn had 19 points for Rhode Island (14-11, 6-6). Hassan Martin added 15 points and 10 rebounds.

There were 17 lead changes, three in the final 55 seconds.

Pierre made two free throws with 55 seconds left to give the Flyers a one-point lead. Martin countered for the Rams with a three-point play 40 seconds left.

TIP-INS

Dayton: Dayton’s 21-3 start is its best since also opening 21-3 in 2008-09. … The Flyers shot 52.0 percent, going 26 of 50.

Rhode Island: Rhode Island’s six Atlantic 10 losses have been by a combined 30 points. … Martin made his 15th career double-double.

UP NEXT:

Dayton: at Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday night.

Rhode Island: at VCU on Tuesday night.