Iowa basketball: Big Ten outlook

After last night’s win over Nebraska the Iowa basketball team will look to continue through Big Ten play in hopes of potentially making a run at the regular season crown.At 12-2, the no. 22 ranked Hawkeyes hope to turn their early season momentum into sustained success as the competition stiffens.

It certainly won’t be easy for this Iowa team to navigate its conference schedule. Including the Hawkeyes, four Big Ten squads sit within the top 25 (three in the top 5), with Illinois and Michigan receiving votes as well.

Looking ahead to the Hawkeyes’ schedule I see a definite opportunity to make a leap from last year’s 9-9 record. The Big Ten might be as good as it was a year ago, but the increase in talent and cohesion on the Iowa squad will lend itself to more victories this time around in my opinion.

Production and leadership from players like junior forward Aaron White will be crucial for the Hawkeyes to reach the upper echelon of the Big Ten. (Photo Credit: Ben Roberts)

Production and leadership from players like junior forward Aaron White will be crucial for the Hawkeyes to reach the upper echelon of the Big Ten. (Photo Credit: Ben Roberts)

In scanning the home games to come, I see contests against Northwestern, Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan, and Illinois as should-wins for the Hawkeyes. While a few of these teams have the talent to beat Iowa if the Hawkeyes don’t play well, Iowa will likely be favored in each game.

Over the past two seasons Iowa has a 28-2 record at home. It won’t be easy for any team to waltz into Iowa City and come away with a victory, much less these five unranked opponents.

The remaining home contests are against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State respectively. Without a doubt these games are circled as statement opportunities to bolster Iowa’s NCAA Tournament resume. I hold the thought that the Hawkeyes can win all three of these pivotal games for a few reasons.

Despite its lofty #4 ranking, I believe Iowa is a better team than Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes have won three of their previous four meetings with the Badgers, and I don’t see that trend changing this season. Iowa has also proven it can play with Michigan State (see two nail-biting losses a year ago), and Ohio State could struggle to score with the Hawkeyes on the road.

An undefeated conference home slate would result if this all comes to fruition, but more than likely Iowa will drop a game somewhere along the line to finish around 8-1 at home.

In examining the road schedule, the mettle of the Hawkeyes will be tested. Games at Northwestern and Penn State are must-haves for Iowa. After those two, six contests remain that will likely determine Iowa’s place in the final standings.

Trips to Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois almost guarantee that the visiting team will find itself in a dogfight to come away with a win. However, in a year in which these three programs have slightly regressed from their usual prominence there is the opportunity for a squad like Iowa to go in and emerge victorious.

The final three road tests will come against the aforementioned big three of Wisconsin, MSU, and OSU. Of these three I think Iowa’s best chance for a win will come at the Kohl Center against the Badgers. The Hawkeyes have won there recently with lesser teams than this year’s version, while they have traditionally struggled in Columbus and East Lansing.

All in all I think Iowa goes either 5-4 or 4-5 away from home, which would be a huge improvement over a season ago.

Should my prognostications prove to be relatively accurate (don’t hold me to that), Iowa would finish Big Ten play with a record in the neighborhood of 13-5 or 12-6. Either of those would nearly guarantee a top 3-4 finish. And who knows, with a few fortuitous bounces coach Fran McCaffery’s team just might find itself in contention for the conference title.